Organizational transformation can be an employee-led process.

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Digital disruption has made organizational transformation a must for business success—and the best way to make that jump is by empowering employees.

That’s according to Vineet Nayar, founder and chairman of Sampark Foundation and former CEO of HCL Technologies, whose organizational transformation he ushered in by upending the company’s approach to workforce management. Nayar shared HCL’s journey with attendees Tuesday at the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference in Las Vegas.

In 2005, Nayar began the process that transformed the IT-services company from a $.7 billion venture to a $4.7 billion global enterprise, with more than 85,000 employees in 32 countries. When he came on board, Nayar recognized that HCL’s workforce was stuck in the past; employees weren’t unhappy necessarily, he said, but rather were happy with the status quo, and with incremental change—neither of which could enable true business growth.

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To confront those obstacles, Nayar said, he undertook a three-step, employee-centered strategy:

Create a need for change: “That can only be created if you’re honest and put out all of your dirty linen so people don’t have a choice,” Nayar said. To that end, Nayar said he made all of the company’s financial data available to the workforce, to show them the company’s pain points, and establish a case for change.

Create a vision of tomorrow: “You want a vision so compelling that people will jump out of bed and climb Mount Everest for you every day,” he said. Nayar told his workers that, in five years, he envisioned them telling people where they worked and, not being met with questions about what the company did, but rather with a “wow”—an idea that, he said, motivated workers to want to be part of an organization that could engender such a response.

Don’t launch initiatives—launch experiments: In the scientific world, Nayar noted, researchers begin with a hypothesis and then work diligently to prove it. The same should apply to business: Instead of the CEO thinking up a plan and implementing it, any new idea should be treated instead as an experiment, with workers striving to prove—or disprove—it.

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That three-pronged process was furthered by an underlying goal of building trust with employees. “You create trust through transparency,” Nayar said, noting the company inverted the organizational structure and made management accountable to employees.

For instance, Nayar offered to have his performance appraisal completed by the entire workforce—against the wishes of his board of directors. All employees were asked for feedback on his performance and, at the start of the process, he pledged he would resign if his appraisal levels were below a certain mark. The data was shared with the entire employee population, and the undertaking was so successful that the approach was embedded for all managers across the company.

“If you truly want to transform on a culture axis, if you truly believe in the idea that you need to empower people, if you truly trust your employees, then you have to go full hog,” he said. “Radical transformation happens with radical ideas.”

Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected]

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