How GroupM leveraged its shadow board YCO for key processes


A young workforce is always welcome at any organisation, because the younger lot brings in a fresh perspective. Despite being one of the most misjudged sections of the workforce for their fickle mindedness and tendency to disengage from jobs quickly, they can be valuable in keeping an organisation up-to-date with the changing times. That is one of the reasons why shadow boards were created to look for more relevance in the present times. GroupM’s initiative, aptly called, Youth Executive Committee (YCO), was constituted to address the same need. Rohit Suri, chief HR & talent officer – South Asia and corporate communications, GroupM India, reveals, “In this digital age, there is a whole lot that the younger generation can teach their more seasoned colleagues, and so, we tap into their minds to help us unlearn and relearn.”

The Youth Executive Committee is a group of under-30 high achievers who work on projects of organisational importance along with the Executive Committee (ExCo), helping the YCO to sharpen and develop new skills. The YCO thus acts as a shadow board for the ExCo. During its tenure, the YCO leads projects, which contribute to the strategic goals of the organisation. These are projects which the ExCo members have as part of their KPI, focused on building a high performing culture within GroupM. With their orientation in the digital, technology and new-media space, powered by their insights and first-hand experience as the millennial generation, the YCO works on projects spanning areas of product, process, partners, performance and people.

Rohit Suri

The YCO helped define our culture by sending out the message that in the new world one’s tenure in an organisation is no longer a badge of honour. How well one can adapt oneself and how clued in one is to the changing dynamics of the world of data and digital disruption is what really matters.

“The ExCo members actively seeks the YCO’s help to unlearn their current thinking in new-age knowledge areas. Interacting with the YCO gives the ExCo much-needed perspective with regard to new events in the digital space; of how young minds think in the organisation, and gives them a listening window to the Voice of the People,” Suri explains. Just like the ExCo, this shadow board conducts its own monthly board meetings and keeps the ExCo updated on its projects and culture- building agendas. The members also lead their own townhalls and rally the organisation – speaking on critical issues and opportunities facing our people and business.

One of several initiatives launched to bring about change in mindsets, YCO was aimed at redefining GroupM’s organisation vision to adapt. A digital product focus, partnerships with leading tech and data players, a revamped L&D calendar, getting more action oriented as an organisation, all went into establishing YCO’s importance. Suri points out that GroupM’s YCO is also a means to grow its leadership pipeline from within, “by engaging and developing not just the top leadership, but high- potential diverse talent across the organisation.” The YCO was not just a reputed stand-alone platform, but worked beautifully in sync with the overall GroupM transformation journey. “The YCO helped define our culture by sending out the signal that in the new world one’s tenure in an organisation is no longer a badge of honour. How well one can adapt oneself and how clued in one is to the changing dynamics of the world of data and digital disruption is what really matters.”

Not surprisingly, YCO also made inroads into defining new ways of working. A case in point is the ‘Smart Contracting’ project, where it not only designed a breakthrough framework but trained key business leaders at each location. “After multiple interactions with finance and client-facing teams, the YCO discovered that process and communication gaps existed between the business teams and commercial teams, who were responsible for contracts and corresponding scope of work. This led to confusion around what tasks were in scope and what were not. The YCO took the initiative to inform, educate and train business teams,” informs Suri.

The group created frameworks and new ways of thinking around digital supremacy and expertise, strengthening partnerships with new players in the ecosystem, defining scope of work with clients, building a business model around performance marketing and talent retention.

This is also an important exercise to tell the Millennials that their voices are heard and acted upon in an organisation. They can also influence strategy planning and other processes in a productive manner. But that’s not the only thing that they get in return. Being on the YCO provides enough opportunities for young talent to network with teams across GroupM, through functional learning and cross-category skill development. They get to understand how a company runs and how a business works. “Their work accomplishments are structured in a career-growth plan, complete with an action plan to achieve their goals. All this helps fast track their personal and professional development. It helps them grow not just vertically but also laterally across the organisation. The platform helps them take up larger responsibilities in their company, with some of them growing fast enough to become either the youngest leaders in their agency or leaders managing teams and clients double the strength,” Suri explains.

In addition, the YCO also reverse mentors the ExCo on new-age skills, such as data science, digital, analytics and social. The reverse mentoring is based on need assessment of the ExCo, matching the key skills of the YCO. This benefits both — the ExCo gets fresh, rich and valuable insights, while the young executives get constant face time with the senior leadership and learn from their experiences.

Of course, there are certain areas that need to be taken into consideration when such shadow boards are formed. These are not just employee-engagement activities. “Top leadership should be willing to listen, invite new perspectives and invest time behind the growth of young high-potential talent. Time is key as it’s a symbiotic relationship, where both boards learn from each other. In addition, transparency coupled with confidentiality is a must, values that the YCO members must carry through even after their tenure. To make the shadow board work, the voice of the CEO outlining the vision of this board goes a long way in the organisation responding to initiatives, communication and other interactions led by the YCO,” Suri enunciates.

He also asserts that this platform should not be seen as a one-time initiative or just an effort to execute important projects. It should also not be seen merely as a retention tool. Rather, it’s a growth effort, a culture-strengthening effort and a long-term endeavour to build an organisation of the future.

It would be wrong to assume that every young millennial is qualified to be on these boards just because of their age. There are certain criteria that need to be met. Suri says, “High performers and the under 30 talent of GroupM India who have completed a year in the Company are invited to take a basket of objective online assessments. These tests are designed to assess potential leadership attributes. The shortlisted names are then vetted by the ExCo and talent leadership to arrive at a pool of 18-20 high potentials who will serve on the Youth Board for 12-18 months.”

Since YCO was formed to keep the organisation current and vibrant with their processes, it surely went through a few changes over the years. Suri reveals that assessments came to be more strategic in nature and are now more focused to glean out talent that will feed into the leadership pipeline rather than just identify young high potentials. The unbiased process of selection also considers diversity — gender, backgrounds and skills —so that GroupM is looking at a holistic talent pool that is truly representative of the diverse ExCo.

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