Volunteering, a crucible experience for leadership development: Rajeev Dubey

Chitra Narayanan | Updated on October 10, 2019 Published on October 10, 2019


The old ‘command and control’ method of leadership will be a disaster in today’s world, says Rajeev Dubey, Group President (HR & Corporate Services) & CEO (After-Market Sector) Member of the Group Executive Board, Mahindra & Mahindra.

In a freewheeling interaction, the veteran executive shares his take on the slowdown currently impacting the auto sector, leadership development at Mahindra, and more. Excerpts:

Your industry is in the grip of a painful slowdown. In times like these what are the slowdown strategies — particularly relating to people management?

The first question we all are asking is whether this is just a cyclical slowdown or is it a fundamental change with respect to technology, customer taste, etc. What we are witnessing now is a combination of both. In such a situation, the response of companies is, we have to handle it in the short term, as well as come up with a plan for the next three to five years.

In the short term, we have to take care of factors like productivity, how do we increase the top line, and maintain the margin. For the latter, we have to focus on all elements of cost. Labour is just one element of cost, there are many others. And labour, all said and done, in the auto industry, is not as big a cost as other elements. Mahindra’s approach is that we would hate to ask any permanent employee to leave. We would evaluate every other possibility.

The keyword seems to be permanent. Does that mean contractual employees are under threat?

We have short-term contracts, apprentices — depending on the situation, we may not renew those. But this is a moment for us to look at the larger picture and the whole question of what will be the future demand in our sector. The kind of fuel, electric vehicles, emission levels, shifting habits of people, shared mobility — there are many layers and levels that the problem has to be looked at. We are looking at all of these.

In the electric vehicle (EV) space, we were early movers. We are addressing the shift to BS6 emission norms. We have invested in Meru in the shared mobility space. We are providing subscription services.

If your business model changes, how is it going to impact your people?

The kind of skilling required, the mindset changes, have all to be worked out. Work on skilling will have to be a mix of hard skills and soft, attitude, etc. Also, the kind of people we hire. But that has been a continuous thing with us. It is just that this time, the demand for auto has fallen off a cliff suddenly, and this nobody had anticipated, so there is uncertainty.

Does the size of corporation impact the ability to cope and pivot?

Sixe of corporation should not affect the speed of the pivot. It’s just the scale would be different and ability for a smaller company may be difficult if it runs out of cash. What got us here will not sustain us, so all of us have to pivot. But what we have to take care is that it is not painful. We have to be very innovative, very open, look at what skills to focus on, what kind of technology, what markets — how much to sell in India, how much to look at foreign market.

You also drive CSR at Mahindra — how is it evolving?

CSR is very crucial to our very existence and business strategy. CSR, for us, is about driving positive change, which is the core purpose of our group. We do it for three-fold reasons. One, because philosophically and morally it is the right thing to do, to give back to the society from which we earn. Two, because it is the mother fount of our business initiatives. To explain this: When we do community interactions, we get access to information on the unmet needs of under-served customers in under-served markets. Out of that we can create whole new businesses. Some examples are Mahindra Housing and Mahindra Insurance Brokers.

Number three: Volunteering can become a crucible experience for leadership development. When you volunteer you have to learn to influence without formal authority. That is going to be the leadership model, going forward.

The old ‘command and control’ model will be a disaster in the new normal of VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) and push-back. New successful leaders will be those who can influence within and outside the organisation without authority.

Have any leaders emerged from volunteering?

That’s not the way we look at it. We have a ‘three plus five’ framework for developing leaders at Mahindra. There are three pillars which are basically views of the world we look at: The first is accepting no limits, the second is alternative thinking and the third is to drive positive change. All the HR levers have been aligned to these three pillars. But what people experience in an organisation are not levers. They are behaviours. So the five refers to behaviors which will bring the three pillars to life. These are:

1. The whole-mind approach where we combine the left brain of logic, intellect and rationality with the right brain of emotion, connection and empathy.

2. Multipliers: These are people with energy, passion, engagement and a sense of ownership. They are people who listen and respect others’ views.

3. Managing fear and leveraging failure: For innovation to occur people need to experiment and take risk.

4. Mindfulness: This requires not being a prisoner of the past who sees things through the prism of past failures and successes. This is possible only if we are fully in the “here and now”.

5. Trust: Last, but not least, create trust through authenticity — say what I think and do what I say, and do so continuously.

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Published on October 10, 2019
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