March 2023 | 

Leading a Change Initiative? Start with Changing Yourself

Leading a Change Initiative? Start by Changing Yourself

“I have over 20 years of experience working in Fortune 500 companies, including Advance Auto Parts, Capital One, Cisco and US Bank,” says Srini Nanduri. But the vice president and head of enterprise data analytics realized his latest challenge was one he needed help to overcome. “I came to Advance Auto Parts to help with a transformation to a more data-driven organization. We want to help our customers with every interaction and leverage data to drive strategic business decisions. That transformation will reach every person in the organization, which requires me to strengthen insights and perspectives on leadership, management, and business strategy and acquire new ones.”

Choosing Wharton’s AMP

Nanduri received an MBA in 2005 and knew he wanted to go back to school to “refresh and retool,” both to help meet the challenges of his current position and to set him up for his next chapter. After researching his options, he chose Wharton’s Advanced Management Program (AMP) in large part because of its unique curriculum, which relies more heavily on experiential learning than case studies. “You learn and apply leadership skills, for example, by working on teams in real situations,” he says. “Stretch experiences like rowing and film making push you out of your comfort zone, give you real-time feedback, and deepen the learning.”

Other important differentiators are the awarding of alumni status after completion of the AMP and building a new network of peers from different industries, geographies, and backgrounds. “Becoming an alumnus meant I would not be on my own after the program ended. I can stay connected and engaged with Wharton for the rest of my career. During the program, I got to engage with an international group that included CFOs, marketers, and other non-tech people. Since I have an undergraduate degree in computer science and my job is heavy in AI and machine learning, I didn’t want a tech-based program that would be attended by people doing similar things in the same industry. It wouldn’t be different enough from my day-to-day. The AMP gave me a new network of leaders who I can reach out to any time, and who have become an important part of my personal and professional lives.”

Nanduri says he chose the hybrid on-campus/online model of AMP because it provides “the best of both: when you are on campus you get to know people and form connections; then you take the knowledge and skills you learn back to work and apply them immediately while you are learning more remotely. The final two weeks on campus brought it all together. The hybrid AMP was not only easier to attend, but I didn’t have to wait to start making an impact.”

Powerful Lessons Lead to Powerful Changes

One of the biggest challenges Nanduri sought to address was change management. He’s not alone: leading change is considered one of the most formidable leadership undertakings, with only an estimated 30 percent of initiatives achieving their goals. So it’s not surprising that some of the most powerful takeaways from the AMP included change management topics such as setting a vision, developing strategy, and communicating more effectively. “Having internal conversations and engaging up, with senior leaders, is a crucial skill for me as we work on transforming the company,” says Nanduri.

“One of the biggest changes I have made since the program ended has been in the way I communicate. I learned how to tell a story, which is critical when you are dealing with data. You have to make it more accessible and share it in a way that gets people to listen and come along with you. The AMP session on followership really made this clear. And it’s especially important when you are communicating something that won’t be popular — you have to create a hook and help people understand why you are sharing the information.”

Nanduri says an afternoon with global business advisors and best-selling author Ram Charan inspired another groundbreaking change in his leadership. “Ram talked about ‘manufacturing time,’ which was something I started to do as soon as I got back to work. My calendar was always full and I was constantly juggling many things, but he pointed out that as a leader, you don’t need to be in every meeting. Most problems are resolved without your help, but when something does come to you, you have to have time to deal with it. That means optimizing your time by delegating and stepping back to ask yourself whether you have to be in that conversation. Making this a practice not only helps you be there when you are most needed, but also pushing more authority down and letting your team drive many decisions builds the next generation of leaders.”

Expanding the Horizon

“The AMP was an investment in my personal development that is already paying dividends,” says Nanduri. “I use something I learned every day. Some of the benefits are visible, but many more are not. I am recharged and have built new skills and gained new experiences and a new network of peers.” Most importantly though, he says before he attended the program, conversations with his personal coach about his career trajectory focused on becoming a technology or data leader. “AMP widened my aperture, and I now see many more possible roles in my future. My horizon is much bigger. The program helped me become a much better leader and see my future differently. I only wish I had done it sooner.”