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KEYNOTE ADDRESS
In conversation with Manoj Kohli, Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises
High Performance Culture at Airtel
The key reason why Bharti Airtel emerged as India's #1
telecom player and became a global brand from India.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
2
Manoj Kohli is the Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises Limited and responsible for the growth and operations of the
Bharti group of companies – retail, insurance, agri-products, real estate, mobile internet etc. Prior to this he was the
Managing Director and CEO (International), Bharti Airtel, wherein he headed the International Business Group which
leads the international strategy & vision for 20 countries. Manoj has spearheaded the turnaround and transformation
that is unprecedented in the African telecoms sector in the 17 Africa operations covering Networks, IT, BPO,
Distribution and Brand and led new initiatives of 3G and Airtel Money in all markets. Overall his 35 years of work
experience is equally divided between the manufacturing and telecom sectors. Manoj is a Director on the Board of
Bharti Airtel. Before becoming Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises Manoj held multiple roles as MD & CEO
(International), CEO (International) & JMD, CEO & JMD, President & CEO, President of Mobile Services business at
Bharti Airtel since 2002. Manoj led Bharti Airtel’s India operations for 8 years during which the customer base grew
from 1 million to 140 million before moving to Africa in 2010.
Manoj started his career in 1979 with the Shriram Group, where he initially led the HR function, followed by
leadership positions in the Foods, Chemicals and Fertilizer businesses and assignments in Engineering projects,
including Shriram Honda. He left as Vice President, responsible for the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration business unit
(in alliance with Tecumseh & Daikin) after a total stint of 15 years. He subsequently worked at AlliedSignal/Honeywell,
where he was Executive Director in charge of its new Industrial Park and operations in India.
Manoj joined Escotel, which he led for over 5 years as Executive Director and CEO, before coming on board at Bharti
Airtel. Manoj is the Chairman, Public Policy Committee of GSM Association (GSMA). In the past, he was a Board
Member of GSMA in 2008 and reappointed to the GSMA Board in 2012. Manoj is also associated with Confederation
of Indian Industry (CII) and is currently Chairman, CII Task Force on Ease of Doing Business. Prior to this he has held
the post of Chairman – Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) National Committee on Telecom & Broadband and also
the Chairman of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). He was adjudged “Telecom Man of the Year” and
“Telecom Person of the Year” by Media Transasia and Voice & Data respectively. He is a member of the Academic
Council of the Faculty of Management Studies & Faculty of Commerce & Business and has been awarded the “Best
Alumni Award” by SRCC, Delhi University. Manoj holds degrees in Commerce, Law and an MBA from Delhi University.
Manoj also attended the “Executive Business Program” at the Michigan Business School and the “Advanced
Management Program” at the Wharton Business School.
Manoj Kohli
Managing Director,
Bharti Enterprises Limited
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
3
I think it’s a very important theme today
and especially what I liked was ‘Young
India’, because we’re talking about a
young India and not about an old one. I
was out of India for the last four years and
I came back last year. I found that a lot of
old rules of the game are changing. I have
two daughters, they work from home.
They work from wherever they are. They
do their shopping on Flip kart or Snap deal
from the car. They don’t even have to go
to the mall now. Therefore, many habits
have changed and clearly it means that
the technology is playing a fantastic role
in this change.
Luckily our children, the youth of today,
and I am focusing primarily on population
between 20 and 30 because they will
shape India’s tomorrow. I think this
population is very different, very smart,
very advanced, very technology savvy,
very non-bureaucratic, very fast and very
forward looking. When we talk about
workplace, I think we have to only talk
about them and that is why ‘Young India’
is the right theme.
Luckily, at the same time the country is
also changing, the new government is
settling and the economy is opening up.
We’re expected to grow much faster than
China in the next few years and if all this
comes true India will have a golden
decade in the next 10years. What does
your company want? This is the 1st
question I wanted to answer for you.
Company wants three key objectives to
be achieved:
First is faster growth than Industry. If an
industry is growing by 10%, the company
would like to grow by 12% or by 15 %, so
that it grows faster. If the industry is
growing by 50%, then the company would
like to grow by 60%, 70% or 100%. At Airtel,
I remember we grew by 100% Year over
Year.
Second thing the company wants is good
margins, i.e., profit margins. These margins
come from efficiency, productivity and
keeping the costs low. Hence, if the
industry margin was 30%, Airtel did 40%.
The margins have to be higher and better.
Third one is the most important one which
is not a financial parameter. It is about
brands and their potential. Therefore,
whatever brands you’re building up in
your company needs to be bigger and
better than others. Airtel from brand zero
became the number one brand of this
country.
Therefore we try to do all this in my
company.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
4
But I think it was a different era. I mean,
the past twenty years and these twenty
years are different from the next twenty. I
don’t think if Airtel was born again today, it
will do it in the same way. It has to be very
different because today it is a digital world
and those days it was a physical world.
Today it is a virtual world and those days
it was again a physical world. I had to go
everywhere physically to meet people.
Whether it was Assam, Kashmir, Orissa,
Bihar or Karnataka, everywhere I had to go
physically. Even to countries like Nigeria I
had to go physically to meet people, meet
dealers and to meet employees. But, not
now! You can meet people from your
office.
I have seen that management has to do
the same thing with employees in the
work place because their expectations are
that they should be well engaged. This
means that they should know what is the
direction of the company? Where the
company is going? What are the
aspirations of the company? What is the
strategy of the company? Etc. secondly;
employees should be developed by
training development and rotation. The
employees feel like getting more
knowledge through training and
development. And third, which is more a
company expectation: We want an
employee to be very productive. We will
prefer one employee for two employees.
We don’t mind paying that employee 1.5.
So, in 1.5 we have one employee who
does the work of two. Hence, we save 0.5
of compensation cost. This is the
company’s expectation and the
employees love it because the company
is trying to stretch the employee and have
less employees rather than more
employees. The company gives them
more responsibilities and higher
compensation so that they are eager to do
more and are very productive. So, those
expectations remain the same whether 20
years back or today but I think our
environment has changed. What does an
employee expect today from a
workplace?
Firstly, he/she expects the workplace to
be virtual. I don’t think workplace has to
be physical. Workplace is your office, is
your home, and is a park or a beach. I
remember one of the friends of my
brother was working in Johannesburg in
South Africa and she got married in Cape
Town. She was working with Mckinsey in
Johannesburg and they didn’t have an
office in Cape Town. So Mckinsey said
fine, go and work in Cape Town. Once a
month come to Johannesburg. One day
and that’s all and she is as productive in
Cape Town as she was in Johannesburg.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
5
There is no difference. Now, maybe all
jobs can’t be like this. There are jobs which
can be like this and there are job which
can’t be like this. Therefore, one can’t do it
for every job. But still I am saying, this may
not have happened 10 years or 20 years
back but it is happening today.
The second thing which employees want
is high degree of responsiveness in the
workplace. So if I ask for some support or
if I ask for a decision as an employee, I
need that decision in a matter of hours not
days or if possible, even in minutes.
Responsiveness! That workplace is
respected if it is responsive. So, I think that
is very important for a company.
If a company is slow and the workplace is
slow, you’ve had it. I don’t think you can
either acquire good talent or you can
retain good talent. People don’t like slow
companies and that is why public sector
companies are in trouble. They are not
able to attract good talent. I was in a
public sector forum yesterday and I could
see it. Good talent goes to companies
which are fast in responsiveness because
young people love speed. Young people
hate slow behaviour.
The third thing which employees want is a
collegial environment. What do I mean by
a collegial environment? In our company
for example the junior-most employee
calls Sunil Mittal as Sunil, calls Manoj Kohli
as Manoj. We sit together, eat together,
work together, joke together, dance
together, and we drink together, so it is
collegial; where there is no level, there is
no gap, there is no you and me, it is flat.
Only if it is collegial, young people will
give their best. So a workplace needs to
be like that. It can’t be too hierarchal and it
can’t be too bureaucratic. Hence, the
office design itself should be very open. If
the office design is not open, if it is too
into compartments, into cabins, I don’t
think young people like that and that
workplace will be rejected. So office
design has to reflect the openness, the
youthfulness, the responsiveness and
finally collegial environment in the
company.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
6
Another thing company employee’s want is
clarity. By clarity I mean, where are we going?
Where is the company going? How is the
company going there? What is my role in that
direction, in that strategy? What am I expected
to do? Please give me very clear targets. Don’t
tell me that you will measure me on something
else at the end of the year. Please tell me very
clearly what you would measure me against so
that at the start of the year I can make my goals
and you can appraise my goals, you can
measure my goals every quarter. If they get
clarity they are very happy. If they don’t get
clarity and many times that happens in some
old company, they are very, very unhappy and
hence they leave. So I am trying to simplify the
emerging workplace and the most important
thing which the management has to take care is
that the guy at the senior level like me has to
proactively change.
When I started my career nearly 36 years back
in Daurala Sugar Works, near Meerut, the
organizational culture and the workplace
culture was so different. And you know sugar
mills, sugar mills are now the most backward
places to work, so you will have to change very,
very fast with the times, with the technology
and if you don’t, if the senior management
doesn’t change then it can easily slow down the
organization and slow down the business. It can
harm the business actually.
Therefore, the responsibility of the workplace to
be responsive, high performing, very clear and
very collegial depends on senior management.
If senior management wants something, it
happens. If it doesn’t want something, it does
not happen. You can’t blame them twice.
Employees are recipients of your decision or
they are recipients of your policy and way of
working.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
7
Question - Ajay Bhatia, Innodata Inc
Manoj, thank you for such enlightening
thoughts. From a leader like you I think it
becomes very endorsing and it really has an
impact. What I wanted to understand from you
is that you have seen Airtel from the very
beginning and you would have been around for
a long time. How did the culture set in of high
performance in Airtel? It must have been
different when Airtel would have begun its
journey. So how did this journey go by? What
were the catalysts and triggers whether
conscious or unconscious which happened due
to which Airtel is what it is now?
Manoj Kohli:
That is a very long answer so I can’t give you a
long answer today. Therefore, I will put it as
crisply as possible. Airtel is built by people.
Airtel is not built by technology or money. It is
built by people and it is led by a first generation
entrepreneur. People like me brought in
professional culture and professional approach
to it and that is where we are. But the key thing
is that, it is built by people and not by anything
else.
What we did was that we fully energized the
people. Let me go back 15 years, when we were
a very small company and we were the smallest
company amongst all our competitors. We beat
all the competitors over the next 5-7 years only
because our people were passionate, our
people were hungry, and our people were
free/empowered to do whatever they wanted
to do. Our people were engaged and we did
huge amount of developmental activities. We
also did huge amount of celebrations. Actually,
one of the things Sunil and me always did was
celebrate. Small successes were celebrated. I
remember there was a small success in
Chandigarh. I used to be there that night. Small
success in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and in
Chennai and in Guwahati, we used to be there
and we used to be with the employees. We
used to recognize them, reward them and used
to dance with them. Of course some people
drank a lot also. I am just saying that it was a
family. It was a happy, energized and a high
performance family. High performance was part
of our goal and objective but actually it came
from the bottom. It wasn’t thrust from the top.
We said that we need to do 100 but what was
coming from the bottom was 120. It was
because we already made the employees
owners of the goals and owners of what we
need to do and that was very spontaneous.
You’re right! It is not easy to do that. You need
to be very secure as a senior manager to do it
and luckily we could do it. God was with us.
.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
8
Question - Mamta Wasan, FIS Global Business
Solutions
Typically for a leader there is quarter on quarter
(Q on Q) focus, but there are a lot of things that
need to be long term as well. How as a leader
do you create that balance so that there is a
focus long-term as well as Q on Q? That is the
first question.
The second is, I am sure that in the telecom
industry there is a move from voice to data and
that means a huge cultural change and a shift
across an entire workforce. So how are you’ll
dealing with it?
My third question and I can repeat them if you
want me to: what do you look for primarily from
your HR professional? So that all the people
present here could know that what are the
things we should keep in mind as we assist our
leaders and continue to be significant and do
not move in to oblivion.
Manoj Kohli:
All the three questions are good questions.
First one is a very tough game. Balancing long-
term and short-term is a very, very tough game
for a listed company like us where we are
measured so acutely on our performance or
non-performance every quarter. It is just a
balancing act. You need to be a trapeze artist to
stick to the long-term goals of talent acquisition,
talent retention and at the same time count
down on performance every day. So, we
converted the business into daily affair as every
days performance was important. Every evening
we were getting reports and next day morning
corrections were taking place. So it was not a
weekly or a monthly performance
enhancement. People loved it although it was
very intense and we got used to working over-
time but it was very exciting. Some people got
burnt out I know but some people were fine and
majority of the people enjoyed it. So balance is
important and long-term is very, very important.
I think that because we took care of the long
term, today we are able to sustain the highest
competitive intensity of 13 operators in one
market. There is no other market in the world
where the prices are the lowest 35 paisa and
there are 13 operators serving the market. We
could actually survive the last 5 years only
because we always took care of the long term:
long term foundations and long term goals. But
in short-term we basically broke up the
marathon into 400m race. We ran the 400m fast
and then we ran the next 400m fast and so on.
It is a marathon.
That’s the art which we converted into science.
People who made strategies also executed
strategies. Hence, we do not like consultants
and advisors in our company. Consultants are
very upset with Airtel that we don’t give them
too much business because it is senior
manager’s role to build the strategy and execute
the strategy. Then they can’t blame somebody
that the strategy is made by somebody else. So
that was your first question.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
9
Second question - Yes, this is a very, very big
shift because our full focus was on voice and
now maybe 80-20. Now as we go ahead 80%
focus is on data and 20% focus is on voice which
is a huge shift. So there are 3 major shifts we
do. One is the shift in network: the network
have to change from voice networks to data
networks. So a huge amount of investment in
fiber, 3g, 4g etc.
Second is that our IT systems have to be
completely updated. You don’t know that we
invest hundreds of millions of dollars on IT
because if you make a call or if you reply to a
mail at mid-night, you’re billed instantly. Instant
Billing System. No other industry in the world
does it and so I think the IT systems have to be
upgraded because data usage is massive. You
don’t realize it that how much data you’re using
everyday compared to 3 years back or 5 years
back.
Third shift that we did was to educate our
employees. Luckily, employees are well
educated now. Especially young employees are
self-educated and we don’t have to educate
them now. Older employees are educated and
they understand that this shift is critical for us
and because of this data shift the company is
able to grow fast.
Third question - We have a different view. We
feel that all senior managers are HR managers.
So we don’t need people to HR. We are
different from other companies. My job was HR,
my director’s job was HR and my business
manager’s role was HR. All of us were HR
managers. HR’s job was to support the general
managers and be a fantastic HR support to them
and have policies which were consistent and
which were fair. Those policies are not made by
general managers. The policies are made by HR.
They not only make the policy but they track the
policy, they monitor and they measure at the
end of 6 months and at the end of 12 months.
So, HR’s job is very important. I believe that HR
should take a large credit of success of Airtel but
not as a direct people management. Direct
people management was left to the general
managers. If the motivational level of let’s say
Tamil Nadu is low or if the motivation level of
Kenya is low then it is not an HR’s responsibility.
It is the General Manager’s responsibility
because he/she is not doing a good job. So that
is where we were a bit different from any other
company.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
10
Question - Mamta Wasan, FIS Global Business
Solutions
Sir, as you attract talent and you were growing
rapidly, your talent is going to come from all
over. Not all of them understand that part of
your brain needs to be wired as an HR person as
well. So how do you inculcate that besides
leading by example?
Manoj Kohli:
Yes, leading by example is the most important
because I used to spend a lot of time with
people but you know that new managers would
learn the culture within a year. It takes that
much time to change yourself and learn but
within a year I think the new managers are all
set. They understood the business, they
understood the business model and they
understood the culture, they understood
performance and they understood people are
important. We clearly decided that people are
number 1, customers are number 2 and our
partners, vendors, dealers and suppliers are
number 3. We clearly decided that people were
number 1 priority of the company. So the new
managers had to imbibe that culture.
Question – Tshering Gyaltsen, GE Capital
What was/is the outlook or mindset that helped
you transition or keep up with the times
especially with the changing demographics and
expectations at workplace? This question
cropped in my mind especially when you said
that you started your career with the
manufacturing industry and today you’re with
the most leading industry that is the telecom
and it is from voice to data.
Manoj Kohli:
No, I think you need to be a trainee for life. So, I
was Management Trainee in DCM when I
started in Daurala. 36 years back and I am
Management Trainee for life. I am learning
every day. I was a CEO trainee and when I joined
telecom I didn’t know anything about it. So, I
had to learn telecom on the job but people
remained a constant enabler end to end.
Whether it was a sugar mill or whether it is a
telecom company. In any business/organization
if people management is weak then the
business will fail. So that constant didn’t change
but how people needed to be dealt with is more
situation to situation and individual to
individual. How do you motivate individuals is
very individualistic. For example in my company
we had Airtel Management Board (AMD) and I
remember 10-12 years back I had built that
board into highest quality. My CTO was an
American, CIO was an American, CFO was
British, my Customer Care lady was Italian and
our enterprise chief was American. We had a
global team and motivating each one of them is
a different game. You need to play multiple
games of motivating each senior person and
even middle-level person to the highest
performance standard.
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
11
So you have to know the art. There are some
guys whom you don’t have to motivate and you
don’t have to follow up. They are so self-
motivated and they are so self-sustaining but
there are other guys who need motivation from
time to time. The other guys need follow-up
from time to time. So how do you do that? Do
you do that in a very rational way or an informal
way? So you have to change your track
constantly. That as a leader you need to know.
Not only the senior-most leader but also
middle-level leaders because the span of control
is 10-12 whatever and you have to manage that
span of control. Plus need to be in touch of
young people and so we had reversed
mentoring in our company. Anyway I am
constantly mentored by my two daughters so
that continues. But we also had reversed
mentoring from young boys and girls who joined
our company, especially on technology and
especially on how to use new technology. So, I
think it is a constant learning journey. You can’t
say I am learned and hence my word is the last
word. Your word is never the last word because
there are so many things happening across the
world that you need to learn. Is that fine?
Okay, thanks a lot. I enjoyed the questions and
they were tough and I hope you enjoyed the
answers. Thank You!!
www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in
12
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Keynote address by Manoj Kohli at Corporate Shiksha's Workplace2020 Summit

  • 1. KEYNOTE ADDRESS In conversation with Manoj Kohli, Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises High Performance Culture at Airtel The key reason why Bharti Airtel emerged as India's #1 telecom player and became a global brand from India.
  • 2. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 2 Manoj Kohli is the Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises Limited and responsible for the growth and operations of the Bharti group of companies – retail, insurance, agri-products, real estate, mobile internet etc. Prior to this he was the Managing Director and CEO (International), Bharti Airtel, wherein he headed the International Business Group which leads the international strategy & vision for 20 countries. Manoj has spearheaded the turnaround and transformation that is unprecedented in the African telecoms sector in the 17 Africa operations covering Networks, IT, BPO, Distribution and Brand and led new initiatives of 3G and Airtel Money in all markets. Overall his 35 years of work experience is equally divided between the manufacturing and telecom sectors. Manoj is a Director on the Board of Bharti Airtel. Before becoming Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises Manoj held multiple roles as MD & CEO (International), CEO (International) & JMD, CEO & JMD, President & CEO, President of Mobile Services business at Bharti Airtel since 2002. Manoj led Bharti Airtel’s India operations for 8 years during which the customer base grew from 1 million to 140 million before moving to Africa in 2010. Manoj started his career in 1979 with the Shriram Group, where he initially led the HR function, followed by leadership positions in the Foods, Chemicals and Fertilizer businesses and assignments in Engineering projects, including Shriram Honda. He left as Vice President, responsible for the Air Conditioning & Refrigeration business unit (in alliance with Tecumseh & Daikin) after a total stint of 15 years. He subsequently worked at AlliedSignal/Honeywell, where he was Executive Director in charge of its new Industrial Park and operations in India. Manoj joined Escotel, which he led for over 5 years as Executive Director and CEO, before coming on board at Bharti Airtel. Manoj is the Chairman, Public Policy Committee of GSM Association (GSMA). In the past, he was a Board Member of GSMA in 2008 and reappointed to the GSMA Board in 2012. Manoj is also associated with Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and is currently Chairman, CII Task Force on Ease of Doing Business. Prior to this he has held the post of Chairman – Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) National Committee on Telecom & Broadband and also the Chairman of Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI). He was adjudged “Telecom Man of the Year” and “Telecom Person of the Year” by Media Transasia and Voice & Data respectively. He is a member of the Academic Council of the Faculty of Management Studies & Faculty of Commerce & Business and has been awarded the “Best Alumni Award” by SRCC, Delhi University. Manoj holds degrees in Commerce, Law and an MBA from Delhi University. Manoj also attended the “Executive Business Program” at the Michigan Business School and the “Advanced Management Program” at the Wharton Business School. Manoj Kohli Managing Director, Bharti Enterprises Limited
  • 3. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 3 I think it’s a very important theme today and especially what I liked was ‘Young India’, because we’re talking about a young India and not about an old one. I was out of India for the last four years and I came back last year. I found that a lot of old rules of the game are changing. I have two daughters, they work from home. They work from wherever they are. They do their shopping on Flip kart or Snap deal from the car. They don’t even have to go to the mall now. Therefore, many habits have changed and clearly it means that the technology is playing a fantastic role in this change. Luckily our children, the youth of today, and I am focusing primarily on population between 20 and 30 because they will shape India’s tomorrow. I think this population is very different, very smart, very advanced, very technology savvy, very non-bureaucratic, very fast and very forward looking. When we talk about workplace, I think we have to only talk about them and that is why ‘Young India’ is the right theme. Luckily, at the same time the country is also changing, the new government is settling and the economy is opening up. We’re expected to grow much faster than China in the next few years and if all this comes true India will have a golden decade in the next 10years. What does your company want? This is the 1st question I wanted to answer for you. Company wants three key objectives to be achieved: First is faster growth than Industry. If an industry is growing by 10%, the company would like to grow by 12% or by 15 %, so that it grows faster. If the industry is growing by 50%, then the company would like to grow by 60%, 70% or 100%. At Airtel, I remember we grew by 100% Year over Year. Second thing the company wants is good margins, i.e., profit margins. These margins come from efficiency, productivity and keeping the costs low. Hence, if the industry margin was 30%, Airtel did 40%. The margins have to be higher and better. Third one is the most important one which is not a financial parameter. It is about brands and their potential. Therefore, whatever brands you’re building up in your company needs to be bigger and better than others. Airtel from brand zero became the number one brand of this country. Therefore we try to do all this in my company.
  • 4. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 4 But I think it was a different era. I mean, the past twenty years and these twenty years are different from the next twenty. I don’t think if Airtel was born again today, it will do it in the same way. It has to be very different because today it is a digital world and those days it was a physical world. Today it is a virtual world and those days it was again a physical world. I had to go everywhere physically to meet people. Whether it was Assam, Kashmir, Orissa, Bihar or Karnataka, everywhere I had to go physically. Even to countries like Nigeria I had to go physically to meet people, meet dealers and to meet employees. But, not now! You can meet people from your office. I have seen that management has to do the same thing with employees in the work place because their expectations are that they should be well engaged. This means that they should know what is the direction of the company? Where the company is going? What are the aspirations of the company? What is the strategy of the company? Etc. secondly; employees should be developed by training development and rotation. The employees feel like getting more knowledge through training and development. And third, which is more a company expectation: We want an employee to be very productive. We will prefer one employee for two employees. We don’t mind paying that employee 1.5. So, in 1.5 we have one employee who does the work of two. Hence, we save 0.5 of compensation cost. This is the company’s expectation and the employees love it because the company is trying to stretch the employee and have less employees rather than more employees. The company gives them more responsibilities and higher compensation so that they are eager to do more and are very productive. So, those expectations remain the same whether 20 years back or today but I think our environment has changed. What does an employee expect today from a workplace? Firstly, he/she expects the workplace to be virtual. I don’t think workplace has to be physical. Workplace is your office, is your home, and is a park or a beach. I remember one of the friends of my brother was working in Johannesburg in South Africa and she got married in Cape Town. She was working with Mckinsey in Johannesburg and they didn’t have an office in Cape Town. So Mckinsey said fine, go and work in Cape Town. Once a month come to Johannesburg. One day and that’s all and she is as productive in Cape Town as she was in Johannesburg.
  • 5. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 5 There is no difference. Now, maybe all jobs can’t be like this. There are jobs which can be like this and there are job which can’t be like this. Therefore, one can’t do it for every job. But still I am saying, this may not have happened 10 years or 20 years back but it is happening today. The second thing which employees want is high degree of responsiveness in the workplace. So if I ask for some support or if I ask for a decision as an employee, I need that decision in a matter of hours not days or if possible, even in minutes. Responsiveness! That workplace is respected if it is responsive. So, I think that is very important for a company. If a company is slow and the workplace is slow, you’ve had it. I don’t think you can either acquire good talent or you can retain good talent. People don’t like slow companies and that is why public sector companies are in trouble. They are not able to attract good talent. I was in a public sector forum yesterday and I could see it. Good talent goes to companies which are fast in responsiveness because young people love speed. Young people hate slow behaviour. The third thing which employees want is a collegial environment. What do I mean by a collegial environment? In our company for example the junior-most employee calls Sunil Mittal as Sunil, calls Manoj Kohli as Manoj. We sit together, eat together, work together, joke together, dance together, and we drink together, so it is collegial; where there is no level, there is no gap, there is no you and me, it is flat. Only if it is collegial, young people will give their best. So a workplace needs to be like that. It can’t be too hierarchal and it can’t be too bureaucratic. Hence, the office design itself should be very open. If the office design is not open, if it is too into compartments, into cabins, I don’t think young people like that and that workplace will be rejected. So office design has to reflect the openness, the youthfulness, the responsiveness and finally collegial environment in the company.
  • 6. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 6 Another thing company employee’s want is clarity. By clarity I mean, where are we going? Where is the company going? How is the company going there? What is my role in that direction, in that strategy? What am I expected to do? Please give me very clear targets. Don’t tell me that you will measure me on something else at the end of the year. Please tell me very clearly what you would measure me against so that at the start of the year I can make my goals and you can appraise my goals, you can measure my goals every quarter. If they get clarity they are very happy. If they don’t get clarity and many times that happens in some old company, they are very, very unhappy and hence they leave. So I am trying to simplify the emerging workplace and the most important thing which the management has to take care is that the guy at the senior level like me has to proactively change. When I started my career nearly 36 years back in Daurala Sugar Works, near Meerut, the organizational culture and the workplace culture was so different. And you know sugar mills, sugar mills are now the most backward places to work, so you will have to change very, very fast with the times, with the technology and if you don’t, if the senior management doesn’t change then it can easily slow down the organization and slow down the business. It can harm the business actually. Therefore, the responsibility of the workplace to be responsive, high performing, very clear and very collegial depends on senior management. If senior management wants something, it happens. If it doesn’t want something, it does not happen. You can’t blame them twice. Employees are recipients of your decision or they are recipients of your policy and way of working.
  • 7. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 7 Question - Ajay Bhatia, Innodata Inc Manoj, thank you for such enlightening thoughts. From a leader like you I think it becomes very endorsing and it really has an impact. What I wanted to understand from you is that you have seen Airtel from the very beginning and you would have been around for a long time. How did the culture set in of high performance in Airtel? It must have been different when Airtel would have begun its journey. So how did this journey go by? What were the catalysts and triggers whether conscious or unconscious which happened due to which Airtel is what it is now? Manoj Kohli: That is a very long answer so I can’t give you a long answer today. Therefore, I will put it as crisply as possible. Airtel is built by people. Airtel is not built by technology or money. It is built by people and it is led by a first generation entrepreneur. People like me brought in professional culture and professional approach to it and that is where we are. But the key thing is that, it is built by people and not by anything else. What we did was that we fully energized the people. Let me go back 15 years, when we were a very small company and we were the smallest company amongst all our competitors. We beat all the competitors over the next 5-7 years only because our people were passionate, our people were hungry, and our people were free/empowered to do whatever they wanted to do. Our people were engaged and we did huge amount of developmental activities. We also did huge amount of celebrations. Actually, one of the things Sunil and me always did was celebrate. Small successes were celebrated. I remember there was a small success in Chandigarh. I used to be there that night. Small success in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and in Chennai and in Guwahati, we used to be there and we used to be with the employees. We used to recognize them, reward them and used to dance with them. Of course some people drank a lot also. I am just saying that it was a family. It was a happy, energized and a high performance family. High performance was part of our goal and objective but actually it came from the bottom. It wasn’t thrust from the top. We said that we need to do 100 but what was coming from the bottom was 120. It was because we already made the employees owners of the goals and owners of what we need to do and that was very spontaneous. You’re right! It is not easy to do that. You need to be very secure as a senior manager to do it and luckily we could do it. God was with us. .
  • 8. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 8 Question - Mamta Wasan, FIS Global Business Solutions Typically for a leader there is quarter on quarter (Q on Q) focus, but there are a lot of things that need to be long term as well. How as a leader do you create that balance so that there is a focus long-term as well as Q on Q? That is the first question. The second is, I am sure that in the telecom industry there is a move from voice to data and that means a huge cultural change and a shift across an entire workforce. So how are you’ll dealing with it? My third question and I can repeat them if you want me to: what do you look for primarily from your HR professional? So that all the people present here could know that what are the things we should keep in mind as we assist our leaders and continue to be significant and do not move in to oblivion. Manoj Kohli: All the three questions are good questions. First one is a very tough game. Balancing long- term and short-term is a very, very tough game for a listed company like us where we are measured so acutely on our performance or non-performance every quarter. It is just a balancing act. You need to be a trapeze artist to stick to the long-term goals of talent acquisition, talent retention and at the same time count down on performance every day. So, we converted the business into daily affair as every days performance was important. Every evening we were getting reports and next day morning corrections were taking place. So it was not a weekly or a monthly performance enhancement. People loved it although it was very intense and we got used to working over- time but it was very exciting. Some people got burnt out I know but some people were fine and majority of the people enjoyed it. So balance is important and long-term is very, very important. I think that because we took care of the long term, today we are able to sustain the highest competitive intensity of 13 operators in one market. There is no other market in the world where the prices are the lowest 35 paisa and there are 13 operators serving the market. We could actually survive the last 5 years only because we always took care of the long term: long term foundations and long term goals. But in short-term we basically broke up the marathon into 400m race. We ran the 400m fast and then we ran the next 400m fast and so on. It is a marathon. That’s the art which we converted into science. People who made strategies also executed strategies. Hence, we do not like consultants and advisors in our company. Consultants are very upset with Airtel that we don’t give them too much business because it is senior manager’s role to build the strategy and execute the strategy. Then they can’t blame somebody that the strategy is made by somebody else. So that was your first question.
  • 9. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 9 Second question - Yes, this is a very, very big shift because our full focus was on voice and now maybe 80-20. Now as we go ahead 80% focus is on data and 20% focus is on voice which is a huge shift. So there are 3 major shifts we do. One is the shift in network: the network have to change from voice networks to data networks. So a huge amount of investment in fiber, 3g, 4g etc. Second is that our IT systems have to be completely updated. You don’t know that we invest hundreds of millions of dollars on IT because if you make a call or if you reply to a mail at mid-night, you’re billed instantly. Instant Billing System. No other industry in the world does it and so I think the IT systems have to be upgraded because data usage is massive. You don’t realize it that how much data you’re using everyday compared to 3 years back or 5 years back. Third shift that we did was to educate our employees. Luckily, employees are well educated now. Especially young employees are self-educated and we don’t have to educate them now. Older employees are educated and they understand that this shift is critical for us and because of this data shift the company is able to grow fast. Third question - We have a different view. We feel that all senior managers are HR managers. So we don’t need people to HR. We are different from other companies. My job was HR, my director’s job was HR and my business manager’s role was HR. All of us were HR managers. HR’s job was to support the general managers and be a fantastic HR support to them and have policies which were consistent and which were fair. Those policies are not made by general managers. The policies are made by HR. They not only make the policy but they track the policy, they monitor and they measure at the end of 6 months and at the end of 12 months. So, HR’s job is very important. I believe that HR should take a large credit of success of Airtel but not as a direct people management. Direct people management was left to the general managers. If the motivational level of let’s say Tamil Nadu is low or if the motivation level of Kenya is low then it is not an HR’s responsibility. It is the General Manager’s responsibility because he/she is not doing a good job. So that is where we were a bit different from any other company.
  • 10. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 10 Question - Mamta Wasan, FIS Global Business Solutions Sir, as you attract talent and you were growing rapidly, your talent is going to come from all over. Not all of them understand that part of your brain needs to be wired as an HR person as well. So how do you inculcate that besides leading by example? Manoj Kohli: Yes, leading by example is the most important because I used to spend a lot of time with people but you know that new managers would learn the culture within a year. It takes that much time to change yourself and learn but within a year I think the new managers are all set. They understood the business, they understood the business model and they understood the culture, they understood performance and they understood people are important. We clearly decided that people are number 1, customers are number 2 and our partners, vendors, dealers and suppliers are number 3. We clearly decided that people were number 1 priority of the company. So the new managers had to imbibe that culture. Question – Tshering Gyaltsen, GE Capital What was/is the outlook or mindset that helped you transition or keep up with the times especially with the changing demographics and expectations at workplace? This question cropped in my mind especially when you said that you started your career with the manufacturing industry and today you’re with the most leading industry that is the telecom and it is from voice to data. Manoj Kohli: No, I think you need to be a trainee for life. So, I was Management Trainee in DCM when I started in Daurala. 36 years back and I am Management Trainee for life. I am learning every day. I was a CEO trainee and when I joined telecom I didn’t know anything about it. So, I had to learn telecom on the job but people remained a constant enabler end to end. Whether it was a sugar mill or whether it is a telecom company. In any business/organization if people management is weak then the business will fail. So that constant didn’t change but how people needed to be dealt with is more situation to situation and individual to individual. How do you motivate individuals is very individualistic. For example in my company we had Airtel Management Board (AMD) and I remember 10-12 years back I had built that board into highest quality. My CTO was an American, CIO was an American, CFO was British, my Customer Care lady was Italian and our enterprise chief was American. We had a global team and motivating each one of them is a different game. You need to play multiple games of motivating each senior person and even middle-level person to the highest performance standard.
  • 11. www.CorporteShiksha.in | www.Workplace2020.in 11 So you have to know the art. There are some guys whom you don’t have to motivate and you don’t have to follow up. They are so self- motivated and they are so self-sustaining but there are other guys who need motivation from time to time. The other guys need follow-up from time to time. So how do you do that? Do you do that in a very rational way or an informal way? So you have to change your track constantly. That as a leader you need to know. Not only the senior-most leader but also middle-level leaders because the span of control is 10-12 whatever and you have to manage that span of control. Plus need to be in touch of young people and so we had reversed mentoring in our company. Anyway I am constantly mentored by my two daughters so that continues. But we also had reversed mentoring from young boys and girls who joined our company, especially on technology and especially on how to use new technology. So, I think it is a constant learning journey. You can’t say I am learned and hence my word is the last word. Your word is never the last word because there are so many things happening across the world that you need to learn. Is that fine? Okay, thanks a lot. I enjoyed the questions and they were tough and I hope you enjoyed the answers. Thank You!!
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