Measuring the ROI of Leadership – Adil Malia [Interview]
About Adil Malia
Adil Malia is a Chief Executive at ‘The Firm’. He is a human resource professional with a wide range of experiences in people management, change management, and leadership. He has helped and coached leaders around the globe, he has worked in Senior Management and Board roles in diverse industries like Manufacturing, Services, FMCG, Infrastructure, and Retail. A personality who started his career at the young age of 19, he has a lot of wisdom from experience that will surely be of great use for our audience.
We have the pleasure of welcoming Adil Malia today to our interview series. I’m Vanessa Rose from the peopleHum team. Before we begin, just a quick introduction of peopleHum. peopleHum is an end-to-end, one-view, integrated Human Capital Management Automation Platform, the winner of the 2019 global Codie Award for HCM that is specifically built for crafted employee experiences and the future of work with AI and automation technologies. We run the peopleHum blog and video channel which receives upwards of 200,000 visitors a year and publish around 2 interviews with well-known names globally, every month
Welcome, Adil. We are thrilled to have you.
Thank you so much, so sweet of you to have wanted to interview me.
So Adil, you’ve had quite a journey in your work life. Could you tell us a little bit about it? And what brought you to this amazing place you are in right now?
Well, thank you. If I pretend that I really knew upfront when I started as to where I was going to end up or I have still not ended up, of course, but where I was going to reach, I think that would be a lie. I come from a very middle-class family and my father really could afford my education up to a certain point and then he had left it all on to us to decide what we wanted to do in life.
If I look back and I’m just trying to look back as you asked me this question may be at 19, when I started my career, I was as confused as what another 19-year-old boy would have been. So for me to say that life seemed very clear and I could see it very clearly as to what I wanted to achieve, that’s not the fact. So I was very confused, but if I look back from that confusion to this clarity which I have got now where I have reached, what are some of the things that were consistently present throughout was from that point I knew two things.
I was aware of my strengths. So very clearly I knew of my ability to work very hard. I also knew throughout my school and my college days that my communication skills were good because people have told me that I could communicate well. People also had told me that my relational skills were very good so I could build social relationships with people very well and I could transact with people.
So consistently three or four domains I knew which were my strength. But that did not give me any clarity about what I wanted to do. I knew I could communicate well. I knew I could work very hard when I wanted to work very hard. I knew I could socially interact, and I also knew that I loved working with people.
So with this confusion, I started looking for what I should be doing. I found a job as a commercial apprentice. A guy who has not done graduation. I got to work as a commercial apprentice in this company called Godrej, and I started doing my law. And then I moved into the legal department.
As I moved into the legal department of Godrej, at some point of time I was handling labor laws, and I realized that when I was working with the unions was that there were one too many issues that I could help the union to resolve by merely sitting together, talking to people, negotiating with them, explaining to them the reality of the situation and if we would have given the route, or we would have decided to take the legal route, most of these problems which we found solved, would ideally not have been solved, it would have gone into long-drawn court cases, and I don’t know when it would have gotten solved.
So at that point in time, I said that I wanted to do something with people, and that was not necessarily law by which of course I had done my legal graduation and I got a rank in the university.
So there was pressure from the family to go in areas of law. But my heart and my desire were telling me that I wanted to do something with people and therefore I stumbled across this program at the TATA Institute, which of course, I applied for. I somehow was lucky that I got admitted because the admission exams are very, very tough out there in those days at least, now also, I understand. And then I completed my program.
So whilst I did begin with confusion, the desire to succeed was always there. And I would say that you have to adopt this ability to make judgments. Things are not going to be clear at any point in time. You have to learn to make a decision up to a point that you can see from the window that you are at right now, from wherever you are, as far as what you can see, maybe you can make a judgment call on that.
Learn to be comfortable with the ambiguity and keep scanning around for what are the alternatives which are in line with what you really want to do. Make decisions fast, work hard, and slowly you will find that if you’re seriously wanting to be a learner all your life in whatever you are doing, and if you are willing to take bold decisions about your life.
“Learn to be comfortable with the ambiguity and keep scanning around for what are the alternatives which are in line with what you really want to do.”
Well, I was coming from a middle-class family, and I couldn’t even afford to pay education for two full years of studies at the TATA Institute. So actually, I had to work and earn my money so that then I could sponsor my education at the TATA institute by myself. So all of these things come provided you have your commitment, provided you have your passion to succeed, provided you know your strengths well, and you’re not scared of ambiguity. So if you really want to summarize, this is what I would say is the summary of where I am today.
Yes, that’s really interesting, so you identified your strengths and worked on it.
You don’t identify your strength. I think over a period of time these trends show their heads at some point in time or the other in your life. So I was very good at debating. I was very good at elocution. I had won the national elocution competition. So it had indicated that I was able to communicate effectively in a large group of people.
So these kinds of evidences of your strengths, they show up at different points of time. You need to acknowledge the presence of this and try to do something which your passion makes you do. So collect all your strengths together. Identify your passion and move in the direction of what you want to do with your passion. And I’m sure that success is something that will come and kiss you gently on your head.
“So collect all your strengths together. Identify your passion and move in the direction of what you want to do with your passion. And I’m sure that success is something that will come and kiss you gently on your head.”
So moving on to the next question, what are the typical issues faced by organizations looking for a business turn around or massive transformation?
So when businesses are looking for transformation, they believe that someone has got a magical wand. They’re looking out for these kinds of mantras. No one has got this magical dust which early in the morning if you sprinkle at the footsteps of the office building, Abracadabra, some changes happen and transformation is going to happen. The next morning, as you come out, the business will be transformed because you sprinkled those magical dust seeds around the company. So there is no such magical dust.
Transformation is an outcome, number one – of very clear commitment at the top. So the top management of the organization should be very very clear in its mind that it wants to move in that direction.
“Transformation is an outcome, number one – of very clear commitment at the top.”
If the top management or the ownership of the enterprise is not committed or is not willing to sponsor that transformation, I promise you, you can break your head against the wall, you could work X number of extra hours to bring the transformation, you could have communicated until your lungs ran out of breath, but you will never be able to lead that transformation. So the number one, top management transformation is very critical.
Number two is, the communication generally does not flow. Why are we changing? Why are we wanting this transformation? What is making the company move from point A to point B? Why does the company want to do things differently than what it was doing earlier? That messaging should be done consistently and continuously in the organization.
Most leaders tend to leave these communications to forces of nature. They believe that there is some magical thing happening somewhere in the sky which will make the people who are undergoing a change in your enterprise realize that this company is making this change for the following reason.
And ultimately, the employees don’t know why the organization is changing versus leadership is driving towards a certain board. And this disconnect is something that will firstly, come majorly in the way of executing the change that you want to bring in and secondly, will actually create an antagonistic feeling if the people who were supposed to execute the change are not themselves bought into the journey of change, and that is very important, so communication is very important.
A connection is very important. People need to understand the strategy and understand how their role is connected to the strategy of the enterprise. You know the classical story of the bricklayer. If the bricklayer is told that he’s only laying bricks, he will not really feel very connected to the journey, but when he understands or he is made to understand that actually he’s laying bricks to build a church, which is in the service of God, then his connection to the building is very big.
So it is necessary that employees who are working in the enterprise or the army of the organization bringing the transformation, they need to be connected directly at each individual level to the larger purpose, and then they should feel extremely engaged with the journey. People should feel emotionally engaged with the journey, only then the chances of transformation succeeding are very high. Motivation has to be high, so there too many elements that are involved in it.
“Employees in an organization need to be connected directly at each individual level to the larger purpose and should feel extremely engaged with the journey. only then the chances of transformation succeeding are very high.”
Most importantly, the execution of these changes to become successful to execute that, you require a very strong scorecard, people need to have bought into that scorecard, it is not that the top management has told them that this is what you will drive. They should themselves agree that these are the scorecards they would want to lead by. And there has to be a strong motivation, monetary and non-monetary to make the guy work at the same time, presence of a reward and punishment mechanism, which makes him succeed, realize and coach that he needs to move or else he has to shift himself out because no one has got endless time in the process of transformation.
Either people perform well or if they can’t perform well, they are coached, if they can’t be coached at some point in time there are no love stories, you need to exit those guys and get the new guys with the right skill sets to be able to deliver to the transformational journey. And many factors into it, but this is what I think it was to give a gist of the masterclass it would cover some of these points.
That is such an impactful answer. The entire organization has to be in an alignment of the organizational transformation.
Yeah, because if this alignment is not there and transformation is a by the way agenda, it will never succeed. The transformation has to be the prime agenda that the organization has to undertake.
Therefore, it has to define that goal very clearly. And most people in today’s world, this entire belief about vision and all of that. Sometimes when you leave this literature and ask leaders about vision, you realize that there is so much folly in their understanding of what vision is.
A vision can never be the end destination because we are in going concerns. Vision can only be a time-bound milestone upon reaching which you have to redefine yourself and move to the next milestone. So look at your vision as a milestone and focus on that.
“A vision can never be the end destination because we are in going concerns. Vision can only be a time-bound milestone upon reaching which you have to redefine yourself and move to the next milestone.”
Don’t look at your transformational journey as a by the way, journey. We’re doing five things amongst which one is transformation, then it doesn’t work. That’s my feelings.
Vision is not the end destination, that is so true.
It’s a continuous destination. It’s a milestone. It’s a time-bound milestone that you believe in that by this time I should have reached this milestone, upon reaching which you have to redefine yourself because we cannot see ahead so well. Today, for example, the kind of situation that you and I are facing, the globe is facing in fact, can anyone really predict what is going to happen beyond three years?
So what vision are you going to decide? Yours is a going concern, which is a life long existence, and you are unable to see from your window beyond three year’s time. Therefore, what you can see through the farthest can only be a milestone in the journey. Use that as a milestone, rather than being ambiguous, use that as the milestone, and upon reaching that destination keep moving on.
Thank you for that.
In your experience as a human resource professional, what are the main areas you think organizations are going wrong in having an effective employee engagement strategy?
So number one is frankly, between you and me, there are a few motherly’s and a few large statements which companies keep talking about without meaning, and they go genuinely wrong in some of those. So on the one hand, every organization will talk about things like ‘People are our most valuable resources, we believe in inclusivity, we believe in innovation. We have a very flexible culture.’ And these kinds of motherly’s they keep uttering, and at some point in time without testing out whether the culture and the organization at the ground level is actually believing in some of these guidelines or not, they start working on it, to soon realize that the actual organizational practices are not matching to that what they have been saying.
So whilst they may say that people are their most important resources, for example, what are the kinds of situations and what our clients ask at this point in time? They’re saying, can we cut people out? Can we stop paying salaries? Can we take the leaves just because they have not been coming to work?
Now here are people and you have been saying all along that, Vasudev Kutumba, we are part of one large family. People are our most important resources. And how come in the family with the resources which are your critical resources, the first element of thought you have is about not thinking of them as a part of your family. So they talk about engagement, but they don’t believe in engagement.
Communication is done on a need to know basis and people are constantly looking out because information is a human need. It is as much a critical need for people as food and thirst is and therefore organizations that pass on the company’s information to employees only on a need to know basis seem to be missing the bus. That information about the company leads to engagement because the information is a living and a growing need of a learning organization.
People need that information, whether they need it or not, from a work-related point of view is a different story but for their existence and their identity, they need that information.
They talk about flexible cultures. But if you will see most cultures in most organizations are rigid cultures. Rigidity is the prime sector around which cultures get solidified and therefore certain beliefs that the leaders believe, certain ways in which organization is functioning over historical periods of time become rigid beliefs, become the rigid ways of life in that organization.
“Rigidity is the prime sector around which cultures get solidified.”
When any new person comes and says that I have another way of doing it, I want a different way of trying to attack this problem, even if that same problem done in the old way was not giving results and if a new leader is mandated to solve the problem and he says, let’s do it differently, the entire culture of the organization consolidates to fight that distance because they believe this is different from the culture that we have been used to. This is different from the way we used to be doing it.
So culture, unfortunately at the ground level, is defined by rigidities, and alienation happens to that leader who tries to bring in new ways of doing it. And these are some of the reasons that engagement doesn’t happen. We also love to throw money at the problem. And whenever there are employees who want to go away whenever there is good talent getting away. We try to throw money at a problem.
And we believe that whether I am engaging you or not engaging you, I am giving you money so stay on. But what leaders and organizations tend to forget that money never leads to engagement. Throw money at a problem. And I promise you, my experience tells me the problem will remain, but your money will go away, and that is one of the most important things.
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Also, the motherly that most organizations tend to follow is when they say that we focus on your career, we do this, we do that, most companies tend to practice last day career management programs. The career of the guy is spoken on the last day after he submitted the resignation. And suddenly the guy who has resigned becomes the most critical member of the organization.
Organizations say one set of things and then tend to practice different sets of things, naturally, the real engagement of the people is not there. Superficial engagement, because people do not have another job, they’re working with you in the organization, naturally, they keep giving you superficial feedback that, oh, they are all very happy.
Any of these employee surveys that most companies undertake, to show whether the level of engagement is high or low, even the high engagement companies at times if you correlate the attrition data will indicate that on the one end, they’re saying they’re highly engaged, on the other hand, their attrition levels are also very high to show that if they get other jobs, they will move away. But before moving away till they’re in the company, they say they are all very happy.
So this is a kind of engagement which will come in the way. Engagement is about authentic trust, simple. Do you have authentic trust in your employees and do your employees have authentic trust in you between what they do, they say, and what they tell. There has to be an alignment. And it is that alignment of authenticity and trust which will keep people in the company.
“Engagement is about authentic trust, simple. Do you have authentic trust in your employees and do your employees have authentic trust in you between what they do, they say, and what they tell. There has to be an alignment. And it is that alignment of authenticity and trust which will keep people in the company.”
That’s what my submissions are.
So the rigidity that we were talking about, do you think it impacts the millennials of this generation? Because millennials are not used to following rules and working in a particular way.
So millennials is another story that we’re trying to create for them. I’m so happy to get engaged with the millennials. They are not far more different. Some of us, to make a business out of our consultants try to do this macro classification between oh, these guys are demons in the making, they think differently. It is like the same thing, like the culture that we’re talking about. We are used to working in a certain way and we believe that’s the only way work can happen.
And now we’re so rigid about it that the new sets of people who have been brought up, nurtured, and engaged in a different environment, in a digital technology in the way life is different now from the way life was for us, naturally, the output is different. Their precepts about money, their precepts about employment, their precepts about happiness, and some of these perceptions are actually right the way they see it. And it was wrong the way we used to see it.
So naturally, some of these things are different. Everything that is different is not necessarily dead. We ideally should have been doing it the way they are. Look what we have done to our planet. Look what is our generation. What have you and I have done to leave the inheritance of this beautiful planet that we got? What have we done to our planet that we’re giving them? When you go and talk to the millennials, they’re concern about the environment, they’re concern about the planet is so much higher.
So it is not true that just because they’re thinking differently, they pose a challenge. They pose a challenge to you because you’re rigid. We are rigid in our perceptions. We are rigid about the way we want them to do it exactly the way we do it. And therefore we would get nothing other than a photocopy of the universe, as it stands today, it will not show development and it will not show growth.
“So it is not true that just because they’re thinking differently, they pose a challenge. They pose a challenge to you because you’re rigid. We want them to do things exactly the way we do it. And therefore we would get nothing other than a photocopy of the universe as it stands today.”
Yeah, it makes so much sense.
So do you also think technology can help us in improving engagement in an organization?
Technology will help in every possible way say, for example, today oftentimes in the absence of technology we are taking so many are decisions on gut feeling basis. We do not have data, right? We do not have the ability to accurately measure things. We do not have the ability to quickly come to a conclusion. What are the insights of our people?
Technology, by virtue of its speed and ability to get into the depth, will be able to give you much more authentic data on the basis of which you will be able to plan. Therefore, technology will certainly lead to telling you where the gap in which you need to engage in. And that’s what I believe people should do.
How do you see leaders ensuring that their feedback translates into impact?
By executing it. If leaders have got opinions, if leaders have got views and if leaders believe in something but they don’t convert it into action, the impact of that speech is going to have a short-lived life. If I keep telling you that you are the most important resource but the impact of my belief or impact of my saying that does not convert itself, there is no impact.
“If leaders have got opinions, if leaders have got views and if leaders believe in something, but they don’t convert it into action, the impact of that speech is going to have a short-lived life.”
So the impact is actually a measurement of the grassroots level execution of what you say and what you believe. When you execute that, where the rubber hits the road, that is where the impact is measured.
My experience tells me that most organizations tend to suffer from what we call organizational schizophrenia. Now, you heard the word schizophrenia and that much of psychology you’d be able to understand. When people say and do different things, they say one thing and do different things. It is in a way indicator of schizophrenia behavior.
Organizations make these fantastic vision statements and value statements, for example, to say we are a very customer-driven organization. You are a customer-responsive organization? When a poor employee comes to the HR department just to find out how many days leave balance does he have into his account, first day, he will be thrown out. The second day will be told that the right person is not available. The third day he would be told, can you come after 12 o’clock, the boss has called us for a meeting? Then he will be told something else.
Now he looks at the wall hanging that stays the vision of the company is to be customer-centric. And then he collates it with the experience he gets when he is at the grassroots level asking for a simple thing like his leave balance. And that is where he gets into a schizophrenic mode to say, what is our organization?
Now sequence and collection of these behaviors with a schizophrenic between what the organization says and what the organization does leads to a certain gap and that is the gap of disengagement that disengages people from believing what the organization says. And if people in the organization do not believe the organization, do not have trust. And as I told you to me, engagement is all about authenticity and trust.
“Now sequence and collection of these behaviors with a schizophrenic between what the organization says and what the organization does leads to a certain gap and that is the gap of disengagement that disengages people from believing what the organization says.”
So therefore they say, is this organization authentic about what they are saying? Can I trust this organization? And if the behaviors are showing that no, I cannot trust them. They’re not authentic about what they’re saying because they’re doing something totally different. Naturally, the impact will be less.
Like they say, action speaks louder than words here.
Actions have to speak, in fact, don’t let your words be there. Let your action become your words.
What is the best way to manage feedback in a distributed workforce especially in this scenario of remote working?
I think remote working or consolidated working is never really the most important thing. If you really know what you want from people, if you are very clear in your mind what you want people to deliver to you, if you have scorecardized them, if you’ve engaged your people in design thinking where they’re involved in designing the way forward processes, if they’re committed, if they know their goals, then measuring their performance is not a matter of which location you’re operating from.
So this is a very classical and I would say very old way of measuring performance that you’re talking about, that you have to be in a physical location, sitting across the table with the boss with a pink color form on which you’re saying, ‘okay, this is what I told you to deliver in the beginning, this is what you have delivered.’ This fellow says I agree. So that kind of a very traditional performance management system is a very Mohenjodaro relic that we have continued in our contemporary management work.
Modern-day management is about questioning if we really need review because if the person is delivering to you what he’s supposed to deliver, then how many hours in a day and which location he is operating from, are all immaterial facts.
“Modern-day management is about questioning if we really need review because if the person is delivering to you what he’s supposed to deliver, then how many hours in a day and which location he is operating from, are all immaterial facts.”
There are HR managers I know and people have complained about that to me, that they’re checking whether we have logged in nine hours or not from our home by ensuring that the systems are connected to the server for nine hours. Now, my question is, will you be very happy that he’s logged in for twelve hours instead of nine? And would you be unhappy if he has logged in only for three hours out of the nine?
If the guy who has logged in for three hours has delivered far more value to you than the guy who logged in for twelve hours? So to me this whole classic way in which performance is seen, performance is reviewed, traditional way, the classical industrial revolution way of looking at performances is a practice and a process of the bygone era.
The new era does not believe in it, it does not need it and therefore organizations in the process of design and in the process of rethinking the business designs will have to chalk out multiple other ways to measure impact and see that it is impact and delivery that matters, not the physical presence of time that matters.
You ask for time from a person and you will get time back. You ask for the responsible delivery of value. You’ll get a responsible delivery of value, decide for yourself what you want?
That is true. But I think many organizations in India are yet to accept this concept of remote working.
Bad luck for them. Arbitrage is still going to happen where they will lose good talent. Good talent will erode them. Average talent which is not getting a job elsewhere or bad talent which they have not been able to get rid of will continue in their organizations. You can sit with them in your organization and keep filling out the performance review forms as many as you want. Call me to design and I will design some 500 such Mohenjodaro practices for you, but that will not deliver.
Arbitrage happens in an organization where good talent will move out because it sees no career happening out of these kinds of traditional and old ways in which performances are measured.
“Arbitrage happens in an organization where good talent will move out because it sees no career happening out of these kinds of traditional and old ways in which performances are measured.”
If you are delivering value and the organization is measuring and reviewing only time then you as a performer will certainly not feel engaged and will believe that my career is not moving in the right direction and therefore arbitrage of talent is a natural outcome of these traditional practices being continued in a generation era and age where it has not accepted.
And it all comes down to trust again, the employees not feeling trusted.
Finally, trust, Because do I trust you with my career? I don’t, why? Because you are measuring time when I’m delivering value. You are seeing things that are not good for the organization and valuing that. You’re reinforcing and rewarding people who are working long numbers of hours, even if they’re not delivering versus punishing people who are working for a lesser number of hours even If they are delivering greater value.
Now, look at this example. How do I trust your organization to build my career in that situation? You are reinforcing mediocrity. That is the problem.
And it’s the organization’s fault.
Yes, there is no organization point. Organizational leadership has to be made aware of it. I am sure that an organization which is matured or an organization which is into business, doesn’t find it far more difficult to understand if it is explained in the right way.
Actually the professional leadership has to take it upon themselves to sit with the ownership, to sit with the boards, and explain to them why these traditional ways should now give away and new ways of looking at things should be brought in.
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That was really nice.
Adil, do you have any more thoughts you’d like to share with our audience?
My most important message for all the people. We are all talking about professional excellence. My message is very simple. First, learn to be a good human being if you really want to succeed. If you are a good human being you will become a good husband, you will become a good son, you will become a good brother, you will become good, whatever you’re doing. You become a good professional. You will also become a good leader.
So therefore whilst competence and all of that is certainly very required in the changing environment. What is critical are these superimpositions of goodness, your good thoughts, good words, and good deeds, be a good human being and everything else will fall in line. And that is the message, to all the professionals.
Let goodness and happiness be your goal. Let organizations go into organizational flourish. Now happiness is a very limited function but what organizations today are looking out for what we call organizational flourish, so let goodness be the purpose, let happiness be the target, let flourish be the end value goal of your enterprise.
“Let goodness be the purpose, let happiness be the target, let flourish be the end value goal of your enterprise.”
Wonderful! This was such an insightful and power-packed conversation, Adil. I really appreciate you sharing your time and your views with us. It has been a learning experience for me, and I hope you had a good time.
I wish you good luck and I wish you good times. And I wish you become happy and flourish with your organization.
You too Adil. Bye, take care.
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