Tiered Mentoring at Infosys

By Fay Hansen

Jun. 12, 2008

The Infosys Leadership Institute in Mysore, India, pumps out executive talent for Infosys Technologies, the global IT solutions provider with fiscal 2008 revenue of $4.18 billion and year-over-year growth of 35 percent. Infosys employs 91,187 people and has offers out for an additional 18,000.

The HR function is responsible for the institute’s curriculum and an on-site staff of 80. HR is also responsible for all leadership development programs, including designing the curriculum and monitoring the results.

“Our underlying philosophy is that leadership cannot be taught, but it can be learned,” says Girish Vaidya, Infosys, head of the institute. “Leaders must first master themselves, but we all have blind spots.”

Infosys splits its leaders into three tiers. Tier 1 leaders are the top 50 people in the organization, including the heads of the business units, who have an average of 20 years of experience. Board members mentor these 50 leaders. Tier 2 consists of 180 leaders with an average of 15 years of experience. They are mentored by Tier 1. Tier 3 represents 550 people who average 10 years of experience and are mentored by Tier 2.

Employees from all three tiers apply for formal leadership training. “Applicants are evaluated on the basis of their achievements within a nine-dimension model and selected on that basis,” Vaidya says. All of the leaders selected move through an anonymous 360-degree feedback analysis, which becomes the basis for constructing a personal development plan.

They also attend sessions with senior leaders, who discuss their own learning within the company. Some are sent out for educational programs at the top universities in India or Ivy League universities in the United States.

Every quarter, HR reports to the board on the number of personal development plans in progress and the status of the leadership development programs. Infosys also conducts an annual survey of the participants from all three tiers. HR reviews the list of participants and determines whether anyone should be dropped from the program for performance reasons.

To gauge the results of the leadership development program, HR uses a leadership index based on the nine dimensions and rates each participant on a 1 to 5 scale, with 5 as the highest rating. The rating hinges not only on each leader’s actions but also on the leader’s efforts to share learning with others in the business unit or function.

“When leaders share what they have learned, you get alignment with others in the unit,” Vaidya notes. “The rating is two-sided: It reflects what you have learned and achieved and how well you have communicated it to others. For example, strategy development is important, but getting buy-in from the rest of the organization is also important.”

” ‘Leadership’ is an overused term,” he says. “You must begin with a clear definition of what a leader is in the context of your company. You have to define the competencies required, and that will define the path you need to take.”

At Infosys, however, accountability for leadership development rests with the individual. “The organization can provide access to all the tools that are needed, but in the end, the individual must take on the responsibility,” Vaidya says.

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