Vineet Nayar, Vice-Chairman and Joint Managing Director, HCL Technologies, at the Annual Meeting 2013 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, 2013. Copyright by World Economic Forum. Photo Moritz Hager

Change Management: Transformers, Lost Souls and Fence Sitters

Karl McFaul Human Capital Leave a Comment

After Vineet Nayar became the CEO of HCL Technologies, the company became one of the fastest-growing IT services partners on the planet, world renowned for its radical management practices.

What did HCLT do to guide such a transformation?

In his now legendary book “Employees First, Customers Second”, CEO Vineet Nayar tells an interesting story on how he started immediately travelling to HCLT offices around the world, talk to thousands of employees and identify three groups of personalities: Transformers, lost souls and fence sitters.

Here is Mr. Nayar’s own words:

Transformers: When I met them, they were agressive and even angry with the company and its situation. They wanted change immideately, faster than we could make it. They were frustrated that they had been unable to make the changes they thought were necessary. They felt suffocated by the organization.

Although I sympathized with them, I did not really understand their feelings of suffocation. What was preventing them from effecting change? What was getting in their way? It wasn’t until much later that I realized that the organization itself was largely responsible for their frustration. The transformers had been waiting for a conductor to call “All Aboard!” for a long time.

Lost souls: They would sit in the meetings with frowns on their faces. Whatever we were doing or whatever we proposed to do was, in their opinion, hopeless and wrong. Their negativity went beyond their views on specific plans. They were convinced that there was absolutely nothing we could do, no plan we could follow, that would ever change anything.

That view might have been tolerable if they had kept it to themselves. But lost souls tend to be vocal in their comments and expressive in their attitudes, and they defuse the energy in any meeting they attend or team they join. If I said anything like, “I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but, trust me, we will get there,” the lost souls would pounce on my words. To them, admitting that I didn’t know something showed that I was incompetent. They did not see it as honesty or transparency.. .. these employees may not have realized they came across negative. I think they often saw themselves as realists and truth tellers, the only ones who really understood how things worked, or didn’t.

Fence sitters: The third group of employees, the largest of the three, I call the fence sitters. These people spoke up the least in meetings and rarely asked questions, but they clearly were in “watch and wait” mode.

After I had classified these three groups, I thought about how to get as many of them on board as possible.. .. I was aware of the importance of getting a critical mass of people involved in a change effort and knew that as little as 10% of the total company population could be enough, as long as they were the right people.

So I decided to focus on the transformers. If I could get them on board, they would bring along a lot of fence sitters. And as more people boarded the train, the lost souls would either fall silent, leave the company, or perhaps even climb the steps themselves.”

Book on Amazon:


Diffusion of ideas - E.M. Rogers

Diffusion of ideas – E.M. Rogers



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