At Wipro, Rishad Premji Introduces Five Habits in His Quest For a High-Performing Culture

IMAGINEERING: Cultural change is a prominent agenda item for most CEOs, as it is one of the most challenging aspects of an organizational transformation to execute—and sustain. Rishad Premji, the executive chairman of global technology services company Wipro –it has more than 220,000 employees across six continents, wants to promote cultural change at the 77-year-old organization by institutionalizing five habits in the workplace.

Rishad Premji

The Bangalore-based organization, which started as a vegetable oil–manufacturing firm, is now India’s third-largest IT services provider by market capitalization. 100,000 new people have joined Wipro in the past two and a half years.

Rishad who became the organization’s executive chairman in July 2019, is on a journey since then, to make Wipro “a high-performing organization that still has a soul, that is empathetic, vulnerable, collaborative, and decent.”

Rishad tells McKinsey’s Anuj Kadyan in an interview that “When I took over, in July 2019, I realized that while we had developed strong ingredients that help a company become successful—things like strategy, people, investments, and purpose–they were not producing a decent dish, which is our performance.”

“I spent a lot of time in the first three to four weeks trying to understand what was happening and why we were not delivering the potential that we had as a company. I discovered that the challenge is our own selves to some extent—our ways of working, how we collaborate, the silos in the organization, the trust factor, and the willingness to work across the aisles. It became very evident (to me) that we had to transform the way we work together to help us unlock our potential.

“Instead of using complicated messaging to communicate—and implement—an elusive concept like culture”, Premji says he has chosen five simple, commonplace habits to promote this change.”

The five habits and how they became a pandemic rallying cry

The first habit, he says, is being respectful, which is about being inclusive, communicating transparently and authentically, even when it comes to feedback. The second is about being responsive, both to our clients and inside the organization, and making decisions at speed and taking risks. The third is about always communicating—with stakeholders inside the organization and with customers, as well as sharing bad news quicker and faster. The fourth is about demonstrating stewardship. It is about having a strong mindset, having a ”can do” attitude as opposed to a cynical attitude, and sharing your best people and helping other parts of the organization, even if there is no benefit to yourself. The last one is about building trust across the aisles. In an organization where 100,000 new people have joined in the past two and a half years, the element of trusting people before you know them is incredibly important to getting things done in a collaborative manner.

Rishad, the torch-bearer of Azim Premji, who served as chairman of Wipro guiding the company through four decades of diversification and growth to emerge as a world leader in the software industry, tells McKinsey’s Kadyan, “I’ve always been a big believer that people don’t experience your values; they experience your behaviors. They experience the way things happen, implicitly and explicitly, inside an organization. That defines the smell of the place—the culture of an organization.” Read all of it here.

By the early 21st century, Wipro’s Azim Premji became one of the world’s wealthiest people.