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Learning how to make strategic decisions

  • A CEO’s job is not an easy one, so it’s important to remain grounded
  • There is satisfaction in knowing that the organization’s talent pool is robust, even though the workforce is dominated by millennials and Gen Z’ers

Paul Dupuis (centre) with Sangeeta Singh and Tomin Paul.
Paul Dupuis (centre) with Sangeeta Singh and Tomin Paul. (Mint)

When a workforce is dominated by millennials and GenZ’ers, organizations need to come up with innovative ways to provide learning stimulation to their top performers. With this goal, multinational HR consultancy firm Randstad India decided to roll out its “CEO for a day" programme, with high performers getting the opportunity to be in the company of their CEO, Paul Dupuis, for a day. Given the reception to the programme, Dupuis wants to continue it.

“The enthusiasm with which other employees—including those from my leadership team—want to be part of this activity and the buzz that we have generated means we definitely intend to continue with this programme," he says. He also does not want to cap the number of people applying for the programme, for he believes, “the best and the brightest" should get a shot at being part of the experience.

Besides the learning, the chosen “CEOs" also get a taste of the perks that the position comes with. Sangeeta Singh, 28, lead recruiter, general staffing, was among those selected to spend a day with Dupuis as the “CEO"—employees are chosen based on criteria such as performance, core values and their perception of a CEO’s role. Singh was amazed that a CEO’s life is a “well-oiled machine". “Being part of the disciplined routine where things get done for the CEO in a certain way was definitely a nice feeling to experience," she says. Dupuis gifted her what he calls his business bible, Good To Great by Jim Collins. “I will always cherish his handwritten note: ‘You are a talented young lady & I wish to see you someday as a CEO. Wish you all the very best’. If ever I needed inspiration, I couldn’t have asked for better," says Delhi-based Singh.

Getting into the job

The day began with a winner accompanying Dupuis to leadership meetings on strategy and budget.

Tomin Paul, 32, senior corporate manager, digital, says he will cherish the experience of witnessing how strategic decisions are made. “Being privy to exclusive business decisions and strategy discussions that I wouldn’t otherwise have been part of was something I really enjoyed," says Bengaluru-based Paul. The process of taking strategic directions despite challenges, where the leaders have to integrate diverse viewpoints, make strategic choices and trade-offs and then translate it into a compelling vision everyone can relate to, is also something Paul enjoyed learning about.

Singh too was awed by meeting the top leadership and sitting in the management meeting. “Being privy to strategic discussions, where decisions that impact the entire organization are taken, made me proud of what I had achieved. During the one-on-one chats with Paul, he explained the details of what goes into being a CEO—it was also quite meaningful," says Singh. What she didn’t enjoy so much was the budget discussion that she had to sit through because “numbers aren’t my strong suit".

A believer in transparency and “walking the talk", Dupuis says the initiative has given a chance to employees to be part of his day and thought process. “We had regular workdays filled with real-world decisions, client meetings, employee engagement—this was a real experience and no simulation. People (the winners) could validate if I indeed did walk the talk," he says.

Top takeaways

A CEO’s job is not an easy one, so it’s important to remain grounded, says Singh. “From a personal standpoint, two things struck me—the ability to be humble and authentic goes a long way in winning the trust of people you work with, be it your superiors, peers or subordinates. And, most importantly, if you love your work, it won’t feel like work at all. I feel that there is (now) a huge difference in my approach to work and life," says Singh. Moreover, Singh, who is in a relatively junior position, is now known across verticals and is recognized as a high performer. “It’s a feeling of great satisfaction knowing that my development is being closely monitored by the leadership team," she says.

Paul recalls noticing how Dupuis weighed in on issues, offering an insight into his thought process and approach to leadership. “The best part of the day for me was the interactions we had between meetings, where he explained the nuances of decision-making and leadership. I got some specific advice on being effective as a functional leader and a change agent—on the need to focus attention not just on having the right ideas from a functional standpoint but also managing the change process through building consensus and getting buy-in for key initiatives and ideas from diverse stakeholders," he says.

He also learnt the importance of following a balanced routine that would enable him to focus his day and manage his energy, “which is key to sustaining excellence in the face of increasingly complex demands on your time", he says.

For Dupuis, there is satisfaction in knowing that the organization’s talent pool is robust, even though the workforce is dominated by millennials and Gen Z’ers. “Most of my ‘CEO for a day’ winners fall in either of these generations. I was pleasantly surprised with the way they think and express themselves. They might be hard to pin down when it comes to a lot of things, but it’s clear what drives them. I guess, I learnt as much from them as they did from me," he says.

CEO Understudy is a series that looks at the experience of people who have had the opportunity to follow the CEO for a day and glean insights about the top job.

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