Given the difficulties involved, what made leaders-as-teachers (LAT) programs work at Infosys? The following factors were key in successful delivery:
Senior management support: LAT will succeed only if senior management buys the concept, displays commitment and acts accordingly. The easiest form of commitment is financial, but more crucial is the investment of time. Every member of Infosys’ internal board personally invested time in designing and teaching two- or three-day residential courses, and their example set a standard that other leaders followed.
In recent years, the Infosys Leadership Institute has been able to organize and conduct more than 50 LAT offerings globally, thanks to significant contributions from its chairman, CEO, COO and many others.
Organizational context: The LAT initiative at Infosys is governed by the belief that the “Company is the campus, Business is the curriculum and Leaders are Teachers.” This motto not only underscores the relevance of the approach but also provides a frame of reference for participants, propagating the message that LAT content is directly applicable in the workplace, or had better be.
This message reduces dissonance and skepticism and has added to the initiative’s popularity. It’s one thing, after all, to appreciate a strategy model or change management framework as a generic concept, but quite another to approach it as a tool to personal business success in your organization. When they are firmly rooted in the organizational context, LAT programs powerfully reinforce internal messaging and employer branding.
Timing and appetite: LAT works when people have a palpable desire for connection with their senior leaders.
The Infosys strategy is demanding, its footprint expanding, its culture ambitious. Normally, were you to announce a course on growth strategies for an organization already growing at 30 to 40 percent — one that had to leave business on the table — you might not expect to find many takers. If employees do attend — and at Infosys, they have — perhaps it’s not only for the sake of the content but for the opportunity to spend quality time with the leader conducting the course.
It’s not about sycophancy or a cult of personality: It’s about evolving business outcomes and the immanence of strategy. To keep it real, Infosys’ Leadership Institute charts its LAT offerings based on input from multiple listening mechanisms: a survey of high-potential leaders and their consolidated personal development plans; senior management performance reviews; and the opinions of business-enabling functions such as HR, corporate planning and quality.
The technique helps shape LAT by ensuring the alignment of programs to organizational imperatives. It also helps the company correlate the timing of offerings to employees’ real-time appetite for learning.
In the topics they teach, most leaders function at levels of unconscious competence, like a seasoned musician who no longer thinks about fingering or bowing, but only about the music. In some ways, they know too much.
A facilitated process helps them deconstruct their learning into teachable points of view. Once those points of view have been identified, they have to be converted into an engaging design, and the leader supported in facilitating delivery of that design.
The Infosys Leadership Institute takes responsibility for this process of creating a teachable point of view, architecting the design and conducting the program. Professional faculty orchestrate to ensure its effectiveness. Without all these — the right people, process and resources — in place, LAT would be a disaster.
LAT program content has to be designed so participants can learn and implement it back in their workplaces. At Infosys, this is ensured by:
1. Alignment to the organization’s leadership competency framework, which provides a common frame of reference. The LAT session is a good platform for illustrating or narrating examples of how leadership competencies actually play out at work.
2. Program designs that encourage working through situations rather than teaching by telling. If participants can appreciate the dilemma a leader was placed in almost at a visceral level, they can relate to the course of action he or she adopted — and its outcome — much better. Because the debriefing is so crucial to learning, great emphasis is placed on it as part of course design. Leaders are not there just to share war stories.
3. Ensuring that learning is transferable, meaning that the participant believes he or she could achieve a comparable outcome as the leader. One of the greatest risks of LAT is that participants may think, “Oh, he can do it, but not me!” Thus, LAT session design focuses not only on facilitating learning but on instilling confidence so each participant can translate the learning into action.