Business Today

Ashok Leyland: No to generation gap

Ashok Leyland is betting big on youth power but not at the cost of experience as seniors play a leading role in taking the company forward.

N. Madhavan        Print Edition: January 25, 2009

November 11, 2006: for four hours, 26 young executives present their corporate business plan for 2007-08 to Ashok Leyland’s Management Committee. The plan, more aggressive than originally laid out by the top management, proposes increasing capacity by 10,000 units without any investment or additional manpower by de-bottlenecking production capacity, supply chain and marketing. It was accepted.

Work and play: ALL's ED-HR, Shekhar Arora, (in the middle) with colleagues at a company event organised to usher in the New Year
Work and play
January 9, 2008: A spanking new, low-floor, hi-tech bus is the cynosure of all eyes at Ashok Leyland’s (ALL) stall in the 2008 Auto Expo. The ‘iBus’, with antilock braking system, electronic engine management, anti-collision device and other rich features was conceptualised, designed and developed by a cross-functional team of 25 young executives—all less than 30 years of age—in 11 months flat.

A similar cross-functional group on best practices is in the final stages of drafting the 21st century factory credo that ALL would like to implement across all its facilities. It is looking into an integrated workforce that seeks to reduce the status/opportunity gap among workmen and executives in the company. Under this plan, even a shopfloor worker will have the opportunity to grow and become the MD of ALL. The company, to start with, hopes to implement this credo at its new facility coming up at Uttarakhand.

ALL—it appears—has perfected the art of leveraging its youngsters. But three years ago, all was not well with these young executives, as indicated by a climate survey done by the HR department in 2005 to evaluate the level of satisfaction among employees on key management issues and themes. “We realised that the seniors and the young executives were not getting along well. The youngsters said ‘we can do it, have faith in us’. They sought respect and an adultto-adult treatment. But the seniors were in a nurturing mode,” explains ALL’s Executive Director for Human Resources, Shekhar Arora. The survey’s findings were both worrying and revealing for the company. ALL had recognised the competitive abilities of the youngsters and was betting big on them— 40 per cent of ALL’s executives were below the age of 35 years. It could not afford to keep them dissatisfied. The survey also revealed the cause for high level of attrition (35 per cent) among graduate engineers, MBAs and diploma engineers.

“We followed up the survey with an open house and a 360 degree appraisal for senior management staff. One thing that emerged was that youngsters wanted a greater say,’’ says Arora.

Operating in an industry where the domain knowledge rests with a handful of companies, and with multinational commercial vehicle companies announcing plans to set up shop in India, it was imperative for ALL—India’s second-largest commercial vehicle manufacturer— to position itself as a preferred employer.

In January 2006, it launched ‘Mission Young Executives’—or ‘Mission YEs’—to enable, engage and empower its young executives. “We formed many crossfunctional teams of youngsters who are willing to stretch themselves by spending three or four extra days a month for six months and work on specific projects,’’ explains Arora. Funds were allocated and top management offered their inputs. When the management committee analysed their plan and accepted it, they felt empowered.

  • Number of people laid off in 2008-09 (as on Dec. 31, ’08).....Nil, but working days have been reduced.
  • Number of people hired in 2008-09 (as on Dec. 31, ’08).......569 Executives

  • Head count in Dec. 2008......11,822 (including factory workmen) in Dec. 2008

  • Head count post-March 2009.....Plans on to induct 300 new executives

  • Pay-cuts resorted to/planned.......Only management staff have taken voluntary pay-cuts

  • One innovative HR practice.........YMMD (You Made My Day) initiative promotes a culture of collaboration and internal customer perspective

Source: Mercer, Company

Three years later, the results are encouraging. “The attrition level among the graduate engineers, MBAs and diploma engineers has declined to 18 per cent (from earlier 30 per cent). Also, when we offered a development-linked career plan to the young executives as a part of our internal leadership pipeline, most of them responded enthusiastically and have committed a good share of their career with ALL,’’ says Arora.

With this sort of focus on youngsters, have the seniors felt alienated? “They did initially,’’ reveals the HR head. “But we tackled the problem by putting in a fairly strong mentoring process,” he says.

Today, says a relieved Arora: “The respect they have come to have for each other has contributed in a big way in bridging the generation gap that threatened to divide the employees.”

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