Manu Saigal: Driving growth and coordinating operations with Years of Experience in All Business Processes

The Most Admired Women Leaders in Business, 2023

With over two decades of experience in turning around businesses, PnL management, framing and executing new initiatives, people management and detailed task & resource planning, Manu Saigal has expertise in building long term customer relationships. She is a director for Staffing business at Adecco handling strategic, sales, operational and client escalation aspects of the general staffing business She also has extensive expertise addressing senior clients across industries empowering organisations to optimise their workforces.

Manu and her team at Adecco want to make sure that their stakeholders are inspired, motivated, trained and prepared to embrace the future of work; where individuals have the freedom to flourish and grow their careers, the motivation to succeed and the opportunity to build greater and brighter futures for themselves than ever before. She shares, “Embedding integrity and compliance consistently into how and why we conduct our business enables us to deliver on our mission to be a driver of positive change and making the future work for everyone.”

Manu spends at least 40% of her workweek talking to or interacting with clients and she spends a lot of time getting to know her team members and their families personally. She values building good relationships with team members outside of the workplace, both within the teams under her direct authority and across functional lines. She also schedules time for self-education, which may involve reading books by renowned authors or articles, reports or other insights.

The First Step

Having a vision or a goal is the starting point of leading an organisation to success and breaking that down into operational activities that are aligned with the organisational goal is the key. Manu discovers that achieving this objective necessitates smart thinking, excellent preparation and flawless execution.

Manu’s early years at Wipro laid a solid basis for planning and carrying out tasks. Through numerous learning environments and mentorship over the years, she was able to improve her talents. She began her career as a member of the delivery team, where she learned the importance of being customer-centric, managing stakeholders and managing people. Despite having held a variety of positions, Manu’s true calling emerged when she took the helm of an Adecco business unit, where she was in charge of managing the PnL.

Over the years, Manu has handled various roles; some of them have been very challenging turnarounds, while others were greenfield projects. Each role has added to her experience and learning. Manu also believes in investing time in oneself to stay relevant. She says, “Learning should never end, and this could be through the job role, mentors, team members, colleagues, family, or even a formal education.” She has recently completed PGPMax for Senior Executives from the Indian School of Business (ISB, Hyderabad). It has helped her further enhance her skills in general management, strategic thinking, cross-functional knowledge and building a network of senior executives.

Learning never ends Even for Leaders

A successful leader is one who can inspire and motivate people. Manu states, “You can do that if you “walk the talk“; set examples for the team members and being a person of self-discipline and integrity takes you a long way.”  Manu most closely identifies with authentic leadership as a style of leadership. She claims that honest and moral behaviour are the focal points of real leadership. People feel confident providing feedback or inputs for any decision-making since it promotes a 360-degree flow of knowledge. Even though the choice is still made by the leader based on knowledge, skill and data analytics, it is always beneficial to hear the team members’ opinions and gain their support. Manu has always upheld the principle of being open and honest with her business, her employees and her clients. She shares, “My father is a retired colonel from the Indian Army; constant change, adaptability, discipline & integrity has been part of my upbringing. One should keep learning – to be adaptable in an ever-changing environment!”

3 key success mantras for Manu have been Be curious, keep learning, and stay relevant. But above all is to remain humble!

According to Manu, by being curious, one would always be asking questions, challenging the status quo and searching for answers. It also helps one in his or her continuous learning journey and staying relevant. She asserts, “Your learnings or your interest in staying relevant could come from anywhere – need not be always formal, from your seniors or industry leaders; it could also be from your team member or a fresher who has just joined your organization.” She further adds that, for example, it is her daughters (18 and 12 years old) who help Manu stay relevant. She finds it so interesting to engage in a conversation with them. Every time Manu and her daughters have a discussion on a controversial or sensitive topic; it amazes her the way they think and bring a different perspective to the table to think through. She adds that the more one engages with the young talent, the more they are able to relate to and appreciate their mindset.

New Learning with Every Difficulty 

When one faces challenging situations and overcomes them, he or she gains new perspectives and experience. “Challenging experiences shape you as a leader,” says Manu. She further adds that one becomes more solution oriented, committed and resilient. On the one hand, challenges help one stay humble; overcoming the challenges also gives one a sense of achievement.

As a leader, there are many challenges that you need to constantly face: how do you inspire others? how do you keep your team motivated? how do you ensure that there is no complacency when the team is doing well?

Manu most closely identifies with authentic leadership as a style of leadership. She claims that honest and moral behaviour are the focal points of real leadership. She says, “As a leader, rather than waiting for the yearly review, one needs to take regular time out to check in with your Millennial team members; find out where they’re struggling and offer them coaching.”

Equally Managing Work and Life

One thing Manu strongly believes is that there is nothing like work life balance. What she believes is “being available where you are needed the most.” She further adds that it’s like treating one’s own work like a baby. And when the baby is not well, one spends hours by their side till they are feeling better. “We should celebrate wins and good work just like we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries,” she says. “At the same time, if there is attention required at home, let’s say someone is not well or your child’s exams, then that’s where your time is spent more.”

There have been times in Manu’s career where she would have spent long hours at the office, travelled like crazy or even done her management course during the weekends and she is lucky that her family could understand the need for the same! She feels fortunate to have such good staff who took responsibility in her absence because her mother, who also survived cancer, spent days, weeks and even months in the hospital.

Each day, Manu unwinds by watching TV with family—this could be a Bollywood movie or any of the OTT series. She shares, “Me and my daughters can watch the same movie again and again; some of our favourite movies are Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dil Dhadakne do, 3 Idiots.”

For Manu, weekends are for family and friends—both she and her husband Ankur love socialising and hosting people at home. She also believes in taking short breaks once every 3–4 months rather than a long annual break each year. She mentions, “Spending time with Ankur and my girls, Khushi and Mehhar, helps me regain my energy, reduce stress and boost productivity levels.”

Aspiring to Bring Change

Every day, the world of work is being reshaped by megatrends, and companies are rethinking how they build and optimise their workforces. In parallel, employees want to work in ways that align with their skills, interests, and personal goals. Manu and her team at Adecco are helping businesses and individuals embrace change and face the future with confidence. To support the same, they have the Future@work strategy. They also have a few other initiatives that focus on Diversity and inclusion and veteran hiring.

Words for All Women Leaders

At times, it is found that women themselves set a limit for their career growth by adopting a fixed mindset. Manu states, “Mindset is everything. Whether you’re talking about career success, starting your own business, getting through a tough workout or being a parent, having the right mindset can make the difference between success and failure. Success in almost every area of life can be influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities.” She also adds that growth mindset is essential for career success. A growth mentality sees failure not as a detriment, but as a springboard to success; failing is actually a form of learning. She says, “Some of the things that have really helped me develop the growth mindset are – embracing failure, becoming a lifelong learner, seeking out challenge, going beyond your limits and asking for feedback.”