Employee expectations from leadership

How it varies across geographies, personality types and job functions

Are Indian business leaders different? For some time now the world has watched as Indian companies, once relatively unknown outside the country, have grown by leaps and bounds to become world-class competitors in many industries. It was high time that someone asked the obvious questions: Do Indian CEOs and business leaders operate in a way that is markedly different from those in other parts of the world? What is the source of their competitive advantage? Can other managers learn from their experiences? What do employees expect from their leaders? Does ethnicity of employees shape their expectations from their leaders?

Leaders in India operate in the midst of a multifaceted and fast-paced environment, where the threads of culture are intertwined with the economic environment and India’s drive to be a significant player in the global economy.

In India, leadership is a complex change management process. Nina E. Woodard, former executive the commercial and entertainment director of SHRM India, lived in India for eight years and provides an inside view on the unique environment that influences sustainable leadership. She notes that in India, effective leadership helps people build and change the ways in which they have lived, survived and thrived for centuries, by offering new careers, jobs and brand choices.

In today’s globally dispersed workplace, it is also important to consider the essence of cultural expectations that workers have of their leaders – specifically the ability to communicate effectively across multiple cultures at the same time. In contrast to the U.S. business leaders, Indian CEOs tend to be more preoccupied with internal management, long-term strategic vision and organisational culture. Financial matters, on the other hand, are not at the top of their agendas. In addition, the research showed that Indian leaders seem to care a good deal more about motivating employees and setting an example than about currying favour with shareholders or the markets. Perhaps the most telling responses were the CEOs’ ranking of their management priorities. They chose “Chief input for business strategy,” “Keeper of organizational culture” and “Guide or teacher for employees” as the top three. “Unlike CEOs in America, Indian leaders tend to focus much more on internal issues — on people management, motivating employees and so forth,” says Cappelli. “U.S. CEOs spend a lot more of their time on shareholder issues.” While the anecdotal expectations from leaders seem to be very different in terms of delivery, there is not enough literature available in the present time to suggest an correlation between geography and expectations.

In the path of organisational culture one of the biggest factors that play a constant role is leadership styles. Both the terms organisational culture and leadership styles are strongly intertwined and they share a symbiotic relationship. The theory of organisational culture maintains that individual behaviour within an organisation is not solely controlled by the formal regulations and structures of authority as supported by structural theorists. Instead, the theory postulates that cultural norms, values, beliefs, and assumptions provide unconscious guidance and direction, and consequently, the subsequent behaviour of organisational members. A popular framework for thinking about a leader’s ‘task versus person’ orientation was developed by Robert Blake and Jane Mouton in the early 1960s. Called the Managerial Grid, or Leadership Grid, it plots the degree of task-centeredness versus person-centeredness and identifies five combinations as distinct leadership styles. “A leader needs to have thorough understanding of organisational culture, its nature and impact, so that they can communicate new vision and ensure followers commitment to that vision” as per Schein.

79What makes an employee happy, healthy and wise? If the answer lies in working with a company that has successfully differentiated its people practices and provides the employees with an environment that matches up to the expectations that have been created in the market, then this is where employer branding becomes imperative. The earliest definition of the employer branding concept was provided in 1996 by Simon Barrow (of People in Business, a consulting firm that specialises in employer branding) and Prof. Tim Ambler (Senior Fellow at the London Business School), who defined it as “the package of functional, economic and psychological benefits provided by employment, and identified with the employing company”.

This package of benefits offered by the company has come to be known as the “Employee Value Proposition” (EVP). Brett Minchington, in 2006, explained this term to be “a set of associations and offerings provided by an organisation in return for the skills, capabilities and experiences an employee brings to the organisation.” Minchington, the author of ‘Your Employer Brand: Attract, Engage, Retain, has also defined employer branding as “the image of the organisation as a ‘great place to work’ in the minds of current employees and key stakeholders in the external market. The art and science of employer branding is therefore concerned with the attraction, engagement and retention of initiatives targeted at enhancing your company’s employer brand.”

In their book, The HR Value Proposition, authors Dave Ulrich and Wayne Brockbank define EVP as the standard that “specifies what employees will get from the firm when they meet expectations”. This concept has a linkage with attraction and retention of employees; thus, in turn, the expectations created in the minds of the employees. Employer branding is in practice in many of America-based organisations like American Express, Cisco Systems, Amgen, Starbucks and Intel.

I embarked on this research with two critical questions in mind. First, do expectations of employees from their leaders and managers change depending upon the regional ethnicity of the employee? Regional ethnicity here was in reference to whether the employees originally belong to North, East, West or South of India. Second, do expectations of employees from their leaders and managers change depending upon their work area/function? Here, the idea was to look at the four major functional heads of Marketing and Sales; HR and Administration; Information Technology (IT); and, Finance. Later the questions related to expectations owing to personality types also became important and we included the same to become part of a larger and more comprehensive survey.

As we started work on this, our null hypothesis was:

1 Employee expectations from their leaders/bosses do no change depending upon the regional ethnicity of the Indian employee. 2 Employee expectations from their leaders/bosses do not change depending upon the Indian employee’s work area/function. 3 Employee expectations from their leaders/bosses do not change depending upon their personality types.

78 (4)In the first phase of the study, a pan-India survey was conducted amongst human resources (HR) directors and heads to understand ‘the key expectations of employees from their leaders/managers.’ Each respondent was asked to name at least 10 expectations that the employees of their company have from their manager. Using the techniques of telephonic and email interviews, our research team was able to collate answers from 191 respondents. The stratified random sampling technique was used to conduct this study – senior HR and Personnel Heads (VP and above) were selected from the four regions of India (North, South, East, West). The responses received from the various zones were clubbed, and these were clubbed into 180 buckets, based on the frequency of the response, for the purpose of preliminary analysis. Based on this, the top 34 statements (and others, making a total of 35 statements) were generated for further study going into the second phase.

Among the 180 unique answers that we obtained from amongst the HR directors on what their team members expected from them, the overwhelming majority (over 160 respondents) admitted that they expected ‘guidance and support’ first and foremost from their managers. Perhaps this points to the gradual increase in the use of mentoring and coaching for today’s employees. Second in priority, with about 90 people supporting it, we saw ‘recognition and appreciation’, and third on the list was ‘transparency and fairness’ with a substantial 65 respondents listing the trait as an essential to a good leader.

Phase two implied the initiation of the second survey, by designing a structured questionnaire that contained the 35 final statements from phase one. This questionnaire was circulated across 13 cities, to employees below the designation of vice-president, from the fields of Marketing and Sales; HR and Administration; Information Technology (IT); Finance, and others. The responses were captured using the simple random technique from 800 respondents pan-India. Each respondent was asked to rate his/her expectations from the leader on each of the 35 statements, along a scale of 0 to 4 (where 0=Strongly Disagree, 1=Disagree, 2=Neither agree nor disagree, 3=Agree, and 4=Strongly Agree). Their responses were collated based on the mean scores for each statement, per the different geographical regions and the functional sectors.

Here, where we had the team members/employees themselves rating each parameter on a scale of 0 to 4, the highest rating, incidentally, coincided with what the leaders believed to be most important – guidance and support.

The findings gave us confidence on the validity and relevance of our research methodology, and it was a pleasant surprise to learn that today’s Indian leaders are well-connected to the needs of their employees. Next on the list, was the call for a ‘favourable work environment’, thus proving that the creation of work culture and ethic lies in the hand of the leadership. The third place was a tie between ‘providing recognition and appreciation’, another point in tandem with the HR directors, and ‘clarity of job role’

The overall picture that seems to be coming together suggest that there is correlations between the job function, the geography as well as the personality with respect to expectations that an employee has from their leader in the Indian context.