Published in CLO Magazine – Jan, 2010
At the end of 2008, Satyam was India’s fourth-largest IT services firm, with 53,000 employees based in 60 countries around the world. The rapidly growing company had doubled in size in 2007 and was on target to double again by 2010. That is, until Jan. 7, 2009, when Satyam founder and chairman Ramalinga Raju disclosed some of his alleged fraud, forgery, cheating, embezzlement and insider trading actions that would cause Satyam’s fall from grace. There was Raju on the right side of the television screen, along with the graphic image of the company’s stock plummeting on the left.
When referring to the widening gap between the real and artificial numbers in the company books, Raju described his situation like this: “It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.”
For the leaders of Satyam Learning World, obviously this accounting scandal presented a major challenge. Immediately following the announcement, the entire learning group from across the organization, almost 400 strong, convened for a virtual meeting. During that first meeting, we identified what we knew and requested all our learning professionals to demonstrate strength and solidarity for the company. And so began the journey toward a new learning strategy.
We chose to start with a few deep cleansing breaths. Exhale negativity. Inhale positivity. Try it now: first exhale and let a negative thought go with it. Now inhale, breathing in pure, fresh, positive air.
Act One: Now What?
Scene 1: Hold Everything
Except for compensation of associates, we would now move from a generous learning investment of 9.5 percent of payroll to a near zero. Pens, notebooks, bottles of water — all became luxury items. We put an immediate halt to all learning programs.
Scene 2: Everyone Needs to Be a Brand Ambassador
All our learning professionals took on an additional role, brand ambassador. Satyam’s internal and external brand was severely damaged. We taught our learning professionals how to interact with the media, how to respond to internal queries and, most important of all, how to remain calm in the face of extreme crisis and uncertainty.
Scene 3: “Lights On”
We unveiled the “Lights On” strategy with learning and communication as our two pillars. Change of the worst kind had come as a stranger into our comfortable existence, and now it was time to convert emotions to actions. “Lights On” was our understanding of what learning and communication absolutely had to happen to keep the lights on for the organization, including technology learning, domain knowledge, completion and closure of existing programs, prepaid vendor-supplied programs and regular factual updates.
Scene 4: Real-Time Communication
Constant real-time communication was imperative. We wanted employees to hear about the news from our leaders rather than the media. And, in the beginning, the media beat us every single time. This presented a significant dilemma. What could we do?
Act Two: Technology to the Rescue
Scene 1: A Scalable Solution
In 2007, we invested a reasonable $20,000 to launch our Web radio and television capability. Our facilitators did not feel comfortable with the medium. Participants grew bored and logged off rapidly. Basically, we had created a talking-head, death-by-PowerPoint approach to teaching using Web television as the medium.
We went from barely 80 hours of programming a month, both live and repeat, to more than 600 hours of programming each month. We implemented new rules: Lectures and PowerPoint would be banned, and programs would be 30 to 45 minutes long.
All our facilitators instantly became talk show hosts. They had responsibility for their own programs; they booked subject-matter experts; and they ran the programs with a list of learning objectives and no script. A TV guide was published indicating program times that covered all time zones around the world. Our programming mix was:
* Thirty-five percent learning.
* Thirty-five percent communication.
* Twenty-five percent edutainment (webathons, specials on green earth and family programming).
* Five percent program promotions.
We produced eight hours of live programming each day and then replayed it twice to complete a 24-hour cycle whereby employees anywhere in the world would have the chance to participate. To ensure programming and technology maturity, we developed program advisory and technical advisory committees.
Marketing and communications launched a daily program called “News Today Live” which covered the day’s developments, gave a message or comment from a senior leader and then went on to address rumors and representations by the media. “Direct from the Leadership” allowed leaders across the organization to roll out their plans, short and long term, for rebuilding.
Human resources, a key player in facilitating change, presented a weekly program called “Engaging Associates.” A daily series, “Weathering the Storm,” became one of the most popular programs. With a different guest each day, this talk show allowed people to hear about how others were coping, and it helped them to feel included in the solution.
Another extremely popular series was “The Rise of the Phoenix.” Harvard Business Publishing donated case studies about companies who had been shattered and then rose out of the ashes to greater levels of success. We used their lessons to set the agenda for our own rebirth.
Considering more than 80 percent of our workforce is technical, the program matrix included learning for their needs. Daily shows like “Tech Talk,” “Let’s Talk PM” and “Domain Speak” were of high interest for techies.
Scene 2: Acting Lessons
Still, our learning professionals were not comfortable with having the camera pointing at them and the lights glaring while they conducted talk-show format learning. So we hired a local acting teacher who taught us ways to handle stress, how to use improvisation skills and how to play.
Scene 3: On Demand
A few months later, with the help of the network and systems team, we implemented on-demand learning. Once a program was presented live and repeated twice during the same two- hour period, it was archived and made immediately available on demand.
Act Three: Reaching Out
Scene 1: Extending the Emotional Intelligence of Leaders
Few leaders had ever encountered this type of corporate crisis before. Even so, our employees needed to vent, speak without fear and to feel a part of the solution. Leaders needed to understand the significance of being people-centric, providing compassion, guidance and strength. An e-mail campaign was launched to help leaders be more sensitive and to provide simple tools for enhancing their listening skills.
Scene 2: RESTORE
RESTORE (Rebuilding Satyam Together with Renewed Energy) focused on rebuilding the morale of teams by giving employees an opportunity to meet in their workgroups to voice their fears and explore new paths together. More than 250 half-day workshops were held virtually and in person around the world. Participants stepped into three roles during the workshops:
1. Employees: Participants made their fears known by writing them on sticky notes, virtually or in person. Small teams organized them into themes and reported out to the larger group.
2. Consultants: Participants took off their employee hat to don the hat of consultant. We asked them how we should go about rebuilding.
3. CEO: Knowing we would soon have a new CEO, we asked participants to identify their top priorities if they were CEO. This advice was consolidated and presented to our new chief executive.
Scene 3: Coachable Moments
“Coaching Conversations” launched as a regular Web television series. Utilizing our base of more than 40 qualified internal coaches, we proactively reached out to leaders, matching coaches to assist them. In collaboration with human resources, we launched an associate coaching and counseling referral services program.
Act Four: What Next?
Scene 1: Sensitive Rightsizing
The brutal reality remained that we had to shed excess head count. By any modest assessment, it was a blood bath. The battle left nearly 10,000 employees without roles. Rather than immediately being laid off, they were placed in a virtual pool. Depending on level, they were provided four to six months with partial pay and benefits. During this time, they did not come to the office, and any openings that came up were filled from the pool first.
Scene 2: Partner in Change
In April 2009, after months of uncertainty, Satyam was purchased by Tech Mahindra, part of the $7 billion Mahindra Group. Our learning strategy expanded to helping the new owners understand the state of leadership and the value available from learning and development services.
Scene 3: Catalyst for Rebuilding the Brand
In the wake of all this devastation and reconstruction, we received numerous timely global recognitions for our learning programs. This included an award and six citations from ASTD and a ranking in the top 10 in the Training Top 125. The brand plan for showcasing learning as a strategic differentiator for the newly christened Mahindra Satyam was paying dividends even as the stock struggled to reach the $5 mark.