Given the economic realities, competitive pressures and employee egress, executives and those who look to them for counsel would be delighted to see a steadier business cycle if such a thing exists.

The opportunity to retain employees will bring optimism. It will be possible to make commitments. We would embrace the possibility of stable employee retention, strong growth and sustainable profits.

This may not be possible in the context of the larger economy. However, it is entirely possible for the few strong-willed business leaders who are serious about growth.

For others who doubt this opportunity, it is true some businesses do succeed despite complete inefficiencies. Dynamic economies bear proof of such bizarre success. The same economic dynamism destroys a lot more companies.

Though rocky economic conditions test the determination of businesses, many companies simply neglect the investment needed to shape executives.

Let there be no doubt that the senior executive's primary role is to motivate and develop capable employees who, in turn, generate revenue and profitability. However, many struggle to keep their people motivated on a daily basis.

winning them over

Today, coaching employees to drive business functions is routinely disregarded by most organisations. Why is this so?

Senior executives still operate with the old mind-set. Business functions are not task-driven, repetitive functions any more. These functions have become automated, while other functions needed to ‘get things done' have become complex. Senior executives need to re-design these functions to develop capabilities for growing tomorrow's business.

Some senior managers disregard the need to coach employees because they lack realistic management experience. Coaching is an integral part of core management skills — as every business school would teach.

Another section of managers have adequate management exposure, yet they do not want to take on the burden. Instead, they shift blame on the industry, location, customers or employees. “For a long time in my career I was led to believe the customer was the problem in sales. If he was not the issue, then we would blame the salesperson,” said Mr Raghuram, CEO of a leading business intelligence and data mining company.

How do some companies seem to motivate employees better than others? And these are invariably the same companies that perform consistently well in good times and bad. So what unexplained magical force wakes up their spirit every morning?

The answer turns out to be the way in which senior executives shape the work environment — a joint morning coffee break, the first 30-minute ritual, or something else. Here again, oddly enough, some CEOs unintentionally persuade unhealthy behaviour — gamesmanship. Others push the workforce to accept meaningless goals. Most expect outcomes that employees hardly understand, let alone know how to complete such tasks.

Crafted coaching drives motivation and long-term executive retention. Why is executive coaching important for talent retention? The end-result of focused handholding tells the whole story.

Raghuram's old-style leadership approach had to undergo a complete change when he moved to a high-tech industry. A 15-month transformation process improved his attitude towards the employee's short and long-term welfare, the root-cause of employee motivation. With employee morale rising, it boosted Raghuram's confidence in achieving greater things for the company.

Responsible mentoring

“You should constantly develop employees at every level. When employees scrutinise every move, you have the opportunity to create followers and also help them grow along with you,” Raghuram recommends. This approach has paid off for the company — it has achieved 81 per cent employee retention over a seven-year period compared with 62 per cent across industry over the same period.

By virtue of his title, position, and compensation, an executive takes up the implicit responsibility to coach others. Executives need to be present when their employees need direction, demonstrate commitment, formulate a growth path for each of the team members, and help the member reach his or her full potential.

Every executive has the opportunity to make a difference in another's life. The question is executive action. It is a disservice when executives do not help others. Are these executives good for the company?

A boost from an unlikely source

With 20-something employees, direct C-suite mentoring proved beneficial to one mid-sized real estate company in Mumbai. Last year, this company had its employees select 10 junior executives to be directly coached by the company's C-suite as a part of a three-year programme.

From the outside, the programme sounded familiar, but the inner workings and commitment demonstrated a completely different picture. Junior executives led meetings and stepped up to negotiate sensitive aspects of the business performance.

“We evaluate burning issues and present the management with our strategies. Without fear or intimidation, we debate and seek cross-department support. From there on, we roll-up our sleeves and get things done,” says Sukumar Ramanath, a young executive, one of the latest recruits. 

“The process is self-rewarding,” says Mukund Sachdev, the company's human resources director. Recognition of one's abilities to manoeuvre difficult subjects is a shot in the arm for achieving career aspirations,” he said, summarising the first year's outcome.

This confidence-boosting approach is something every company must aspire to, opening its doors to taking on newer projects without worrying about the availability of talent. Companies such as Tata Steel and Infosys have mandatory management training programmes for incoming engineers. And once they return to their routine, these employees are tapped for special projects to help shape the company's growth.

Knowledge and understanding of how to navigate effectively in the corporate world are invaluable lessons that formal training does not provide.  Without prior ‘hands-on' experience, a favourable result is much harder to reach. Quite a few Indian executives who have risen quickly to the top, lack in hands-on management skills.

Tactical coaching for strategic results

The ability to lead high-stakes projects shape individuals' ability to become CEOs later on in their careers. Their risk-taking abilities come from their constant exposure to varied projects.

“I was repeatedly asked to do the dirty jobs — take on assignments to manage hostile and sensitive situations. Over time, these opportunities defined my career as a turnaround leader. When the founder suddenly passed away, my name was the first choice to run the company. I owe a lot to my mentor,” says Kripanand Menon looking back on his 33-year-long professional career in the auto parts manufacturing industry. Today, Kripanand mentors five senior executives and encourages other CEOs to do the same.

Tough assignments extend executives' abilities and push their scientific and managerial skills to the next level. CEOs have to take ownership for justifying such projects, just as an elder owner in a family-run company accommodates younger stakeholders, counselling them to accept challenging ventures.

Aditya Reddy, one such executive mentored by Kripanand responded thus, “Challenging projects motivate us to perform at the next level. In turn, we help line managers develop specific competencies to develop a sense of accomplishment in their professional role in a short time.”

There was a time when leaders grew through titles, tenure, and even mere educational qualifications. Leadership is no more a proclaimed title or bestowed on promotion. It is not determined by ownership or years of service.

Leadership is defined by the people who are asked to follow. A company's future is dependent on this delicate yet rich balance of principled and profit-driven leaders.  Executive retention is the key to future success. Throwing money at it will not solve the problem.


(The writer is Managing Director, The Business Labs. He can be reached at )