Learn. Adapt. Change

Learn. Adapt. Change

Avinash Vashistha, the chairman and geography managing director of Accenture India, says leading and learning are inextricably linked. In this interview with The Smart CEO, he talks about the best advice he’s ever received, the evolution of the outsourcing industry and what it means to Accenture India


Avinash Vashistha, the chairman and geography managing director of Accenture India, is responsible for all Accenture activities in India and works with the global leadership to formulate the company’s growth strategy in this geography. In this chat with The Smart CEO magazine, Vashistha discusses the importance of corporate training and development, the future of the outsourcing services industry and the critical success factors for Accenture’s growth in the region.

What is your biggest challenge at Accenture today? What is your strategy to tackle it?

As a leader in a fast growing industry, building and developing the talent pool in India is key to accelerating our leadership and taking the business to the next level for our client; herein lies our biggest challenge and the greatest potential. Building a talent pool cannot come from simple training. It has to be through intensive coaching and providing the right set of experiences, skills and leadership for the talent to evolve. At Accenture, we have developed specific programs for our high performing managers and leaders to address this.

A few examples of the joint programs we have designed, with many premier educational institutions to develop future leaders are:

Collaboration with the Indian School of Business for Accenture Management Development Academy to develop management and industry-specific skills.

With XLRI we created the Accenture-XLRI HR Academy to teach human capital management. Academy now also serves our people in China and the Philippines.

Teamed up with MIT to develop the Accenture Solutions Delivery Academy, a training and certification program based on our application delivery curriculum.

Collaboration with IGNOU (Indira Gandhi National Open University) to offer a diploma course on BPO services in India to help build India’s outsourcing industry.  We also offer comprehensive HR training to candidates outside Accenture to build a career in the BPO sector.

Partnership with the Institute of Clinical Research in India (ICRI) to jointly develop a Pharmacovigilance and clinical research programme, customised to meet the growing requirements of a thriving sector.

What are the critical success factors for growth for Accenture? Where do you see the company (in India) five years from now? 

Accenture is committed to its operations in India and is driven by robust demand. India is an integral element of Accenture’s global delivery model, which enables the company to provide clients with seamless delivery of services from multiple geographic locations, with 24x7coverage. We continue to see strong demand for our India domestic businesses, technology and business process outsourcing operations, and will continue to tap India’s high-caliber workforce.

Accenture has three growth platforms that serve as the growth engines of our business:  Management Consulting, Technology Consulting and Outsourcing. In the last few years we consciously focused on enhancing our technology and delivery capabilities and built an unmatched global delivery network where we continue to recruit throughout the network.

You’re co-author of the book “Offshore Nation”. According to you, how has the offshoring industry transformed over the years. How do you see it (the Indian offshoring industry) evolve over the next few years? 

With 20 years’ experience as a steward of the globalisation industry, we believe that the industry is continuously evolving. The first generation of outsourcing that came to life in the 1990s was all about saving money. Commonly referred to as “lift and shift,” this model was characterised by the re-badging of organisations’ people and technology from client to provider in the same locations. The focus shifted to global delivery in its second generation, wherein labor arbitrage became the core of the new value proposition. The third generation saw leading outsourcing service providers drawing powerful process methodologies such as Lean Manufacturing and Six Sigma to bring consistency and commonality to their operations on a large scale and across multiple clients.

Many executives today believe that outsourcing can add immense value to their businesses, particularly in the form of innovation. Today, in what we call the fourth generation of outsourcing, effective use of analytics (through sophisticated tools and techniques for statistical surveying, root-cause analysis and process optimisation), paired with deep industry expertise, exert a major impact on organisations’ performance. In addition to analytics, technologies such as software-as-a-service and mobility are catalysing further evolution of this industry. With these technologies, we see the industry moving into its fifth generation, characterised by on-demand services applied across multiple clients through flexible software platforms and commercial contract structures paired with standardised processes.

We believe that online social networking technologies will help outsourcing industry to evolve into yet another generation in the future. Today, business people are increasingly using such technologies to build communities where members share best and worst practices, discuss how they’re surmounting their toughest business challenges and learn from one another. We envision using social networking as an extension to the fifth generation platforms, which will build these social learning communities centered on outsourcing processes. Through participation in these communities, clients could exchange and benefit from each other’s’ insights about how outsourcing can help them achieve new business outcomes as well as shape the ongoing evolution of the on-demand platform and standardised processes as their own needs and requirements change over time

How do we tackle India’s challenges in three key areas: employability, employment and education? 

There is a direct correlation between employability, employment and education. Good education and training will produce more number of employable candidates, leading to a higher employment scenario. According to CII, 70 percent of job-seekers in India are educated but not employable. Moreover, less than 10 percent have recognised professional certifications.

The diversification, growth and privatisation of higher education globally calls for quality processes and output, and many higher education institutions are investing time and money on devising new mechanisms to ensure external quality management. Despite this, the accreditation system in India faces some core challenges. For instance, the globalisation of jobs and their mobility across countries places pressure on institutions to deliver education recognisable in an international market. Further, there exists a lack of alignment between business requirements and the skills derived from education. Additionally, the lack of infrastructure as well as other procedural complexities in India impacts the reach and penetration of accreditation systems across the education landscape.

Can policy makers and education providers in different countries move towards identifying skills in a harmonised manner and work together to foster a universally recognised accreditation process? Is it possible to devise a framework for global accreditation standards and parameters? What could be the components of an international framework that match and meet the twin needs of international education and global employability? One common answer to these questions is the development of a robust accreditation process. As the process of accreditation is market-driven and cuts across geographies, it helps educational institutions in assessing their strengths and problem areas.

It is imperative that we focus on employable skills and not just education.  It is necessary to devise an international framework that recognises the potential of “international education” based on global standards and accreditation parameters. The recent surge in students going abroad to study, as well as the growth of courses available over the Internet; make it imperative for international education policy makers to collaboratively move towards global accreditation standards. Delivering education services in the future must be marked by assurance, monitoring and evaluation to improve education quality for all stakeholders with a strategy and landscape that is insight-driven and future-oriented.

The best advice you’ve ever received and from who? 

The best advice that I have ever received comes from Robert J. Thomas’s “Crucibles of leadership” which is very close to my heart. One of the first things you notice about the book is its title. In medieval days, crucibles were used by alchemists to make gold out of base metals. The fallacy is that you can never make gold out of base metals. So does this mean that these crucibles of leadership would not be effective? Contrary to this, the gist of the thesis is that often it takes a transformative occurrence to give birth to a leader who in turn influences a company’s future.

As the eminent American scholar, Warren Bennis, says in the foreword to the book, “This invaluable book reminds us that talent is only the beginning of greatness, that leading and learning are inextricably linked, and that the crucibles that break some people can give rise to serial leaders and learners as well.”

I found it very interesting that despite references to situations of extreme stress and difficulty, the book is full of optimism and uplifting spirit. ‘Crucibles of Leadership’ teaches you that being faced by mighty obscurities leads to greatness and learning. I also liked the book’s focus on learning and change, it affirms my beliefs that as long as I can learn, adapt, change and grow I can succeed.

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