Identifying potential leaders is crucial for an organisation’s success, as it ensures a robust talent pipeline, allowing for effective succession planning and leadership development. For Sterlite Technologies (STL), a global optical and digital solutions company, it’s no different. The company focuses its efforts on identifying its future leaders through a series of modules under its programme, ‘Accelerate.
The key objective of the programme is to cultivate its talent pipeline. The next important thing is the manner in which the company identifies individuals or potential candidates for the programme.
The process is rooted in the company’s succession method, focusing specifically on critical roles that are to be filled in the future. These roles include mission-critical positions that require highly specialised skills. After identifying such roles, it usually looks out for critical talents. These individuals are then carefully developed and prepared to assume these positions.
“Critical talent can vary in terms of their readiness levels. Some individuals may already be prepared, while others may need two to three years or even up to five years to reach the desired level. To enhance this readiness, we conduct a rigorous programme that helps them progress from one readiness level to another,” reveals Anjali Byce, G-CHRO, STL.
The programme is called the ‘Action Learning Projects’ or ALPs where the participants go through an extremely rigorous leadership-development journey. In the initial phase, the company focuses on psychometric assessments and an intensive coaching process aimed at evaluating their current status relative to industry benchmarks.
“Critical talent can vary in terms of their readiness levels. Some individuals may already be prepared, while others may need two to three years or even up to five years to reach the desired level. To enhance this readiness, we conduct a rigorous programme that helps them progress from one readiness level to another.”
Anjali Byce, G-CHRO, STL
This process identifies skill gaps if any and is complemented by one-on-one coaching sessions. Additionally, the participants also undergo highly structured skill-development programmes, facilitated by top-notch experts.
“What truly distinguishes this programme is the opportunity to engage in live business projects. This approach allows them to apply their learning directly and contributes significantly to their development. Additionally, we collaborate closely with the business and strategy teams to identify mission-critical projects and initiatives,” reveals Byce.
All participants are then organised into teams and tasked with delivering these projects. Notably, the team encompasses individuals from diverse functions, such as sales, delivery, technology, enabling and operations.
The aim of this arrangement (calling people from diverse functions) is to help them work on projects that wouldn’t typically fall within their usual purview, as they come from various functional backgrounds. This experience helps them (participants) develop a different set of skills because they have the opportunity to tackle challenges outside their immediate domain.
“As a result, they not only contribute to critical business initiatives but also build valuable skills and leave a lasting impact, effectively creating a legacy,” opines Byce.
Additionally, the approach brings benefits to not only the participants but also to the business.
The participants get a robust and secure learning environment within a cohort of peers. This group comprises individuals with a wide array of perspectives and thought processes, particularly because they come from different functional backgrounds. Therefore, when they engage in classroom discussions, they bring with them distinct lenses and approaches.
Additionally, this dynamic fosters a profound respect for diverse viewpoints and varying problem-solving methods, empowering teams to cultivate the skill of considering and amalgamating these diverse perspectives. It accelerates the pace of finding solutions and enriches the quality of those solutions, helping the participants establish a robust network with others.
From a business standpoint, the approach encourages diversity but also helps individuals enhance their skill sets. “The ultimate goal is to cultivate a talent pool, and when people from various backgrounds join forces, it often uncovers hidden capabilities. For instance, you may discover that someone in a particular function possesses skills closely aligned with another function, opening up opportunities to explore different roles and career paths. This approach is beneficial for both individual growth and business impact,” asserts Byce.
The programme consists of several stages, with participants going through various learning labs and acquiring diverse learning skills. Simultaneously, there’s a well-defined curriculum in place.
For instance, one of the learning labs may focus on leading diverse teams and stakeholders. Another may revolve around strategic thinking, such as leading the blue ocean strategy. Yet another learning lab could centre on managing change, a critical topic in today’s discussions. As the programme advances, the topics cover a spectrum, ranging from leading teams to strategy, to driving organisational leadership.
After the completion of the programme, the successful participants receive Wharton certification, which is designed to build leadership capabilities in individuals.
With all these elements in place, the key factor that adds the finishing touch ensuring the success of the programme. This task is led by a senior executive member in the company. Every cohort of Accelerate is led by a senior executive of the company, also referred to as ‘sponsors’ who enhance the learning journey of team members.
Additionally, the participants receive the guidance to advance through the programme, ensuring everyone stays on course. “When sponsors are involved in the leadership programme, they help maintain a balance between encouraging diverse and broad thinking while also steering the team towards achieving tangible results,” enunciates Byce.
One significant challenge that participants face during the whole programme is the element of novelty. This is because participants often encounter unfamiliar concepts or ideas. Furthermore, it progresses in different ways, depending on the stage of programme an individual is at.
For instance, one area of unfamiliarity arises when examining psychometrics. It involves not only recognising one’s strengths and leveraging them for growth but also identifying potential weaknesses that may be hindering progress and finding ways to overcome them. This represents a form of blind spot that emerges from psychometric assessments. Another unfamiliar area could be related to skill labs, as each one aims to acquaint participants with new methodologies, approaches, tools and ways of working.
Byce also points out, “The real challenge, in my opinion, lies in not just being introduced to these various concepts but in effectively applying them. This is where participants often face difficulties, especially during the initial stages of the Action Learning project.” Guidance from sponsors comes in handy at this point. It introduces a different leadership perspective into the mix, enhancing the overall learning experience.
According to Byce, “The results of the programme are consistently positive across the board. Graduates of these programmes often find themselves engaged in impactful projects such as commercialising new products, cost-reduction initiatives, or sustainability projects.”
She shares how “the outcomes are exceptionally rewarding and contribute significantly to the organisation’s success.” As she rightly puts it, “It’s a winning scenario in every aspect.” The company also closely monitors the extent to which participants, after completing the course, have either changed roles, taken on more complex responsibilities, or shifted within the organisation. These changes can involve horizontal, diagonal, or vertical moves.
To ensure the effectiveness of the programme, the company maintains relatively small cohorts, usually consisting of around 35 individuals at any given time and focusing on 40 key critical roles.“We deliberately keep these groups manageable to prioritise depth over breadth in our team- management approach. This results in various cohorts, each typically comprising 25 to 30 participants simultaneously,” explains Byce.
“While we do conduct assessments throughout the programme, the true measure of RoI becomes evident when our participants emerge as effective leaders with expertise in various domains, making substantial contributions to areas that the business considers vital,” believes Byce.