Raghu Krishnaswamy Finding Impact

FIP 78: Finding Strengths to Let Managers Shine with Raghu Krishnaswamy

This is the third part in our second human capital series, with seasoned leader and manager of people, Raghu Krishnaswamy. It’s a real honour to get him on the podcast to share some of his insights about managing teams. Raghu spent over 30 years with Unilever in various roles crossing many aspects of the commercial world – starting as a management trainee and finishing up as VP for Marketing Operations in Africa.

On this episode, you’ll learn:

  • Unilever’s culture of developing talent was the best thing Raghu’s taken from his career there. He enjoyed the diversity in his job, which took him to many different countries and he learned to develop many different teams in different cultures.
  • Ragu is Chief Commercial Officer at Off-grid: electric. He does two things: build brand and build people. His view is that to reach scale as an individual, the best thing he can do is build the human capital side of the business.
  • Raghu starts by looking for people’s motivation. On the one hand he works with the western elites who come to the country wanting to do good, and the other, african entrepreneurs, who are either engaged with the purpose or are just in it for the job.
  • To do this, he invests time in getting to know the people in this team. He does this by being genuine and authentic, which helps people to open up and be their whole selves. He knows their struggles, the moments of joy, their kids, etc. This helps the manager figure out the right direction within the company for the individual to grow.
  • To help people open up, be transparent about your failings, and limitations. For Raghu, it’s about his challenges with technology and not staying out late socializing with the team. This builds a strong bond of trust.
  • With trust, your team will come to you with problems or when they need help. So you’re creating a safe environment which people.
  • Building a good team needs good casting – which means defining the ingredients well i.e.e the diversity and personalities within a team need to fit. As a manager, you’re trying to put individuals together who compliment each other’s strengths.
  • To find people’s strengths, you observe. What can they do well? If you help people shine by allowing them to amplify their strengths, you’re creating a happy individual who wants to do their best for the organisation.
  • There’s no substitute for getting people to do work, and then, observe them on the job to identify their strengths.
  • When you hire, you hire for the right attitude, and you train them for skills.
  • Social enterprises must get to grips with the sensitive topic of cultural divide, when people from top class, developed nation universities, who have a burning sense of purpose, get to work alongside young, committed, purpose-driven Africans, or those who simply are working for a job. In Raghu’s experience, initially local team members might not feel confident fully engaging with the newcomers, and vice versa. You need to work on creating a safe environment to form teams that gel.
  • Raghu counters the idea that high standards need to be relaxed because you’re operating in Africa. Location has nothing to do with excellence. Human excellence can be achieved anywhere.
  • When problems are complex, solutions are invariably complex as well. There’s often 10 things to be done, and the ‘burden of leadership’ is to choose which of the 10 things to focus on, with consistency, until excellence is achieved.
  • The danger with introducing technical solutions into social enterprise is that frontline workers cannot be burdened with complexity. Push complexity up.

Links to resources:

Connect with Raghu:


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