Why You Should Fear the Indian Juggernaut

When you think big consulting firm, it’s likely that you still think Accenture, A.T. Kearney or McKinsey, but I’m betting it won’t be long before you think Infosys, TCS, or Wipro. The Indian firms are on the rise, and it’s not just because of the cost. They are hard-working, driven, and, most importantly, the new generation of India companies is focussed on the right skills and attitude.

If you’re a North American company, the statistics in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review on leadership lessons from India should scare you. The skills that Indian leaders value most are the ultimate keys to success:

  • strategic thinking, the creativity to envision and articulate a path, and the ability to guide the organization there (61%)
  • inspirational, accountable, and entrepreneurial (57%)
  • careful talent selection, grooming, and the establishment of advanced business goals (52%)

In contrast, few supported the following the skills:

  • optimizing organizational structure and articulating core values
  • understanding competitors and markets and managing outside relations

Which is what I see too much of these days. If you don’t have a functioning team, reorganizing the organizational chart for the third time in a row isn’t going to magically create cohesion and bring prosperity. Leaders don’t articulate values in meaningless mission statements, they instill them in everything they do. And while competitive intelligence is important, it’s more important to understand your customer’s problems and the type of solutions they really require. It doesn’t do any good to build a better mousetrap if the house is infested with termites. And you can’t take on the world if your own house isn’t in order.

Furthermore, while they’ve been carefully selecting, training, and elevating talent through successively challenging real world projects, you’ve been cutting your top performers left and right simply because they fall to the right of the bell curve as you’ve yet to figure out that, in today’s information economy, you need more than a warm body in a seat. While it might not make sense to pay a janitor, security guard, or even a middle manager (who does nothing but convey messages up and down the ladder) more than the median, the same does not hold true when it comes to technology. The reality is that your top talent is worth their weight in gold while your underachievers would be worth more if you instead invested their salaries in coal. (Assuming your top earners are earning their wages on merit,) This is a case where you generally have to cut those who fall to the left of the bell curve. (The ability to cut & paste HTML and CSS does not a web developer make!) One of the big reasons you’re suffering so severely is because you’re asking under-performers to do more with less, when, chances are, they couldn’t even manage before the cuts.

They’re focussed on building companies, while you’re focussed on how to maintain your seven figure salary just for showing up to work. This is one place where Europe generally gets it more than you do. While compensation structures based on performance should be unlimited, salaries should not. Executives don’t deserve ten times the salary of their reports just for showing up to work. Salary-wise, a CEO should make the same as a lowly VP, who shouldn’t make much more than his top performer. The rest of her compensation should be based on corporate performance. If she grows the company valuation by fifty million, then she gets her million dollar bonus. If the company tanks, she gets nothing but her salary. It’s ridiculous that, in this climate, executives are still getting seven and eight figures for leading their company into bankruptcy, and then multiples of that when they are shown the door. If the only way they got the new Lamborghini was to work for it, maybe we’d see some progress.

And finally, they’re focussed on long term strategy while you can’t see beyond the next quarter. That’s why even the average multinational has a life expectancy of less than 50 years and why 85% of market leaders get displaced in a recession. If we don’t return to long term thinking, then the rising multinationals in India who are looking 30 to 50 years down the road, when they surpass us in GDP, will win. And since they have almost four times as many people, it’s very likely that they’ll stay at the top when they get there.

So unless you’re going to take a page from India’s playbook, you better start fearing the Indian juggernaut. Because the way things are going, I don’t see how it can be stopped.

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