Sumit Mitra

Head-Group Human Resources and Corporate Services

of the 18, 000 employee Godrej Group in India drives the Godrej Employer Brand that is built on the philosophy of tough love. He has been instrumental in making Godrej an inspiring workplace with an agile and high performance culture that attracts and retains the best global talent. The Group companies consistently feature in the Great Place to Work list. Sumit leads the leadership development, due diligence, mergers and acquisitions and change management initiatives. In this exclusive interview with XED Global, he takes a deep dive into Godrej’s executive development experiences. Excerpts:

Could you please let us know the guidelines of the Godrej group on executive education?
We don’t have any specific guidelines on executive education. For us, the learning principles that we follow is a 70:20:10 policy model: 70 per cent on the job, 20 per cent in mentoring and coaching and 10 per cent through formal classrooms.

We look at executive education in different ways. One, we look at it as a skill-building perspective. For example, if someone is moving into a managerial level position, he needs to possess some additional skills and knowledge.

As a group that has a rich history of 118 years, we have good talent who are not managers but have the potential to move into managerial roles. So for them, we have specific inhouse courses. Every year, 40-50 people go through these courses and get certified. These are non-managers in functions like sales, production and human resources. Depending on how we see their potential in going to the next level, they get into this program.

Typically, most of our executive education courses are completely sponsored by the company. So we give them time and space to do it and we feel that it’s our input into their career. Executive education also happens at the higher level where we do not have specific tie-ups with any business school, but after assessing their skills and past experiences, we facilitate a program for them. At the very senior level, we also have a program for high potential people.

How many managers have you sent in the past?
Over the years, a number of them have gone overseas. These programs are very expensive. There are many functional programs which are available, for example, if someone is moving within human resource to a functional strategic level. We often use Michigan Business School or the Harvard Business School.

Another area is that of online courses. So, for us, executive education is part of an ongoing journey; it’s not that only certain managers are eligible. We see what is beneficial for one’s career.

How are these leaders in the management level selected?
We have a structured talent management process where potential talent for the next level of managers is required for all employees. A decision on sending leaders for executive education is based on mutual dialogue.

What do you see as the most common skill gaps in the Godrej talent  pool?
There are a couple of areas: one, strategic orientation, because when people go up the operations line, it requires an opening up of the mind and imagination. A second area where most of the people go in for people management and leadership training is about self-awareness and leadership skill development. In the past, we have some programs inhouse with Professor Hithender Wadhwa of Columbia Business School.

What are the criteria in selecting a business school?
The most important criterion is the content of the program and the second most important element is feedback. If it is a new program, we do it with great diligence, because most of these programs are expensive.  The third aspect would be the brand reputation of the business school and faculty expertise.

As Indian economy and the market grows, many business schools are are coming to India. How do you take a call between custom and open modes of executive education?
There are some areas where networking and cross cultural interactions are needed where I think an onsite program with far more diversity is more important.  In certain other programs, skill development is more important where we send leaders to business schools.

What has been the return on investment in the executive education programs where you have sent the group managers?
I have seen a few things happening. One, as the network of managers broaden, they can connect and see what other companies are doing in different countries. Second, is the impact on leadership skills at the global level. Thirdly, some programs help build very niche skills where they are better enabled to manage the teams better and pass on the knowledge in a far more efficient manner. All these are part of the leadership immersion process. Otherwise, it makes you like the frog in the well where your focus is internal.

How do you transfer knowledge to the company from a manager who has attended an executive development program?
Usually, after a manager returns from a high level program, there is a knowledge sharing session we have a knowledge sharing session.