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Turning the tide

Zafar Anjum | Nov. 21, 2011
From facing a near-nemesis to basking in the afterglow of growth and success, Mahindra Satyam has come a long way trekking through a rough terrain. How did this Indian IT services company achieve this turnaround? Hari Thalapalli, Mahindra Satyam’s chief marketing officer (CMO) and chief people officer (CPO) shares with Zafar Anjum his side of the tale of adventure.

"So when we talked about stabilisation, we talked about the need to be capable of sustaining the company. We talked about actions that may be painful, so as to allow the organisation to take the next leap. In the second year, all our messaging would have been around how we were forming the competency, how we were encouraging new innovation. We talked about the innovation clubs and allowing people to come up with new ideas. We talked about enabling Mahindra Satyam to be on the leading edge of being a mobile workforce-enabling everything on handhelds compared to other companies. So we moved a lot of our messaging and programmes to the customers, to the associates around the fact that we were now bending at the knees so that we could jump."

"In year three now, if you look at it, from last quarter, the messaging has been around how we have been able to grow. I see the traction not scaling down. What are we trying to say is that the messaging has been derived from the larger objective. The good news is people are seeing the traction in growth."

Managing the employees

After the crisis, managing the employees was one of the greatest challenges for Thalapalli. How did he manage to increase the performance bar of the employees during the time of the crisis? "One was to be able to move the sense of uncertainty and fear -neutralising that was as important as bringing forth transparency at where we are going," he said.

"First year was being as transparent as you could, so that there was a connect (with the associates). Our chief executive officer CP Gurnani used to write a blog every 15 days. So all the messages that we wanted to share would go from the CEO's table and we had people responding to those and we would be responding to those responses. What we did was to flatten the organisation in terms of the communication and connect. You had 22,000 employees in the company at that time, feeling comfortable to connect with the CEO. That helped a lot because people knew what was coming."

"When we did take some difficult decisions, in July 2009, the uncertainty and the fear was enhanced for about almost 3-4 months. For 3-4 months, we said in every forum that this was a one-time activity and, once the fear part of it was gone, and people could see what we would do three months down the line, then things started to change..."

As new business came in, that became the biggest motivator for the employees. "For us, in that turnaround phase, even a $700,000 win was a big win," he said. "We would actually send a mail out and nobody cared about the revenue size. What everybody cared about was the fact that we could actually turn the tide, even if it was a small one. And with every win, there were mails exploding around in the office; people were feeling very bullish about it, and every week you had something to cheer about."


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