Every month, 30 of Nokia's top leaders face some heavy duty shadowing. For five to seven days, wherever they go, there is somebody hot on their trail, sticking to them like glue, observing whatever they do.

No, this is no cloak and dagger stuff. They are being shadowed by their own colleagues.

It's a unique HR programme that Nokia India has introduced at its workplace. Some of the B-schools in India do have a ‘shadow a CEO programme', but this initiative is the first time by a company, says the Managing Director, Nokia India, D. Shivakumar (recently promoted to a regional role in charge of Africa, India and West Asia based in Dubai).

Nokia's shadow programme is in some ways an extension of the induction training for new recruits. “The thought behind the programme was that what better way to learn Nokia's values and style of functioning than to follow those living these values,” explains Shivakumar.

Incidentally, the top 30 leaders at Nokia are not necessarily selected on a hierarchical basis. These individuals could be from any level and are handpicked for living up to and exemplifying the four Nokia values — PAVE — which stands for Passion for Innovation; Achieving Together; Very Human; and Engaging You.

So, while a head of department may not be among the top 30, one of his team members could well be on the list. “It's a dynamic list that keeps changing and the India management team decides who gets on it based on their performance,” explains the Nokia India HR head, Anu Pires.

Explaining the rationale behind the formation of this Top 30, Shivakumar says this shows the evolution of an organisation. “Twenty years ago, everything devolved on the CEO. He pretty much determined the nature of the company. In the last 10 years, it has become more board-based and the effort was to constitute a better board.” Gradually, as companies get more democratic, the top 10 per cent of the company needs to believe in and live the values of the company and transmit these values, he says.

Collaborative Approach

According to Pires, there was need for such a programme in Nokia because the style of functioning is very collaborative and open. There are only four levels of hierarchy between the Managing Director and the junior-most employees and a large number of employees are at the same level of hierarchy. In such a scenario, skills such as influencing each other becomes paramount.

“Intellectually, they were getting it —when we told them about the openness, etc. But practically it's only through this shadow programme that they experienced it,” says Shivakumar.

Take Rajiv Chettri, Retail Operations Manager, Gurgaon, who had to trail V. Ramnath, Head of Sales. Chettri who joined Nokia from a hierarchy-based MNC outfit says, “After the shadow programme, I realised I needed to change the way I worked. In my earlier office, I had people reporting to me, and it was easy to get things done. But here, where everybody is on a par, the challenge is how do you get work done. You cannot issue orders. So how do you influence people in a highly linear organisation.”

Chettri says by trailing Ramnath around, he got a lot of cues on this. It so happened that on the days he was assigned to trail Ramnath, the sales head had trips scheduled to Bangalore. And, since the rules of the shadow programme do not allow any alteration of schedules, through airports, flight paths and car journeys, Chettri stuck to Ramnath like a limpet. “We, therefore, had long conversations,” says Chettri.

“No expenses are spared on the shadow programme and if somebody is travelling to remote corners, the shadower has to go along. We believe this is the best way,” says Shivakumar.

For Nitin Kapoor, part of the sales team North, the experience of trailing Ruchika Gupta, Retail and Customer Marketing (RCM) head, was pretty exciting — mainly because, as he confesses, “that's a function that I am interested in moving into at some point”. A lateral joinee, he says the exposure to the RCM unit showed him how what they were doing on the field was the result of what they were planning at the office, and how his own inputs were valued by the RCM team.

How do the hosts feel about it? For Poonam Kaul, Director, Communications, Nokia India, the best part of the programme was that there was no formula to it. Apart from the logistics aspect, which the HR department ties up, the hosts really need no preparation — everybody just goes about their normal workday.

Suresh Vedula, Director, Enterprise Sales, Nokia India, says that in organisations such as Nokia, informal networks are very powerful. “Many times the landing in a company is not smooth.”

For Vedula, who was trailed by the Regional Sales Manager for Bihar, there were learnings of his own — a peek into the difficulties faced by the branch office.

And as Shivakumar points out, the by-product of the programme has been unexpected gains for the leadership.

“All the shadowers write a piece on what they experience, which are then collected and circulated to the top 30 leaders,” he says. Suddenly, as a result, the leadership capacity skills of the top 30 have improved, he says.

Made in India, moving to China

According to those driving the shadow programme, it is a matter of pride that the programme, devised entirely in India, has created a buzz at the global level too. It made a powerful impact when presented at a Nokia leadership meeting and other geographies have evinced interest in adopting it. China will soon be following India's lead, says Anu Pires, Director HR.

(This article was published on October 30, 2011)
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