As noted last time, wicked is a complexity concept – any extensive challenge involving multiple component problems where one can’t be solved without the others. Effective solutions can be simple, but require all to be dealt with as a group. The challenge is that uncertainty rules the day with such problems and that makes lots of people uncomfortable. Many pilot projects fail, a few succeed. Does that mean this territory is too dangerous to risk a career on or just too confusing to tackle?
Great answers turned up in a super book I happened to notice on our library’s new books shelf. You know you’re hooked on a subject when every pile of books offers something intriguing. This one is a book called Conquering the Chaos. That alone would be enough to get me reading, but the subtitle, Win in India, Win Everywhere, clinched it. These markets are challenging especially for Human Resources management.
Written by Ravi Venkatesan, former CEO of Microsoft India and Cummins Tata (a US-Indian Joint Venture to build diesel engine trucks – both highly successful), it is easy to read and richly instructive. He lays out excellent examples of what works, what succeeded well and what failed, naming big organizations and top executives and even more importantly pinpointing principles that will work in leadership of organizations anywhere in the world. Great points focus on the need to adapt to local conditions and the benefit of doing so – innovating new ways of doing low cost business that would fit in any emerging market. Clearly collaboration is a big objective of his and thankfully he explains and demonstrates why, reinforcing what we’ve been hearing from all sources.
Most importantly for HR, the core of his recommendations have to do with HR strategies and their huge importance. It’s great to hear coming from a CEO who’s identified what he likes and doesn’t in HR and offers excellent advice on developing leaders and retaining them. He deals with ethics, both at the business level – payoffs, bribes, fraud and more (all problems that make people hesitate about unfamiliar markets and put employees in difficult situations) as well as at the internal level – treating staff decently and building trust. These are topical with the first conviction of a Canadian executive by a Canadian court for bribery in India very recently.
I enjoyed sections like “HR: The Toughest Shoes To Fill” and “Why Culture Doesn’t Matter” (that is – national cultures, with reference to the applicability of the same HR principles everywhere). High on his list of recommendations is the necessity of development and growth programs as retention tools as well as for succession and the importance of seeking internal candidates for promotion. It’s great to see acknowledgement of how risky it is to try to just hire talent from outside and how valuable it is to offer opportunities to high potential insiders who aren’t quite ready. With good selection it’s likely many fewer internal/not-quite-ready choices will fail than outside ‘experts,’ but this is something not many senior executives take HR’s word about.
All in all, the key is recognition that all leadership means dealing with uncertainties and the same principles work, and work well, everywhere – small pilots, attention to unique customer needs and the importance of developing staff to improve innovation and solve problems at every level. The latter reinforces the need for every executive and manager to learn to develop and coach and take those responsibilities seriously, including being evaluated on their ability with them.