Venkat Iyer, CIO, Wockhardt on His High Success Rate with Team Retention

A CIO is known by the team he/she nurtures. The team is a reflection of his/her true leadership qualities. This has been best exemplified in the case of Venkat Iyer, CIO, Wockhardt. In his six years’ tenure as the CIO of Wockhardt, not a single team member from Venkat’s direct reports or even one and two levels below reports has left the organization. This is quite unusual for the IT industry where attrition rates are high.


This feat is even more commendable considering the company is operating in a highly regulated environment, which makes manpower retention all the more challenging. The pharma industry is governed by regulatory bodies like USFDA in U.S. and MHRA in U.K. The regulatory stipulations and frameworks devised by these bodies create certain restrictions in the way people work.


For instance, as Venkat points out, the company cannot buy just about any software they want to as it has to be compliant, which limits the possibilities sometimes. Further, his team can’t always go and create their own applications whenever they want as they need to have standardized products in place. So, building own software becomes a challenge. And, most importantly, the processes and timelines whether for decision making or implementation are comparatively long and stretched. All these limitations in today’s era of instant software and fast ‘trial, error and move on’ kind of projects can be quite frustrating and boring for the IT team.


The biggest issue for Venkat in such a scenario is retaining people in his team. However, being the way it is, Venkat tries to create a challenging environment for his team among the slow paced processes by keeping the team busy and engaged. Thus ensuring the team members don’t end up in the rut. “Lack of something more exciting to do is sometimes the reason for attrition. So, I try to focus my energies on enabling continuous learning and opportunities to innovate. People don’t want to be in a state where they are just doing maintenance job. As long as they have lots of projects on hand and new things coming their way, it gets them going,” states Venkat.


Venkat has quite a few ideas at hand to get his team members going. One of them is getting them to constantly engage with the technology startup community. Venkat himself is personally involved with a lot of startups outside his job and ends up meeting at least four every month and whatever new things and learnings from these meetings he comes back and shares with the team members. Some of the startups are even invited over to the office for Venkat’s team to meet and interact with them. If something makes sense, then a pilot is undertaken. “Not every experimentation will result into something, but at least it makes them open up their minds to possibilities that makes them come up with new ideas all the time. Some of these we even see how we can implement and apply to our industry,” he explains.


Another strategy at hand is encouraging team members to get out of office and regularly travel out to the field and company’s manufacturing facilities. Venkat informs that his team spends at least 20-30% of the time outside the main office to understand the manufacturing operations, how sales people work, how stockists operate, etc. Venkat cites an example from the time when the IT team was working on the mobile application for placing orders for the stocks of medicines. The team was out in the field for 2-3 months, which included visiting the stockiest, talking to them and understanding their behavior. This, in fact, turned out to be quite an eye opener as it was upon these interactions that the IT team realized that the stockiest will never place the order for the stock as they don’t have the time. Therefore, the app they were to be designing had to be built to enable the sales people to place the orders instead.


The strategy to mix practical on-field experience with the drive to experiment have served Venkat well, who today takes pride in not being a typical boss who micromanages and monitors his team’s day–to–day workings. And, the result shows in the form of a committed and engaged team.

Categories: Leadership

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