The canvas we were painting was a collaborative effort, a true
partnership. We were partners in developing world-class leaders.
Our inter- and intra-team diversity made us stronger with team
members from Nigeria, Germany, Greece, Columbia, Sweden, the United
States, and of course India. We had measured significant business
impact and won numerous international recognitions. We created best
practices and next practices that were being proliferated to
diverse industries all over the world, and were the masterminds of
a new model to build global leaders faster. We were the first
organization outside of the United States to receive top honors in
ASTD's BEST Award; and we had journal articles, numerous
interviews, and keynote presentations and requests to add to our
beautiful canvas of success.
Then, without warning our canvas was taken from us. We watched as
our Taj Mahal of learning began to crumble. On January 7, 2009,
Ramalinga Raju, the founder and chairman of Satyam Computer
Services, told his board of directors that he had inflated the
amount of cash on the balance sheet by nearly $1 billion, incurred
a liability of $253 million on funds arranged by him personally,
and overstated Satyam's September 2008 quarterly revenues by 76
percent and profits by 97 percent.
There we were, close to 50 of us huddled in this small conference
room, watching the television, shocked beyond belief. The screen
displayed a photo of Raju on the right and a graph depicting the
falling stock price on the left. The value of our stock plummeted
in less than five seconds, drained like an hour glass with the
grains of sand falling to the bottom.
The reporter began reading the letter. "It is with deep regret,
and tremendous burden that I am carrying on my conscience, that I
would like to bring the following facts to your notice." The
letter indicated that for the most recent quarter ending in
September 2008, the bank balances had been overstated by close to
US $81 million and there was more than $265 million in liabilities
not accounted for.
How could this be true? Just last week there had been an article in
the paper indicating that we had an excess of $1.6 billion in cash.
The reporter continued, "The gap in the balance sheet has
arisen purely on account of inflated profits over a period of the
last several years. What started as a marginal gap between actual
operating profit and the one reflected in the books of accounts
continued to grow over the years. Every attempt made to eliminate
the gap failed. As the promoters held a small percentage of equity,
the concern was that poor performance would result in take-over,
thereby exposing the gap. It was like riding a tiger, not knowing
how to get off without being eaten. Under the circumstances, I am
tendering my resignation as the chairman of Satyam and shall
continue in this position only until the current board is expanded.
I am now prepared to subject myself to the laws of the land and
face consequences thereof."
Around the world, Satyam employees were not prepared for the
consequences. Tainted, disgraced, beleaguered, scam-hit,
scandalized, fraudulent, crisisridden were the adjectives used to
refer to the once iconic brand of "India is IT." Putting the scale
and impact of Satyam's downfall in proper perspective was The
Economist's cover story "India's Enron." BusinessWeek featured Raju
on the cover with the headline "From Icon to I Con."
As an Indian-headquartered organization, Satyam was entrenched in a
hierarchical, largely patriarchal culture. Servant attitude was the
norm. Decisions were made by the most senior leaders or those with
perceived authority due to longevity or seniority in the
organization. Since 2005, a sea-change had occurred - or so we
thought - from patriarchal to a consensus-oriented leadership
culture. That is until communication from Raju diminished in the
months prior to the fateful confession. Employees were lost without
direction and only a few leaders had the courage to step forward.
After Raju's confession, the entire situation was surreal. We
instantly went from hero to zero. So we began to build a new
strategy for leaders that included behaviors, competencies, and
expectations to control the damage and rebuild that which could be
rebuilt. Leaders went on auto-pilot when it came to business
management. However, these same leaders were unsure of how to
handle the people and relationship issues. They assessed the
situation, implemented customer retention, and shored up the
Their focus on the people and relationship dimensions suffered, but
not because of a lack of desire. It was more about the lack of
comfort that comes from having to communicate, empathize, and
support people throughout a difficult time. The approach that works
best in this situation is leading through learning. It is simple
and powerful. You need to assist leaders with how to communicate to
the people and that starts by developing a set of leadership
Here are the eight guidelines that Satyam's learning department
developed to communicate, teach, and coach our leaders through the
Don't expect things to get back to normal.
Normal? What's normal? The organization you knew prior to these
turbulent times will never exist again. Life for all of us will
never be the same. Yet, there is a new road ahead. Even though we
have yet to find it, it will be there.
Find ways to take care of each other.
First and foremost, express your feelings. Allow others to express
their feelings without judgment. Words such as hurt, cheated,
shock, disbelief, sad, and anxious will be spoken and questions
such as "How did this happen?" and "Am I going to lose my job?"
will be asked. People need to verbalize their thoughts and feelings
to work through them. Now is the time to come together in
community. Bring everyone together and have them talk ab out where
they were when the news first came out. Go out to lunch with your
colleagues, take a walk together, gather in a conference room to
share stories - togetherness is healing.
React, pause, and then, respond
The typical reaction to a crisis is fight or flight. Each of us
must face our own inner and external turmoil. Each of us must
decide how to respond to what has happened. No matter your
response, it will be the right one as long as it stems from
integrity, an open heart, and understanding. No one has the right
to judge anyone's choices.
Don't stifle communication.
There is much to say. Hold daily updates. Even when there is news
to report, people still have questions. They feel connected by
being able to have regular access to their most senior leaders.
Even when people are repeating your words to each other and to you,
keep communicating. This consistent and continuous dialogue will
prevent the rumor mill from starting.
Now is not the time for hide 'n seek. Open your doors, get up from
your desk, and talk with people. Let them know you care. About a
week ago, one of my colleagues sent me this quote, which has been
attributed to several people. "They don't care how much you know
until they know how much you care." Listen, empathize, share your
advice, provide words of comfort, or just be there. Yes, you may be
injured; we all are. As leaders we must be there to inform,
comfort, and provide strength for others.
Understand that leaders are human too.
During turbulent times we all go through a lot. We are hurt and
worried - and that's just the tip of the emotional iceberg.
Sometimes, you may not be at your best. You will have good moments
and bad moments. Remember, leaders are human too. If you express
anger or act out as a result of your own turmoil, realize it,
apologize, and move on. Do not beat yourself up or see yourself as
less of a leader.
Spend time with children.
Children do not carry the same burdens as adults.They live more for
the moment, and especially younger children, who are constantly
playing. They may sense your sadness or your turmoil, but if you
allow yourself to live in their world, soon you will be running
around with them. The time will pass and you will have a
much-needed mental break. Try it, this one works!
Take care of your emotional, physical, and spiritual
Your health - emotional, physical, and spiritual - is very
important. Don't put any of them on hold. Calm your mind at night
and get a good night's sleep. If you need to talk to someone, seek
a counselor or a coach. Start or continue an exercise routine. Be
more mindful of your diet. And, look for the comfort that comes
from following your own spiritual path. Continuously remind
yourself and your people of this profound message by Howard
Richmond: "Don't let the news of today undo the successes of
yesterday or tomorrow."
Following these guidelines, using them in coaching conversations,
and integrating them into learning messages is one way to have a
profound impact that will be remembered when the company finally
emerges from the darkness.
Adapted from their new ASTD Press book, Riding the Tiger: Leading
Through Learning in Turbulent Times, to be published in summer
2010. Priscilla Nelson is president and CEO of Nelson Cohen Global
Consulting, www.nelsoncohen.com. While at Satyam she was global
director of people leadership. Ed Cohen is executive vice president
of Nelson Cohen Global Consulting. While at Satyam, he was chief