The Millennials: Exploring the World of the Largest Living Generation

Book excerpt

The Millennials: Exploring the World of the Largest Living Generation

By Subramanian S Kalpathi

Published by Penguin Random House India

“HCL Technologies is one of the few organizations that identified the potential of the millennial generation early on and systematically went about putting in place structures that would bring out the best in them.”

“The core belief driving action at HCL is: Put your employees first and customers will never feel second.”

The following excerpt forms a part of Chapter 2 – ‘Authentic versus Dissonant Culture’

Innovation Institutionalized: Ideapreneurship At HCL Technologies

Iowa, USA. Meet Prem Sundar, a millennial database professional at HCL. Prem and his team had been entrusted to work with a key client—a large aerospace and defence company that provides avionics-based IT systems and services to governmental agencies and aircraft manufacturers. Transport aircraft around the world are installed with a version of their aviation electronics systems. While engaging the client, Prem and his team identified a unique challenge. The firm captured a large amount of avionics data on its database, but every time the database was queried to extract information, it took a whopping seven days for the system to respond with an output. This had been causing a major drag on decision-making, and delaying execution. Prem knew that his team had to look beyond just managing the product life cycle, and came up with the idea of developing a new query language. Prem took his team’s help to build the language, and eventually developed a system that had a parser to understand the query syntax, an engine to output query-based data, along with a state-of-the-art client user interface that made it easier to extract information. The result? The seven-day query process was brought down to five minutes, resulting in savings of over $5.1 million and countless man-hours. The savings continue to accumulate for the client.

Oregon, USA. Meet Ramya Subramanian, a millennial technical lead at HCL. Ramya’s client is a major American Internet corporation. As Ramya worked through her project, an anomaly caught her attention, something that was outside the purview of her routine tasks. The client’s project management tool was highly inefficient—project tracking was being done by following messy trail mails. With multiple teams working in parallel, each team having up to forty people, and every team member being endowed with specific tasks, the client had his work cut out. Ramya shuddered at the thought of someone having to track individual performance and progress for such a large team by scanning through hundreds of emails. As Ramya thought through a possible solution to this unique dilemma, she had her eureka moment—the project management tool she used at HCL was best in class, and she could build an efficient tool for the client using this system as a template. Ramya did just that and created a tool that allowed easy collation of team communication (no more messy trail mails), broadcast information to individual team members, captured overall status reports, helped the manager keep track of scheduled tasks and identified delays in the process. The client was impressed with Ramya’s solution and implemented it—the solution had a projected value of $120,000.

New Delhi, India. Meet Payal Baloni, a millennial project lead at HCL. Payal had taken up an assignment for a client in the healthcare domain. A core requirement of the project was to ensure error-free migration of raw data from clinical trials. Without this, the client would be unable to fetch the requisite US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approvals, and without approvals, they wouldn’t be able to release drugs into the market on time. As project lead, it was Payal’s responsibility to manage the current tool and ensure that the migration happened smoothly. There was one problem though: the current data migration process was plagued with errors, and Payal’s team had been taking flak for managing a proprietary tool they had little control over. Payal went back to her team and led a brainstorm to get to the root cause. The team came to the conclusion that the current migration tool was possibly outdated, and badly in need of an upgrade. Payal did a few checks with the client to validate these assumptions and found that the tool had indeed been customized and modified multiple times, with several bug fixes along the way. Payal had the choice to work on the existing tool, by plugging errors manually as and when they arose. Instead, Payal and her team came up with a unique, service-led solution to handle the data migration process: they call it DIASS—Data Integration as a Service. The new tool had the potential to migrate raw clinical data faster, make the process more efficient and accurate and gave the client submission-ready output. It was a complete and comprehensive end-to-end service. The outcome? The client implemented Payal’s idea in eight projects and saved over $1.2 million.

Prem, Ramya and Payal belong to a breed of intrapreneurs at HCL called Ideapreneurs. If you observe closely, there are three behavioural threads that are consistent through all these stories: seeding an idea by looking beyond the obvious, nurturing it to bring it to realization and harvesting an intrapreneurial ecosystem that commits to self-sustained growth. The result—Ideapreneurs providing value to clients much beyond what is expected from contractual obligations and service agreements (what HCL calls building ‘relationships beyond the contract’). HCL encourages these behaviours by putting in place processes that give employees at all levels the ‘licence to ideate’. To understand the essence of Ideapreneurship, we must turn the clock back a few years.

The Adjacent Possible

In his bestselling book, Where Good Ideas Come From, author Steven Johnson refers to a concept called ‘the adjacent possible’, an idea borrowed from molecular biology:

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself. Yet is it not an infinite space, or a totally open playing field . . . What the adjacent possible tells us is that at any moment the world is capable of extraordinary change, but only certain changes can happen . . . In human culture, we like to think of breakthrough ideas as sudden accelerations on the timeline, where a genius jumps ahead fifty years and invents something that normal minds, trapped in the present moment, couldn’t possibly have come up with.

Put simply, an ‘adjacent possible’ is an idea that is ahead of its time. In 2010, then CEO of HCL Technologies, Vineet Nayar, proposed such a concept in his book Employees First, Customers Second. He described how he had brought about organizational transformation at HCL by driving a culture of trust through transparency, inverting the organizational pyramid and completely recasting the role of the CEO.

While the transformation process was under way, Nayar found that one group of employees was particularly enthusiastic about the proposed changes—a group Nayar referred to as the ‘transformers’. With over 80 per cent of HCL’s population comprising millennials, not surprisingly, a large percentage of the transformers turned out to be from this generation. Nayar acknowledged in his book that the millennials (or Gen Y) ‘were the ones who did the real work. The ones who met with customers. Who delivered our products and services. Who worked through problems. Who deserved support and praise.’

He also realized that millennials created the most value for customers at HCL, and collectively made up what he called the ‘value zone’ in the organization. Nayar then went about strengthening this ‘value zone’ by inverting the traditional organizational pyramid and transforming the way value was delivered to HCL’s customers. ‘Wouldn’t it help us become more engaged with our employees and fire their imaginations? Wouldn’t such a transformation, made from the ground up, be more sustainable?’ he wondered.


HCL Technologies is one of the few organizations that identified the potential of the millennial generation early on and systematically went about putting in place structures that would bring out the best in them. The unique philosophy of Employees First, Customers Second gets translated into business value by answering three crucial questions:

  1. What is the core fundamental of a business? To create value.
  2. Who is creating the value? Employees.
  3. So, what should be the role of management? To engage, enable and empower employees to create value.

HCL puts its employees first, as they form the value zone and are closest to the customer. Management at HCL embraces employee-led innovations that are driven from the grass roots, and in doing so, HCL has inverted the organizational pyramid to put employees on top. The core belief driving action at HCL is: Put your employees first and customers will never feel second.


To tap into Ideapreneurship in the value zone, HCL understands that its employees need to be supported so that they can come up with consistent and differentiated insights while engaging with customers. This capability must exist at the individual, team and leadership levels. For Ideapreneurs, this understanding gets converted into a three-step process: Seed, Nurture and Harvest. The ‘Need to Seed’ requires an ability to look beyond the obvious, to generate and foster ideas that promise incremental progress. Prem Sundar projected this ability when he created a query language that slashed runtime from seven days to five minutes. A ‘Desire to Nurture’ requires evolving a network that nurtures these ideas to realization with an intent towards implementation and gathering ambitious scale. Payal Baloni reached out to her networks both within and outside HCL to validate assumptions before proposing a solution that could be implemented to scale. A ‘Commitment to Harvest’ involves incubating an intrapreneurial ecosystem that self-sustains growth from initiative to business outcome by defining the commercial value of an idea. Ideas implemented by Ideapreneurs at HCL have added over $1 billion in client-reported value.

Institutionalizing Ideapreneurship

With over 1,00,000 employees worldwide, HCL has put in place a number of programmes aligned to the core tenets of Ideapreneurship, guided by innovation that happens in the value zone. Behaviours that seed, nurture and harvest customer-focused ideas are encouraged through programmes like the ‘Value Portal’.

This is how the Value Portal works:

Ideas raised by employees go through workflow cycles and are shared with customers for feedback and approval.

Estimates on cost and expected value generation are projected and some of the ideas are chosen for implementation (often at no additional fee to the client).

Shortlisted ideas are given guidance and mentorship for successful implementation.

Ideas are co-created and co-implemented with the client. This makes it easier for the customer to measure the value realized and sign off on the savings achieved through such an initiative.

Other programmes like LeadGen facilitate servicing of untapped customer demands and requests through delivery employees who have a direct connect with the customers; MAD JAM recognizes and celebrates outstanding employee-led innovations for customers; and the Good Practice Conference makes it possible for employees from across the organization to put forth their suggestions, in the form of discussion papers which get presented at an annual conference.

For someone who joins HCL, the power of Ideapreneurship comes alive thirty days before joining the organization, with stories of successful wins shared during the pre-induction communication process. It lingers on through the duration of the candidate’s employment experience with the organization, with targeted training and coaching, rewards, platforms and evangelists who bring the concept of Ideapreneurship to life in a myriad ways. Even after moving on, Ideapreneurs keep in touch by way of a robust alumni network

HCL Technologies is an organization that has empowered a generation of employees it deeply trusts and believes in. The results are obvious: driven Ideapreneurs have already delivered over $1 billion in customer value through continuous ideation and implementation, with a supportive ecosystem that guides them through this challenging journey. As HCL strengthens its internal processes to further align culture, strategy and performance targets, the employees first, customers second framework will allow the organization to be ready for perpetual change. For HCL’s over 1,00,000 Ideapreneurs, the journey has only begun.

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