Truth and Lies

Alas, sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between truth and lies.

Published in MSNBC on May 17, 2010

In 2005, Ed Cohen left his job at Booz Allen Hamilton. His wife, Priscilla, left her consulting practice to take jobs in India with Satyam Computer Services, a top global IT outsourcing company.

Satyam’s Chairman and founder, Ramalinga Raju, “was the most generous person we had ever encountered,” said Cohen. “He would speak of ethics and integrity at every leadership training meeting.”

It turned out, Raju was actually cooking the company’s books. He was arrested in 2009.

“At the time the allegations came up, I thought it was a joke,” Cohen said.

Cohen, who was the chief learning officer responsible for talent management of Satyam’s 53,000 global workers at the time, said many of the employees, including himself, seemed to go through the stages of grief that people coping with death often face — betrayal, anger, depression, and eventually, acceptance.

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Satyam Finance Associate: “We had no inkling…”

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 we had no inkling of any of these. Each one of us in business finance where I belong to stretched 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. Believe me from nowhere 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 did not 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 experience of continuous adaptation handling 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



published May, 2010 in Leadership Excellence Magazine 

WHEN YOU ENCOUNTER STRONG Turbulence,you should revisit your core values and then adjust, communicate, and reinforce them. For most leaders, today’s turbulence stems from the global recession; but others may be dealing with rapid growth, mergers and acquisitions, reorganization, internal corruption, or other changes.


We invite you to review your core values and decide what to keep, what to change, and what to add, ensuring that each value is clearly articulated and the boundaries of behavior are well defined. We’ve identified core values that are vital for all leaders: 

  1. Conviction: Conveys sincerity and confidence in beliefs and decisions; willing to make and stand by decisions.
  2. Diversity: Values different perspectives; builds multifaceted, diverse teams; seeks to understand what drives and motivates individuals.
  3. Entrepreneurship: Recognizes opportunities and organizes resources to maximize them.
  4. Excellence: Strives for excellence, not perfection; recognizes that excellence may vary from country to country, depending on the local context.
  5. Fairness: Makes decisions that are fair, consistent, and equitable.
  6. Humility: Acts in the knowledge that you are no better or more important than others.
  7. Integrity: Demonstrates honesty and makes ethical decisions.
  8. Passion: Leads by example; shows high energy and enthusiasm.
  9. Perseverance: Shows resolve in moving along the path, with a strong will and the drive to accomplish.
  10. A positive attitude: Maintains a positive attitude; represents decisions and policies in a positive manner.

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The Rise of the Satyam Phoenix

When Ramailnga Raju confessed to cooking the books sending Satyam into a downward spiral many people thought the company would cease to exist.  The passion of the leaders who applied the leading through learning strategy sustained the organization until April 2009, when Tech Mahindra checked in. Since acquiring Mahindra Satyam, much has happened to put the company back on the path to success.  We are thrilled to see the organization rebounding under the leadership of Mahindra and Mahindra.  Keep up with what’s happening at:


Guiding the Evolution of Your Organization’s Culture


Throughout an organization’s life, additional norms, behaviors, and practices creep in. This reality is even more pronounced during turbulent times. Positive behaviors may include greater pride, fierce loyalty to the organization, a stronger work ethic, broader collaboration, and boosted collegiality. Negative behaviors may include fear, distrust, and anger that results in hoarding of information and unhealthy internal competition. Together, both positive and negative behaviors change the organizational culture.


Charles Hill and Gareth Jones (2001, 396) define organizational culture as the “beliefs and ideas about what kinds of goals members of an organization should pursue and ideas about the appropriate kinds or standards of behavior organizational members should use to achieve these goals. From organizational values develop organizational norms, guidelines, or expectations that prescribe appropriate kinds of behavior by employees in particular situations and control the behavior of organizational members towards one another.” Unfortunately, countless leaders do not recognize the influence that organizational culture has on the past, present, and future accomplishments of their enterprise. Even more important is their lack of understanding about how they influence the culture.

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Learning Strategies for a Turbulent Time

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.


Leading Through Learning in Turbulent Times

Published in ASTD Newsletter – Jan, 2010


The canvas we were painting was a collaborative effort, a true partnership. We were partners in developing world-class leaders. Our inter- and intra-team diversity made us stronger with team members from Nigeria, Germany, Greece, Columbia, Sweden, the United States, and of course India. We had measured significant business impact and won numerous international recognitions.

We created best practices and next practices that were being proliferated to diverse industries all over the world, and were the masterminds of a new model to build global leaders faster. We were the first organization outside of the United States to receive top honors in ASTD’s BEST Award; and we had journal articles, numerous interviews, and keynote presentations and requests to add to our beautiful canvas of success.

Then, without warning our canvas was taken from us. We watched as our Taj Mahal of learning began to crumble. On January 7, 2009, Ramalinga Raju, the founder and chairman of Satyam Computer Services, told his board of directors that he had inflated the amount of cash on the balance sheet by nearly $1 billion, incurred a liability of $253 million on funds arranged by him personally, and overstated Satyam’s September 2008 quarterly revenues by 76 percent and profits by 97 percent. There we were, close to 50 of us huddled in this small conference room, watching the television, shocked beyond belief…

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