Employees First, Customer Second – A Review

This edition of my blog is dedicated to reviewing the book “Employees First, Customer Second (EFCS)” authored by Vineet Nayar, Vice Chairman & CEO of HCL Technologies. I recommend it as a must read for every Indian to understand the ethos of Transformation /  Change. The most striking revelation from the book is the criticality of a narrative to the succeed in any Transformation / Change initiative. Mr. Nayar comes across refreshingly as a modern day CEO, sensitive to the changing dynamics of global commerce and the need for businesses globally to be adaptive and agile. His integrity (Personal, Professional and Emotional) and emphasis on action shines through; from the first to the last page and is a striking contrast to the mediocre landscape of the Indian Leadership scene. His aspirational analogy on an organization or enterprise resembling a starfish where every unit assumes a life of its own is a very mature depiction of the future of enterprises to succeed in a global commerce. His creative interpretation of the Amsterdam Window for his business should influence leadership in other businesses to become more convincing than concealing in their branding strategies at their respective enterprise.

The future of business / organizational model?

As a proponent of  continuous innovation and transformation in organizations, I have a few questions that seem to conflict in my mind with the narrative of EFCS.

  1. Despite the fact that Mr.  Nayar maintains the tone of mutual inclusivity throughout the book, the very title of Employees First and Customer Second seems to negate that. The reason I bring this up is to reflect on the real world where co-creation is more a reality than a management theory. Isn’t this creating walls /  boundaries when processes, roles and outcomes must collapse to create a more universal value zone? Should not the customer universe or ecosystem be inclusive of Employees, Customers, Shareholders, Stakeholders, Business Partners, Vendors and / or Society? So  the question is not about Why Employee First but rather Why not the entire ecosystem first? In other words, why isn’t an employee a customer as well?
  2. Following from the above, is the question on the perception of value. In a truly process oriented enterprise, the measurement should be continuous with respect to process outcomes and measures with respect to Quality, Cost, Delivery, Service and Flexibility should be mandatory. Though Mr. Nayar mentions the implementation of the Balanced Score Card, there is hardly any mention of the Innovation Index; where HCLT would  have created Mind to Market and Time to Market outcomes for their customers. Wouldn’t that be worth celebrating in a work such as this? An ideal Performance Measurement would aggregate and disaggregated elegantly between Enterprise, Process, Teams and Roles that participate; thus leading to an accurate measurement of an Individual’s contribution for a given context of Transformation.
  3. There is evidence of the growing realization that businesses such as HCLT are not about delivering software or services but rather enabling innovation and business strategy of customers through technology. However, this realization does not come across in terms of action where technology is bridged between HCL Technologies and its Customer Universe to participate in the continuous evolution of strategy and transformation. The mention that there is one part of the HCLT enterprise that is focused on cloud computing for example makes it even more confounding, raising a red herring. HCL has in this quarter announced 20 transformational deals. How can a deal be transformational, when it does not impact and / or transform the core process of the customer organization? The question is more about HCLites beign Connected and Capable of delivering Strategic Innovation, Transformation and consequently growth.
  4. There is a clear mention that nothing is ever perfect. Yet, there is a lot of energy spent on wondering about the longevity of EFCS. As a leader, isn’t the spirit of transformation that Mr. Vineet Nayar sows enough for the future generations to benefit from? Why the bemoaning on what would happen to EFCS after his time? Perhaps it will take a better and bigger shape for a different context of the environment that the HCLT business finds in. The real question is therefore, is there a doubt that the right seed has been sowed and nutured for future generations of the customer universe of HCLT to reap the benefits?
  5. Finally, in an enterprise such as HCLT, the majority of the workforce is at the bottom of the pyramid. Is there a measurement to link the Human Capital Index of the enterprise to the growth of the individual; directly relating it to the contribution to the growth of the enterprise and the customer universe? The only way to find this out would be if the enterprise has a continuous Intellectual Capital Management Process (that establishes the threshold of capability required) integrating  with the Human Capital Management to build Value Capital and Managing it continuously. I am not sure there are references to any such processes being in place during this course of transformation led by EFCS at HCLT.

I recognize that transformation is a continuous process. However, speed is also its currency. It is possible that I have failed to interpret many of the meanings that could lead to answers to the above in the book. Despite these questions, I found it useful for me and a learning exercise while reading it. The lucid style and condor of expression help in empathizing with Mr. Nayar. As I said in my opening paragraph, he is definitely a cut above the rest as far as leadership goes in the IT Software and Services business.

About Subbu Iyer

Subbu Iyer is an Innovation & Transformation Leader as with 28 years of serving customers globally. He is currently the Chief Designer & Transformer at Energizing Innovation, an enterprise that is being founded to facilitate continuous growth in enterprises and as a consequence create societal wealth. The Radical Shift that this enterprise intends to employ is focusing on the Potential rather than the Performance of a business. He has been a serial entrepreneur and an intrapreneur in his past life, having founded Nihilent Technologies and Nandaki Systems besides being associated in senior leadership roles with firms such as Coopers & Lybrand, Cambridge Technology Partners, Tata Consultancy Services, Wipro Technologies and Steria.
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11 Responses to Employees First, Customer Second – A Review

  1. thanks for this summary Subbu

    Bhaskar Natarajan

  2. bhaskarnatarajan says:

    thanks for this summary Subbu

    Bhaskar Natarajan

  3. Alok says:

    I have read this book myself and I felt that that this is a book written by someone who wanted to score some brownie points about being a CEO and position his business in a particular way. In that sense, it is an elaborate form of brochureware.

    What I find to my amazement and increasing cynicism is the way these book go about abstracting business and converting them into memes such as innovation and transformation and all the other words and acronyms that are in currency.

    At the end when you read these books, you realize they could have written one page summary and that could have sufficed.

    Also, a word on the model thats depicted here. The word stakeholders includes all. It is an universal term that is inclusive of partners, customers, shareholders and anyone else who has a implicit or explicit stake in the business. And in that sense, there is a double count.

    • Subbu Iyer says:

      Dear Alok,

      Thank you Alok for your comments. If you would be so kind as to indulge me, let me persuade you with some reasoning from my end.

      Let us for a moment assume that you are absolutely right about Vineet writing this book to score brownie points or use it as a propaganda or whatever. Does it then take away the fact about the business performance of HCLT in the past five or six years? Isn’t it a fact that Vineet Nayar as a CEO has led this firm to compete globally and win business against majors such as Accenture, IBM and others with great credibility?

      So let me ask you, “What is your gain in standing judgement on Vineet Nayar and the book?”. Wouldn’t you be better off taking the salient points from the book and using them in your own life; especially considering the fact that you took the time and trouble to read the book?

      Now, Vineet Nayar or HCLT has not paid me or coerced me in any way to write a review of this book. I have written it of my own volition because it influenced me. I have had the benefit of either knowing or working closely with almost all the top leaders of the Indian IT Industry; up close and personal. Unfortunately, I haven’t yet had the privilege of meeting Vineet Nayar, though I have met Shiv Nadar as well as Ajai Chowdhary in the past. And let me tell you, there is a certain amount of sincerity of purpose in Vineet Nayar that I see coupled with the feeling of security that he has in himself and the representation of his thoughts; which is missing from most leaders.

      I don’t know what the context of your comments are. Perhaps you are an employee of HCLT or a shareholder. In either case, I would urge you to voice your concern directly at their U&I forum or in an AGM and see if your angst can be addressed.

      I would like us to remember that it is businesses like HCLT that are creating wealth for our nation and we need to support them in every possible way. We should not stop from criticizing their wrong doing while commending them for the efforts they are taking to improve and scale to a higher threshold of capability and performance. Having been a serial entrepreneur myself, let me tell you that one of the most difficult things for an Indian CEO is to orchestrate performance from his enterprise. There is a lot of hype about Indian talent. But the truth of the matter is, it takes a lot of managing and maintenance to harvest world class performance from them.

      Finally, you are absolutely right about the definition of stakeholders. They are universal. However, there is no double count in that diagram. For each process and its outcomes, in addition to the universal stakeholders, there are also designated stakeholders who are impact directly and in the short term of a process execution before the process impacts the universal stakeholder. Hence, the stakeholder is specifically mentioned as a separate unit.

  4. “There is a lot of hype about Indian talent. But the truth of the matter is, it takes a lot of managing and maintenance to harvest world class performance from them.” Subbu you are bang on the money here.
    The reason in my understanding is that we as a nation take up a job or a role because it suits our social status or some external factor. As there is no heart string attached, the soul is missing in our work.
    The answer may be to encourage of all of us to become bold, proactive and listen to our hearts. Do what we like, like what we do and the talent will be on display as pride in our work shows up. It will help us, help the organisation and help the community. All the take holders have a role to play for us to move towards this situation.

    • Subbu Iyer says:

      Hemant, you are absolutely right. As a society, we have become this nation with a herd mentality. From a spiritual nation, we have become so materialistic that nothing matters other than money. The worst part is that, we are hypocritical in our attitudes as well. As a consequence of it, learning and experience have been thrown out from our homes, societies, public institutions and business enterprises. We need to bring back that spirit of freedom and the willingness to pursue a path that our heart seeks. Yes, we once again need to become a nation of seekers; far from being beggars. The Gen Y needs to be lead to understand that “Mutual Inclusivity” is a must in their lives; to create a better society and a new world order for themselves and their future generations.

  5. Sudhakar Kuckian says:

    Very well written Subbu.

  6. Nilabh Dubey says:

    This is something that I saw here at Southwest Airlines. Sometimes I think, does the culture, country really influence Management thoughts

  7. Vinayak says:


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