Harvard Business Review

CEOs, Get Out of The Way!

01 May 2012 | Source: Harvard Business Review

Many years ago, I watched a most unusual puppet show at the Surajkund Mela, one of India’s most popular crafts fairs. Puppeteers usually conceal themselves behind a screen, as we all know, and the puppets take center stage. At the Surajkund show, though, the puppeteers were entirely visible, and the audience could see them talk, sing, and emote along with their puppets.

When the show ended to rapturous applause, a swarm of kids, including mine, quickly gathered around the stage. As the children chatted excitedly with the puppeteers, I struck up a conversation with the man who appeared to be the head of the troupe. “Why do you allow the puppeteers to be seen?” I asked. “Because they are the ones who do all the work,” he said. That simple statement, spoken in the most commonsensical fashion, seared itself on my mind.

All too often, companies take employees — the lifeblood of every organization — for granted, and the hype surrounding their leaders overshadows the work that employees do. As this video shows, almost everyone is an employee — be it the President, a cop, or the cable guy.

Together, employees have the power to find innovative solutions to the many problems we face. Yet, we prefer to wait for a superhero to change the world with the wave of a magic wand.

Let’s not fool ourselves; employees are at the core of every game-changing idea. They have built yesterday and today, and undoubtedly, they are going to fashion tomorrow. Hierarchies are crumbling all around us, with social media building a new world run by collaborative power.

These changes have been evident in the Employee First, Customer Second philosophy as well. Once driven by top management and embraced by employees, the EFCS movement is now becoming employee-driven and management-embraced. Innovative ideas are emerging from the ground up, and employees are driving corporate social responsibility. Yet, most companies appear oblivious to the winds of change.

It’s time CEOs paid attention, moved away from legacy systems, and decoupled power and position. If we can broaden leadership by empowering employees to assume the responsibility for change, we are sure to find new ways to transform business.

Let’s just get out of the way, and allow our employees to get to work!

Vineet Nayar is the founder of the Sampark Foundation based in Delhi, and the former CEO of HCL Technologies. He is the author of Employees First, Customers Second. Follow Vineet at twitter.com/vineetnayar.

Originally posted on Vineet Nayar’s Blog site on Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2012/05/lets-just-get-out-of-the-way.html