RIDING THE TIGER: Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times

By Priscilla Nelson and Ed Cohen

 

Leadership and the ability to influence change can convert turbulence into an opportunity for success. Though most leadership books are written from the viewpoint of lessons on the path to great success, Riding the Tiger provides a rare opportunity to learn from a catastrophic event that shook the foundation of a thriving global organization. This book gives you a specific, step-by-step approach to take that tiger by the tail and benefit from the challenges of leading during chaotic times. You’ll discover many innovative leadership techniques as you read the fascinating, powerful stories about people who’ve implemented these tools. These experiences and techniques are universally applicable wherever people in an organization are facing turbulence-whether caused by the global recession, rapid growth, mergers and acquisitions, internal corruption, or any other changes.

 

In 2009, the authors, Priscilla Nelson and Ed Cohen, were flourishing as senior leaders at India’s fourth largest IT services firm, Satyam Computer Services, a 53,000 person company with presence in 60 countries. It all came to a startling halt when the CEO confessed to "cooking the books" and the company became known as "India’s Enron." Based on strategies, many of which they implemented during this crisis, Riding the Tiger provides outstanding leadership techniques steering the way to organizational renewal.

 

Contents

  • Foreword—Ann Herrmann-Nehdi
  1. 1. Organizational Crisis Strikes: The Legacy of the Satyam Experience
  2. 2. The Role of Learning during a Crisis: Developing a “Lights On” Strategy
  3. 3. The Role of Leadership during a Crisis: Setting Guidelines for Key Concerns
  4. 4. Guiding the Evolution of Your Organization’s Culture during a Crisis
  5. 5. Coaching for Leaders
  6. 6. Using Social Networking Media
  7. 7. Caring for the Wounded
  8. 8. Salvaging Customer Relationships Through Real-Time Learning
  9. 9. Leading Through Learning: Creating a Postcrisis Plan
  • Appendix A: The Legacy of Learning at Satyam
  • Appendix B: Echoes of Innocence—More Voices from Satyam

Preface

It was like riding a tiger, not knowing how to get off without being eaten.” This is how Ramalinga Raju, the founder and chairman of Satyam Computer Services, based in Hyderabad, described the widening gap between the real and artificial numbers in the company’s books when he confessed to the actions that caused Satyam’s fall from grace on January 7, 2009. Satyam, which was founded in 1987, had grown to be the fourth-largest information technology services firm in India, with more than 53,000 employees working in 60 countries around the world. But now the adjectives used to refer to this once-iconic brand, whose slogan had been “India is IT,” were tainted, disgraced, beleaguered, scandalized, fraudulent, and crisis-ridden. The huge scale and impact of Satyam’s downfall were clear in the headline of The Economist’s cover story: “India’s Enron,” and BusinessWeek featured a photo of Raju on the cover with the headline “From Icon to I Con.”

 

Even in the maelstrom of this scandal, however, for the vast majority of Satyam’s dedicated leaders, daily life at the firm still came first—customer retention, revenue, collections, the delivery of projects, and tending to wounded employees. Yet Satyam’s leaders, and in fact most leaders in India, had never encountered anything like this. Employee morale had plummeted to an instant all-time low, no one knew whom to trust, and feelings of betrayal had left a sour aftertaste.

 

But this book does not tell the story of Satyam’s downfall. It tells about what happened after Raju’s confession and how a “leading through learning” strategy was implemented to stabilize the company and help it recover and rebuild. Moreover, though the story of the crisis endured by Satyam’s leaders and employees in Hyderabad is engrossing, the leadership lessons from their experiences are just as applicable to a nonprofit advocacy organization in Baltimore, an agricultural products firm in Omaha, a sporting goods retailer in Beijing, an investment bank in Sydney, or a high-technology firm in San Jose. These lessons, in short, are universal; whenever people in an organization are facing turbulence—whether caused by external recession, internal malfeasance, or anything else—the organization’s leaders and all employees’ efforts to continue essential initiatives play a key role in resolving issues and putting the organization back on an even keel.

 

This book gives you a specific, step-by-step approach to this organizational renewal spurred by leadership through learning. After chapter 1 introduces you to the cast of characters and main themes, chapter 2 shows you how to use an essential tool we’ve developed based on our lessons from Satyam’s experience (and those of many other organizations we’ve assisted over the years): the “Lights On” strategy—a vital first step for a business in crisis, simply to keep the lights on and do only what’s absolutely necessary to stabilize operations and regain forward momentum. Chapters 3 and 4 offer detailed practical steps and guidelines for leading through learning in turbulent times. Then several chapters cover essential aspects of this leadership and its related functions—coaching in chapter 5, maximizing the value of social networking media in chapter 6, caring for those wounded by a crisis in chapter 7, and responding in real time in chapter 8. Finally, chapter 9 distills the specifics of the earlier chapters to enable you to create a postcrisis, longer-term plan for growth. Throughout all these chapters, you will find fascinating, pointed stories about people who’ve utilized the tools we’re describing, and wise quotations illuminating the principles underlying these techniques. Two appendixes are full of even more provocative, inspiring lessons and stories from the Satyam experience.

 

Take that tiger by the tail so you won’t be eaten and learn how to actually enjoy the challenge of leading your organization through learning to survive and thrive during what you may have feared were impossibly chaotic times.

 

Who Will This Book Benefit?

These days, turbulent times appear to be endemic to the world of business, which is why the principles delineated in this book will be useful for every leader who wants to proactively prepare for the unexpected. Though most books are written from the viewpoint of lessons learned on the path to great success, this book provides a rare opportunity to learn from a catastrophic event that shook the foundation of a thriving global organization. Because this event was so tremendously earth-shattering, we believe the lessons it has taught—the valuable insights and actionable strategies for leaders and change agents as well as professionals involved in learning, human resources, marketing, and business development—can be scaled to assist in creatively making the best of any type of change happening in an organization.

 

This is a valuable book for business professionals and students alike who want to learn how to reverse a reversal of fortune or to continue on the path of fortune’s fortune.

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7 Responses to “About”

  1. Subbu G May 18, 2010 at 9:24 am #

    Dear Ed & Priscilla,
    I do not know whether you recall me as VP-Finance at Satyam ( now Mahindra Satyam). Prior to Satyam I was Director Finance / CFO for Canon India for 5+ years, all the buzz about a growing IT services organisation , prestigious awards, elite board of directors , Corporate governance awards everything lured me into this organisation, 3.5 years prior to the break out of ” Riding the tiger” news. Until the news broke out had no inkling of any of these. Each one of us in business finance where i belong to streched all out for excellence to win many deals and kept on innovating. It was like our career was soaring quite high when in mid-air the career exploded to pieces and we come crashing down. There were so many well wishers saying do you need any help, some were advising us make the career moves immediately. Each one of us did not know what to do since we had been saddled with loan of housing, we had to put a confident face hiding our personal emotions and run for finding the money in the bank ( driving collection)to pay the first month Salary. Personally would say we four of us ( Ramesh, Murali, VVK and Self) came together and steered it with support of other leaders. Thanks to government which stepped in. Believe me we had the land and property we wanted to pledge and take loan for Satyam- no banker or financier were willing to provide the same in the first 2 days, rather bankers starting lining up to protect their interest. The entry of Government directors and their swift action helped us to ensure that we had the audience of the banks and we were able to gradually steer things together. As finance team we were sandwiched from multiple angles, we had to handle agencies – multiple, new board, bankers and operations to protect the interest in addition to our team motivation – many of the team members stood together to play the support role. Beleive me from no where we required to don the hat of compliance and treasury role which we had not handled before in Satyam , build the basic data which we didnot have access to and built all data metrics to enable the sale of Satyam. When the rechristened “Mahindra Satyam” was born again then before the new employer we needed to prove ourselves to be pure, trust worthy and of integrity and were only innocent fools. Now is almost a year and half if we look back we have waded through the woods but in the journey one thing is coming out clear personally when i speak to many of my colleagues which really hurts as a professional but the learning expereince of continous adaptation handlign crisis by the minute has certainly made me more confident to face anything worst.

    The world finds it hard to believe – you are a senior finance professional , you may say you were part of business finance and how come you were not aware of it. Be it a consultant or new employer who wants to hire or anyone finds it difficult to believe it, this incident has surely tarnished professional image in one’s CV and left a hurt feeling. While one would feel confident in one’s inner soul that am right and have strong values and beliefs but public perception of Satyam Finance team is a “Big ?” . We had 50-60% attrition despite all these in Finance function , the middle layer is completed wiped out, we have been handling reskilling and re-training all junior most resources who are graduates and still surviving. I do not know what will change this and we are patiently waiting for it to dawn. But personally and professionally i feel i had been able to stay on to save those 50000+ employees to anchor somehow in their lives…….. Subbu

    • Webmaster May 29, 2010 at 6:06 am #

      Dear Subbu,

      We thank you for sharing your story with everyone. This is exactly the essence of Riding the Tiger: Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times. It is a book that shares how people react, respond, and courageously lead in the most extreme conditions imaginable. Rebuilding trust, even for the innocent leaders is a daunting task. You are truly an outstanding leader to have remained so focus on the right path. Ed & Pris

  2. subbu_g May 18, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Dear Ed and Priscilla,
    Advance best wishes to your new book. Am anxious to pick up one from the stands, truly it is those 100+ days when all the leaders stood together to make it happen and make the 50000+ employee on board the titanic – averted from dying despite hitting the iceberg. “The Corporate Titanic – Survived”… as a senior finance professional would look forward to see whether the expereiences we have gone through are captured in the learnings…. Subbu

  3. Abhilekh Kalita June 9, 2010 at 7:43 am #

    You have done a commendable job to bring out this book. Best wishes. Also, thanks for sharing Mr. Subbu G’s experiences with us.

    Regards,
    Abhilekh (working in Mahindra Satyam as a Test Lead)

  4. Kermy Pera July 5, 2010 at 4:37 am #

    Dear Ed & Priscilla,I do not know whether you recall me as VP-Finance at Satyam ( now Mahindra Satyam). Prior to Satyam I was Director Finance / CFO for Canon India for 5+ years, all the buzz about a growing IT services organisation , prestigious awards, elite board of directors , Corporate governance awards everything lured me into this organisation, 3.5 years prior to the break out of ” Riding the tiger” news. Until the news broke out had no inkling of any of these. Each one of us in business finance where i belong to streched all out for excellence to win many deals and kept on innovating. It was like our career was soaring quite high when in mid-air the career exploded to pieces and we come crashing down. There were so many well wishers saying do you need any help, some were advising us make the career moves immediately. Each one of us did not know what to do since we had been saddled with loan of housing, we had to put a confident face hiding our personal emotions and run for finding the money in the bank ( driving collection)to pay the first month Salary. Personally would say we four of us ( Ramesh, Murali, VVK and Self) came together and steered it with support of other leaders. Thanks to government which stepped in. Believe me we had the land and property we wanted to pledge and take loan for Satyam- no banker or financier were willing to provide the same in the first 2 days, rather bankers starting lining up to protect their interest. The entry of Government directors and their swift action helped us to ensure that we had the audience of the banks and we were able to gradually steer things together. As finance team we were sandwiched from multiple angles, we had to handle agencies – multiple, new board, bankers and operations to protect the interest in addition to our team motivation – many of the team members stood together to play the support role. Beleive me from no where we required to don the hat of compliance and treasury role which we had not handled before in Satyam , build the basic data which we didnot have access to and built all data metrics to enable the sale of Satyam. When the rechristened “Mahindra Satyam” was born again then before the new employer we needed to prove ourselves to be pure, trust worthy and of integrity and were only innocent fools. Now is almost a year and half if we look back we have waded through the woods but in the journey one thing is coming out clear personally when i speak to many of my colleagues which really hurts as a professional but the learning expereince of continous adaptation handlign crisis by the minute has certainly made me more confident to face anything worst.
    +1

  5. KG Krishna August 8, 2010 at 10:44 pm #

    What worries me most is: when such events (like Satyam) happen, and as when ‘facts’ come to light, everything looks connected in hindsight to make perfect ‘logical’ sense to justify its eventual ‘fate’. It then becomes, apart from learning in retrospective, a wellspring of ‘stories’ for the curious onlookers outside (Enron did happen much before Satyam, why didn’t we learn from it?)

    So, my bigger question is: How do we ‘smell’ such potential ‘tigers’ or ‘tiger-like behaviours’ inside a supposedly ‘healthy’ organization and prevent them from ‘eating’ its hapless employees? As an engineer, I feel lackadaisical attitude towards systems and undue and irrational (unscientific) obedience to the powers-be (organizational psychology) contribute to such ‘Satyam-like tigers’ riding high else people could cage them early. Remember the Indian story of Panchatantra where lesser subjects (rabbits, deer) collectively hatched a plot to throw the greedy, powerful and arrogant tiger–the king of the jungle–in a well to protect their community from its evil predator.

    Having said that, I don’t proclaim myself to be pure and idealistic. As one of the loyal employee of Satyam then, I believed in the future progress of the organization while at the same time abhorred its weak systems infrastructure in a series of educative and solution-oriented articles circulated among its Full Life Cycle Leaders. In the light of the then economic adversities and the state of our internal systems, the most we feared then, was losing our profitability and industry rank few notches below– but, not our face in the public.

    Now, as a teacher of Systems Thinking and Real-Time Systems to engineering students, I advise prospective employees and leaders in the organization to recognize that:

    a) Everything is connected to everything as a System. Allow free flow of information (formal). Play silent listener to informal communication which in a connected society cannot be inhibited by organizational powers. Most importantly–’feelings’ (which are like unsubstantiated ‘smoke signals’ in the form of ‘unspoken and boss-may-feel-bad-like’ irritations and water-cooler chitchats). Both these sources of information provide valuable insights for continuous improvement and most importantly anticipate potential problems ahead.

    b) After all, we are all human beings as individuals. Accept the fact, that here is a little bit of ‘satyam’ in all of us. Systems oriented organizations would account for this fact and smell impending problems much ahead by ACTIVELY LISTENING to ‘smoke signals’ and take PROACTIVE measures to neutralize their ill-effects in the future.

    c) Systems should be ABOVE the Individuals. Monitor ‘exceptions’ closely. In a large organization, such exceptions (hijacking by few individuals/leaders without transparency and accountability) would lead to lack of organization-wide credibility in systems and therefore their nonchalant abandon by one and all.

    d) Respect rationality and scientific attitude. Let irrational behaviour of few not cloud your professional judgement (rational thinking) at any cost–even if it creates adversarial relationship in the short-run, or losing your job at worst. In the long-run, you win.

    e) Be a Systems Thinker: The higher you are in the leadership role, the greater your influence it would be on the organization (employees). Do not be a siloed leader playing deaf-ear to others/events beyond your assigned sphere-of-influence. Every decision of yours is connected to every other part of the organization (of your colleagues). If you smell something irrational (unscientific or ‘fishy’) anywhere in the system which is detrimental to the organization-at-large in the long-run, cry foul–loud and clear. If none hears, blow the whistle. We’re happy to know that post Satyam-event, several organizations became serious about ‘Whistle Blower Policy’.

    Finally, we cannot avoid tigers and cubs. They are part of our natural ecosystem. Caging one or two bad tigers would not help. There may be several on the prowl. We have to adopt systems that neutralize bad behaviours of few tigers.

    As we speak, we hear stories of many bad-tigers in the public life too who are squandering tax-payers money by several thousands of crores. It is unfortunate that only an external media could highlight them and, not internal systems.

    - KG KRISHNA

  6. Vamsi Krishna August 26, 2010 at 5:16 am #

    Dear Ed & Priscilla,

    Thanks for bringing out the book and sharing our experience. As a Business Graduate I feel such books will help us in learning how to face the situations and bring out the leaders within.

    Best Wishes,
    Vamsi ( PGDBE from WLC-Hyd)