Authored By: Lakshmi Narayanan, Vice Chairman Emeritus, Cognizant
The roots of sustainable growth lie not in being everything to everybody, but in picking and choosing battle lines carefully and doing the thing you know best
Lakshmi Narayanan is a technology industry professional, with over 30 years of experience in the IT industry
Contrary to popular belief, fast growth isn’t just about pace and volume. It is as much about identifying, nurturing and staying true to the organisation’s core strengths, and building capabilities ahead of the curve to continually hone the accompanying value proposition. More than rapid customer acquisition, fast growth is about staying ahead of customer expectations, about staying relevant by anticipating every big disruption well before it takes the market by storm and turning it into a competitive advantage. While the fury of growth can be heady, what indeed counts for an organisation’s real maturity and worth is its ability to keep its focus and purpose intact, undistracted by the trappings of success.
Our evolution into what has today become a veritable global company of several high-growth practices shines an instructive light on the timeless tenets of sustainable, high-quality growth, that is informed by the pursuit of greater value.
Customer focus cannot be just a slogan; it needs to manifest itself loud and clear in everything a company does. In our case, every single key strategy that we’ve adopted to date has been a result of asking one question: “Is it in the best interest of our customers?” This true-blue, obsessive focus on customers, complemented by deep investments in building a relationship-driven business model, has given customers greater comfort in engaging with us.
Focus and Discipline
The roots of sustainable growth lie not in being everything to everybody, but in picking and choosing battle lines carefully and doing the thing you know best rather than chasing multiple things that reach nowhere. For example, we invested in a definitive set of high-priority opportunities while simultaneously balancing investments across multiple return horizons, making sure to capitalise on near-term opportunities, but never losing sight of planting seeds for the future. We went against the grain of convention by, for instance, adopting an integrated go-to-market approach that enabled us to not just synergise our expertise across offerings and avoid channel conflicts, but also provide unified value to customers.
Culture of Empowerment, Innovation and Entrepreneurship
Empowering people is a great way to encourage responsibility, commitment and excellence. An open, non-hierarchical, empowered environment encourages meritocracy via easy access to people, knowledge and expertise. Within Cognizant, that has also afforded our teams a free hand and encouraged sharing across all layers of the organisation. The potential of the human mind is amazing. If and when motivated and challenged, people know no limits.
Building an empowered culture is about constantly challenging people to go beyond all set boundaries in doing what they think is right for the customer and for the company. In our industry, it is a team that solves the customer’s problem; there are no individual heroes. Once you put the right team together, they are capable of accomplishing anything. More than ever, the way to build that team is to make sure that each member is adept at many skills.
One very effective way of reinforcing your values is to tie the company’s performance to those values. And the ensuing growth attracts talent, the unstated corollary being that top growth, what with its cutting-edge exposure and rapid career progression opportunities, attracts top talent, the engine of differentiation in the knowledge industry.
Innovation is not simply a buzzword or dollar-spends in R&D; an organisation has to set the right precedents and examples to push employees to go beyond the theoretical and think and act innovatively. Innovation isn’t merely about ideas either; they must be converted into tangible benefits.
We continue to get our people to be innovative by asking them what they have done for their customers lately. If they have an answer to that question, we know they are making progress. If not, we know we need to do something about it. Organisations cannot live in the past glory of their accomplishments; they will succumb to self-assuring hubris within no time.
To us, therefore, entrepreneurship means innovating ideas and executing them to benefit the customer. In achieving that objective, organisations must identify talent and creativity in their people, mentor them and then let them go. Letting go is a difficult but important thing.
Tolerating failures any number of times, helping people succeed, and resisting the urge to take control encourages creativity, entrepreneurship and a vibrant environment where failure can be almost a matter of pride. An entrepreneurial style of working is what underpins our customer-centricity as well as focus, where the accent is on working with select customers but under a model that allows senior executives to take charge of a part of the business, act like entrepreneurs, and constantly think about innovating to achieve their strategic goals.
Power of Reinvention and the Digital Era
More importantly, as our own experience at Cognizant bears out, fast growth, in addition to all of the above, is also a function of reinvention. Trying out the untried and wading through the unknown, even within the framework of a guiding philosophy, often involves stepping out of a well-established comfort zone.
This has become ever more critical in today’s digital era where technologies and ideas are moving at an unprecedented clip. As future-focused businesses move to create and execute strategies to innovate, build and lead with digital, reinvention is going to be the pivotal theme in embracing a “digital-first” mindset and translating it into new ways of working, both within physical and virtual environments.
Power of the Ecosystem
A significant but often unmentioned fuel for growth is the ecosystem around the industry; more specifically in our case an industry body like NASSCOM and a tech media like CyberMedia. While companies compete fiercely in the market, they also in equal measure collaborate in our special industry body, NASSCOM, that would make sure that the industry is managed well, for the benefit of all members, both advantaged and the disadvantaged.
Likewise, the technical publications and the CyberMedia Group, keep us honest and encourage learning and sharing.