The E5 Guide To Leading Business

I also realise that India has something that Japan doesn't have. India has a passion for change, says Paul Dupuis, MD, and CEO, Randstad India


During his long stint in Asia, Paul Dupuis has drawn leadership lessons from diverse cultures. In an exclusive interview with Rajguru Tandon, the CEO of Randstad India, a frontrunner in HR services, talks of blending the Indian jugaad with the Japanese Kaizen as his strategy for India and of his E5 rule book.

You have had long stints in leadership in Asian countries like Japan and Singapore, before coming to India. Would you like to share with us your journey as a leader over the years?

I’m a passionate student of leadership. I view leadership as a craft, a mix of art and science, and a never-ending journey. The only way to ‘learn leadership’ is to practice it. Early on, in my boyhood, I learned some valuable lessons through sports that leadership is equally about both leading and following. These lessons have proven to be useful in the business environment as well. Leading people, whether on the ice or in the corporate world, comes with challenges, making a lot of mistakes and learning lessons along the way. Ultimately, I strive to become the kind of leader that I would follow myself.

If I look at it today, I think the journey has really been moving from I, Me and My to We, Us and Ours. The big turning point came for me in my mid-40s when I realised that the key to success of a leader is to evolve from being the leader as the instructor, the one who has the answers, to becoming the leader as an enabler, the one who prompts others to find the answer, and own the action.

Tell us about your experience in leading organisations and with employees. 

We’ve all experienced both good leaders and bad ones. I’ve learned valuable lessons from both − in the process creating my own personal version of leadership. Today, I follow a model of leadership which I’ve been working on for many years. In fact, I’m writing a book now on the topic. The book is about what I call the E5 - Envision, Express, Excite, Enable and Execute.

Simply put, the E5 guides the transformation of the leader from a tactical pace-setter to a strategic enabler.

How does your style of leadership impact your organisation, colleagues and employees?

I’ve worked in a number of countries, including 22 years in Japan − in the process learning how to lead in varying contexts and environments. Each country has a very different culture and requires an appropriate style of leadership. Through my journey, I’ve discovered that while there are differences across borders, it makes more sense to look for similarities and universalities in leadership. It was then that I started to find that there are a number of things that work across every border regardless of culture, business, industry or type of organisation.

The first common universality is transparency. People appreciate transparency in every culture, organisation or business where I’ve been. The second is recognition. Everyone enjoys it and, in many cultures, especially India, they thrive on it. But this recognition, and the rewards that come with it should be well-deserved.

The effective leader knows that giving awards for trying hard does not create a high-performance culture – which leads to the next universality − similar to our favourite teacher from our school days. The game-changing leader is strict but fair. This requires courage, an important trait for the truly effective leader.

I’m a strong believer in the need to confront the brutal facts on a regular basis. If we’re not doing well, we need to admit it, and then talk about why it is happening and come up with an action plan to fix it. Whether in business, sports or life in general, it’s the same approach. Instead of falling into the blame game trap, it’s about introspection on the role each individual plays in ensuring that vision becomes reality.

How do your leadership strategies impact growth? 

While an organisation may achieve success in the short term, the true measurement of greatness is sustainable performance. The exceptional leader builds an organisation which is not only ready for today and tomorrow, but is prepared for the day after tomorrow.

This is my approach to leadership − find the similarities, walk the talk, be courageous, create a movement and maintain a fierce resolve and optimism along the journey.

You said that we all have good days and bad days. How do you balance both?

I stayed in Japan for 22 years - over time I got into a comfort zone. I had become part of a strong community,


in and out of work, and had built a certain level of credibility. This took years of hard work and commitment. Then, one fine day, my boss said, “Paul, it’s time for a change.” And then he told me about India.

Talk about good days and bad days! Here was my mix of both! A Canadian who lived in Japan for more than twenty years, and worked in Singapore and the region for several years, but I had virtually no exposure to India. To leave the comfort zone, a world where I had few, if any blind spots and to move to a complex, fast-moving, foreign environment was a daunting proposition. To add to the excitement, the day before I arrived in India, demonetisation was enacted.

And I had no idea what the word meant! Shortly after that was the largest layoffs of IT professionals in India in modern history, and then the implementation of GST. Out of the comfort zone and straight into the fire, as the Captain of Randstad India.

But these were all really good initiations for me. I learnt the importance of being agile − but I also learnt the importance of balance, of having a north star, of your greater purpose as a leader as a guiding light. Both in good times and bad, it’s about principles for me. I live by mantras which I’ve created over the years − and that serves me well at all times.

What is your perception about work-life balance? 

When it comes to work-life balance, I don’t believe there is a separation between work and life. It’s more about work-life integration. If you really love what you do, it becomes part of your life.

At the same time, it’s important to be in the moment with family, with friends − and put work aside. I blend my work and my personal life − including my hobbies − into a healthy combination.

Would you like to talk about the evolution of Human Resources in the past few years?

You need to go back to the beginning of time. The role of HR was originally about personnel management, which was essentially transactional in nature. It was about the basic nuts-and-bolts, payroll, leave, attendance and grievances. Those days are long gone now.

The game-changing HR professional is actually a business person first. She or he is commercially minded, focused on moving the needle for the business to achieve its mission and vision. So the transactional pieces should not, by default, fall under HR. They must be handled under an administrative centre, or as is more common today, a shared service centre.

The mission of HR should be about ‘people’, attracting the best talent, developing and retaining them and working closely as a member of the management team to ensure that the goals of the business are achieved, and values protected and lived.

What can we expect in the realm of trends in Human Resources in 2020 or 2025?

I expect HR professionals to be commercial-minded and to own and deliver on measurable outcomes. The Human Resources professionals should be business partners and drivers − co-creating the strategy to drive the business. They need to be comfortable with data to make decisions. They need to know if we are ready not just for today and tomorrow, but prepared for the day after tomorrow?

The Human Resources leader should be one step ahead, to identify trends and needs to make sure that the organisation is well ahead of the curve, with the right capabilities in the team to lead the organisation forward. And the HR leader should be a confidante and trusted adviser to the CEO.

What are your expectations from India as a marketplace in the future?

Talking about the future, especially in India, is tough. At Randstad, we normally plan ahead two years at a time. Of course, it’s a rolling plan which stays relevant and is modified as we progress.

Randstad is present in 39 countries, and we cumulatively cover more than 90 percent of the world’s GDP. In many markets, we are the number one player. So we’re in the right countries and aim to play a stronger role in the regions where we operate.

India has always been a challenge for Randstad, and for all multinational companies in the HR staffing and recruiting industry here for that matter. Our growth in India was flat for years and we struggled to gain traction in India. On the other hand, our commitment to India has been unwavering. India is very attractive, and is pivotal for global companies, especially as we look ahead to the future.

One of my missions as the CEO of Randstad India was to lead the transformation of Randstad India, to establish our organisation as a centre of excellence in everything we do, to become a high performing country, not only on business outcomes but in terms of culture, values, innovation and people. It was time for India to make a positive impact on the overall Randstad group.

And that’s where my transformational leadership journey began. And what a journey it has been over the past 26 months! I’m proud to say that India is now one of the fastest-growing countries on a number of levels in the world of Randstad. In terms of business results, we had a solid 2018 and accelerated our strong momentum coming into 2019.

With the fast-growing economy, a rising, young, highly capable workforce combined with the recent re-election of the government, we are optimistic that the momentum will continue in the coming years. With that in mind, we are planning to invest further in India.

What led to the turnaround in India?

When I came to India, all I had was blind spots. I had no idea where to look. So I started first with a 90-day plan which was focused on meeting our people face-to-face across the four corners of India. With 22 offices in the country, that was a challenge and a great experience. I quickly discovered the diversity of India and the nuances of each region where we have a presence.

Through my conversations with our colleagues, it became clear that we strongly needed common direction, an inspiring and identifiable north star, and a clear direction for the people to be sure of where Randstad was going. We also needed to make some tough decisions to transform the leadership team into best-in-class in the industry.



And so I came up with a few priorities. I called them the ‘rocks’, the actions which move the needle. First, we needed to honour the past and focus on the future. Randstad has a rich and deep history in India, we needed to place value on this. Second, we needed to replace the blame habit with a culture of looking in the mirror, fueled by a bold ambition to constantly raise the bar higher. The third one − which was really key − was to fix silos. We called this initiative, ‘One Randstad’.

What were the major decisions that you had to take since you took charge in India?

Transformational journeys don’t happen overnight. We needed to recognise and reward the right behaviours and in the process, re-create our culture.

The tough moments came when I had to make difficult decisions about our people, many who had been with the organisation for a long time. Confronting the brutal facts, we realised that we didn’t have the right competencies, and in some cases, the right values to take us to the day after tomorrow. There is an old saying that “it’s lonely at the top”.

As the new guy in India, the shake-up meant I was alone at times but my conviction was strong. And I had the strong support of my key leaders − especially my CFO and CHRO − which was crucial in making the transformation happen.

What skills do modern age leaders need for the fourth Industrial Revolution?

I absolutely believe the leader of the future needs to be agile. And this doesn’t mean being a leader who zig-zags through the maze. The effective leader needs to commit to a vision with a greater purpose and believe that no matter what, the team will get there together.

The next is resilience, especially in India, since the country and the economy is in many ways, under construction and therefore, unpredictable. The leader needs to be resilient on those bad days and keep fighting across the bridge.

The last important trait is optimism. Game-changing leaders don't lead organisations by hope. I never use that word. Leaders who 'hope' don't inspire, nor do they gain credibility and leadership.

Is corporate wellness crucial for the ability of organisations to hire and retain employees?

My message to leaders is, be mindful of the wellness of your people. I am concerned about the current generation in India that lacks physical activity − causing problems with health. I think it’s less about the performance of the organisation, but more about getting great people together.

It’s about caring for your people on how they’re doing away from their business, physically and mentally. That is also what compels them to stay with you. I think some companies are doing a good job of this in India.

It’s an increasingly hot topic, particularly for larger companies. And when you get to the SMEs, there’s a real opportunity for corporate wellness to become an industry.

What is your idea of a perfect wellness programme for an organisation?

I think it should be something that’s inclusive. Because the moment you create these things only with fit people in mind, you miss out on a good portion of the organisation. So it needs to be accessible for everybody regardless of their thoughts on fitness and habits around physical activity.

The other element is that it needs to be fun. Wellness is similar to business progress, it should be focused on incremental improvement. The initiative needs to not just celebrate goals but milestones too. Of course, the team needs to be engaged so gamification is a great tool when it comes to these kinds of programmes.

We have seen how the job market has been lately. The IT sector specifically has been hiring a lot and the manufacturing sector is picking up too. How does it affect the overall economy?

The IT industry has undergone a lot of changes. When I first arrived, the layoffs were largely Java programmers who formed a major chunk of an organisation’s workforce. I remember there was a bit of a panic and a lot of concern in the media and beyond.

Information Technology professionals − not just in India but in general − tend to be life-long quick learners. And so they had an opportunity to reinvent themselves to other emerging industries. A lot of those IT professionals who lost their jobs were able to reposition themselves by going back to learning and get- ting ready for industries such as e-payment, artificial intelligence (AI) and RPA. Agile professional learners have done a good job of getting back into the workforce.

Is flexi-staffing a trend for the IT sector in India?

If we talk about staffing in India, there are actually three million contractual workers in India right now. Information Technology staffing accounts for about 25 percent of that, and is one of our fastest-growing lines of business solutions.

There is an opportunity for staffing firms to look at skilling, but most firms have been about staffing rather than skilling. In an environment like India, where we have so many people coming into the workforce, we find jobs are not there due to mismatch of skills.

A study by E&Y states that only 34 percent of the five million people entering the workforce every year (from institutions of higher learning) are employable. Clearly, staffing through skilling is important and growing in India.

One thing very unique to India, when compared to other evolved economies, is the stigma around temporary labour. It’s quite common to work your career as a contractual employee in other countries, but job seekers in India are looking more at safety and want a permanent full-time job.

How is the job market for mid-and senior-level professionals?

When I talk to Indian CEOs and HR directors, one of the main concerns right now is that the organisations are too top-heavy, and then they have a gap followed by a lot of freshers coming in. And so the concern is, are we ready for the future?

When it comes to job changes, India is a very fluid market with a high attrition rate because it’s a land of abundant opportunities. I believe the companies should not aim to be the ultimate pay-master because that is not sustainable. As a business, you should always aim to be above the median, but add on that extra stuff which really attracts and retains people − such as caring for your people, investing in their wellness and one more big thing which we do at Randstad − and that is, Learning and Development.

Learning and Development is one big change that I have focused on at Randstad. We have taken it from a very low priority to a top one by creating new programmes. We are also going to roll out the E5 model of learning to develop our people. Learning to develop − this is why people stay. It is very easy to find somebody across the street who pays more, but there is only so much you can do with money at one point.

How do you change your approach in managing an organisation and employees in different countries?

Let’s compare Japan and India because there is an extreme difference in many ways. When you’re leading people in Japan, consensus discussion becomes a very big part of the strategic planning process. Everyone is required to have a say in creating a strategy to be part of the story. It also means you have to invest time and the process takes a long time to go through.

So top-down leadership generally doesn’ t work in Japan, it has to be bottom-up and consensus-driven. Once the decision is made, everyone is on board. You have the ‘what’ figured out and then you get into the ‘how’, saving a lot of time on the ‘why’.

Coming to India, people expect the boss to tell them to go through the process of strategic planning. I brought the practice of “No I am not here to tell you what to do but we are going to find it together.” So I introduced a bit of the Japan approach here in India.

But I also realise that India has something that Japan doesn’t have. India has a passion for change with a high level of curiosity. Colleagues here are extremely ambitious and curious, and because India is growing so fast, there is a lot to look at.

To create the strategy and get everybody on board, you really have to focus on the ‘why’. The ‘why’ is more important than the ‘what’. Once you get people to understand the purpose, it gains momentum. The challenge in India, however, is that even if people start well-focused, they tend to lose focus over time.

So what is your India-specific strategy?

I look at it like this. In Japan once there is consensus on the what and the how, people go straight to hunt for their target and will not rest until they find the very single thing they are looking for. They won’t get distracted, there is a laser-sharp focus. In India, the strategy may be clear but because of the sheer fast pace of growth in the country, it’s easy to get distracted. The entrepreneurial spirit here often leads teams to get distracted. It’s a catch-22 but the curiosity is an exceptional strength which should be harnessed in India.

I see this as an opportunity, this jugaad in India combined with the Kaizen of Japan. I am aiming to combine the ultra- focus of Kaizen with the spirit and curiosity of jugaad to Randstad India. This will be key on our mission to become the most trusted and admired company in our industry in India, and beyond.


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