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Friday, January 2, 2015

Bringing ethics in leadership discourse is imperative: Dr. Himanshu Rai 01-01

Bringing ethics in leadership discourse is imperative: Dr. Himanshu Rai

In this interview, Dr. Himanshu Rai, Dean of MISB Bocconi (the India campus of Bocconi University, Italy) discusses his thoughts on leadership and HR management.

Dr. Himanshu Rai was appointed as the Dean of the Mumbai-based MISB Bocconi, the India campus of Universita Bocconi, Milan, Italy, in September this year. Dr. Rai will drive the strategic development and management of the academic and executive programmes of MISB Bocconi. An alumnus of IIM, Ahmedabad, his core area has been human resource management, wherein he focuses on negotiation, mediation, arbitration, strategic HRM, and leadership.

Before joining the academia, Dr. Rai had been with Tata Steel for more than eight years, where he played a pivotal role in developing quality systems for his departments and the communication policy of the company.

He works on the principle that academics cannot afford to limit its reach and effect on young minds only to the development of skills and training relevant to the demands of the market economy; it must enrich the individual, to the greater aim of serving the society. Dr. Rai has developed a unique, creative approach to teaching, with the introduction of courses such as FIRE (Framing Identities and Roles through Exploration) and JEM (Justice, Ethics, and Morality). These courses are aimed at helping students become more inquisitive, more open, and more aware.

In conversation with Rakesh Rao, Dr. Himanshu Rai discusses growth plans for MISB Bocconi and his thoughts on leadership and HR management.

What are your priorities as the Dean of MISB Bocconi?

At present, I have two important priorities. First, I want to make MISB Bocconi, the India campus of Italy’s Bocconi, one of the leading business schools in India. Bocconi has a history and we want this to be shared with the people of India. Currently, the institute is in the third year of post graduate programmes and we aim to grow this with more students enrolling for these programmes. We will continue our efforts to improve these programmes and make them more attractive for students.

My second focus will be on executive programmes. I see tremendous opportunity as well as a gap in executive programmes in India. There are several areas, such as finance, leadership and negotiations, etc, in which Bocconi has huge strength. In addition, it has lot of competencies in various sectors such as luxury, fashion, family businesses, etc, Here I see a huge gap in India. I intend to plug this gap by providing executive programmes in these areas. Work has already started in this direction with programmes on family business, business analytics, and negotiations to be launched in next 2-4 months.

What are the USPs of MISB Bocconi?

One of the strengths of MISB Bocconi is that our faculty comes from SDA Bocconi, which is one of the well-known business schools globally. SDA Bocconi is ranked third in terms of return on investment (RoI) among the business schools outside the US. Hence, we have world class faculty which spends quality time with students during their visit to the India campus and are always accessible to students throughout the year. Faculty acts as a mentor to the students, which is our biggest strength.

Second, SDA Bocconi has humungous amount of study materials that is available for the students in India. We have huge repository of knowledge that our students get access to.

Third, we give global education through international experts in India. Our students spend about four months in the mother campus, i.e. SDA Bocconi in Milan, where they do their specialisation. While programmes offered are of global standards, students are also presented the Indian perspective during the courses. So, this entire experience gives a unique advantage to our students.

How can the government encourage the growth of business school education in the country?

There are many business schools in India, but very few can match the international standards of business education. Hence, the government should support good institutes, organisations, etc. who are willing to invest in higher education sector. Be it in terms of FDI investment, pre-conditions to open a new school, etc. norms should be pragmatic. Conditions pertaining to the land ownership for the business schools should be flexible. Most of the leading global business schools operate through a location which is on a lease and is at the heart of the commercial hubs or cities. And this is the reason why we started Bocconi’s India campus in Mumbai, the financial capital of the country. The location helps students and executives attending our programmes to feel the pulse of business activities in their vicinity. I believe the best learning happens when you are in the middle of where you are eventually going to work.

Third, the government should also standardise norms to measure the quality of education. Any institute that does not provide quality education are doing a great disservice to the nation. The biggest challenge that most of the B-schools face is the quality of faculty. The government should take initiative for faculty improvement programmes to enhance the quality of education.

What are the skill-sets required to become a successful leader?

There are two skill-sets very critical for leaders to succeed. One is the ability to read situation and visualise. Second is integrity – means there has to be a consonance between your word and action. Your actions should be for the betterment of the people around and not just for your own gains. If you have these two characteristics you can become a good leader.

The shortest definition of a leader that I have come across is ‘Leader is a good person who speaks well’. To become a good person you have to be a good visionary as well as a good human being. Speaking well means the communication skills (verbal and body language) should be in line with these characteristics of the leader.

Now a days corporates are giving due emphasis on ethics and morality. Why are these two critical today?

Ethics and morality are two distinct words. Morality deals with good or bad. Ethics is morality in action or a given context. By this, I mean it is not necessary that what is good is always right. For example, while speaking truth is good, there may be conditions when it may not be right. So as a corporate leader you have to be concerned about ethics – i.e. what is right or wrong?

Second, as a leader you will always face a situation when you have to pick an option from multiple alternatives. More often than not some of these choices are wrong while others are right. So, to pick the right choice you have to have a sense of ethics. If you make a wrong choice (which may fetch you short-term gain) it will not offer sustainable solution. Also, you are setting a wrong precedence. Hence, bringing in ethics in leadership discourse is imperative.

How has the role of HR department evolved over the years?

The role of HR has changed immensely. Initially, HR personnel were interested in looking at the satisfaction level of the employee because of the notion that if an employee is satisfied then he/she will be extremely productive.

Things began to change a bit when employees started becoming more ambitious. HR started to look at ways to motivate people. So it changed from ‘satisfaction’ to ‘motivation’.

Now, people are becoming more entrepreneurial and they wanted to be part of the decision making processes. Total quality management (TQM) is very good example of it. People started enjoying responsibility and using it gainfully. So the paradigm changed again. Today it is not just motivation, but also about ‘engaging with the employee’ – that is aligning employees’ aspirations with the strategy and vision of the company.

So, the role of HR is now to be a part of the strategy of the organisation. The entire gamut has changed.

Is there a need for companies to re-look at their communication strategy, given the changes taking place in the market?

There is no doubt about it. The question is how. For this, first, language has to change as people today appreciate more personalised communication. Second, the choice of media also matters a lot. For example, routine information can be routed through conventional media like notice board or email, but for non-routine information company should look at interactive media like video conferencing, Skype, YouTube, etc.

So do you believe that increased usage of social media is having an influence on today’s organisations?

Certainly. Brand is created and destroyed on social media. It is a double-edged sword as nothing is verified on social media. For the social media to mature and become self-censoring in nature will take some time. Till that companies will have to find ways to see how best to utilise social media. Companies are doing it, but I do not think they have adopted comprehensive strategy for social media.

With rapid changes taking place around us (in terms of technology, business processes, etc), how can corporates continuously harness the skills of their employees?

Content of knowledge is changing quickly, so continuous training is the only answer. Training and development are the two requirements for employees. While training can be a tool to fill skill-set gap in the short-term, equipping employees to handle new responsibilities in future requires thorough planning and development programme.

Hence, corporates have to engage with employees to figure out training requirements and also development programmes to enhance their skill-sets to make them future ready.

How India can contribute to modern management philosophy?

India can offer a lot. First, it can offer wisdom contained in our literature. In my earlier stint at IIM Lucknow, and even now, I conduct a course on ‘Leadership through literature’. Literature presents myriad situations which can be used for training by visualising and enacting those situations in today’s business environment, and drawing lessons from them, as well as the protagonists therein.

Businesses globally have moved from “intelligence quotient” to “emotional quotient” and now we are talking about “spiritual quotient”. It is believed that spiritual people are more likely to be better negotiators, leaders, etc. More often for spiritual quotient, global leaders and management gurus look towards East, and India, with its vast spiritual knowledge, can be a torchbearer.

Third, India’s vast and varied market not just offers huge business opportunity but also provides an ideal location for carrying out market research studies, which can be a useful teaching tool for businesses across the world.

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