Praful Saklani Shares Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture
Recently I had the opportunity to interview Praful Saklani from Pramata for the ongoing series: CEOs Share Leadership Strategies To Improve Your Company’s Culture.
Pramata is seeing widespread adoption around our solutions, particularly in eliminating revenue leakage by:
· identifying inaccurate billing, and
· sales teams not being able to effectively negotiate because they don’t understand the financial terms of their customer relationships.
Their culture is unique and thriving: more than 50% of the company is female, and they recently had several work anniversaries for people who have been with Pramata for 10 years or more.
Krish Chopra: What are the 3 most important values that your company’s culture is based on?
· Integrity: Integrity binds us together. It means we’re authentic and transparent. It’s at the core of the respect and kindness we show for each other, to customers, partners and vendors. We say what we mean, do what we say, have complete trust in the people around us, and behave in a way so those around us have complete trust. At the end of the day, if a culture or if people within a company don’t have integrity, all of the other values are useless! It starts at the CEO and board level and permeates the entire organization.
· Customer Value Centricity: Customer Centricity grounds us. We put the achievement of value at the customer at the center of everything we do because we believe that organizations who take a customer-first approach are more likely to innovate in a way that’s valuable to the customer. As a product company, we need to ensure that our investments, our products, and our delivery approach are optimized to ensure that customers get measurable value from what we do. Anything else is of secondary importance.
· Teamwork: At Pramata, teamwork is grounded in a shared sense of purpose and joint success. We collaborate often, communicate clearly and directly, without hidden agendas or silos, and with a commitment to our adventure ahead. The idea that you do your thing, I do my thing, so you don’t bug me and I won’t bug you doesn’t work. It’s much more multidisciplinary- we have configured ourselves in a way where there’s an open line of communication and collaboration across people with multiple backgrounds and disciplines. This is a major part of the DNA of our company.
Krish: Managing millennials can often be a polarizing topic. Can you elaborate on your advice for managing the “millennial mindset?”
Praful: It’s similar to the advice I give to young entrepreneurs on speaking with customers: Nobody cares about who you are and what you do — they want to know ‘what will you do for me?’. Millennials are the same way. Their sense of ‘waiting in turn’ and ‘working up the ladder’ is very different than previous generations — they have grown up in an era where they have access to experiences in a fraction of the time that people who are in their 40s, 50s and 60s did. Many of them have a built in expectation that most actions in their lives should have purpose and meaning, which is great for a startup with a mission and sense of purpose — if you know how to engage them around the mission! To do this, you have to make sure Millennials understand the larger picture of what the company is looking to accomplish, even if they are in a very junior position, so that they fully comprehend the need and value of why they are being asked to work on certain things, and what it means for them over the long run.
Krish: What are your “5 Ways to Improve Your Company’s Culture” and why.
· Set a Clear Mission for the Company. CEOs need to set a clear mission and make sure all groups inside the company understand how their role ties into it. This way employees know how they are personally contributing to the company’s success. At Pramata, our mission is to eliminate revenue leaking for B2B companies. Everybody, whether they’re in product, or customer success, or sales, or marketing, understands how we’re focused on saving companies billions of dollars of revenue leakage between now and 2020. That’s a clear mission, and it’s permeating the whole organization in multiple geographies.
· Acknowledge Ideas and Build on Them. Model the art of listening to ideas from other people, acknowledge the value of those ideas, and build on them. CEOs often have a top-down strategy like “I’ve thought of it, now go do it.” In my career, it has been much more effective and inspiring for the larger team when I give a “your idea is better than mine” response. Taking others’ ideas into account goes a long way in building a stronger team and a better culture.
· Be Consistent When It Comes to Cultural Values. CEO’s must be consistent when it comes to core cultural values, especially when it comes to things like integrity and respect for others in the organization. In every company, there comes a time when you must make unpleasant decisions or you may be tempted to look the other way for small indiscretions, but those things erode your culture values significantly. At Pramata, especially when it comes to a lack of integrity or respect, we act very quickly, which sends a clear signal that we are who we say we are.
· Expect a Strong Work Ethic, But Don’t Police it. Companies should have an expectation of a strong work ethic and high performance, but shouldn’t police it. What you really want in a rapidly growing organization is people who are self-motivated to go the extra mile, and do what it takes to achieve the mission. You don’t want to have to carry a big stick or scream at people to make that happen. From what I’ve seen, it’s like a snowball: If you get a core group of people who are really focused, and working hard, and going the extra mile, suddenly it attracts other people with the same values. I think that’s a way to really improve your work culture. It’s almost counter-intuitive, but for me, it’s about modeling the behavior rather than policing it.
· Embed Customer Value Thinking in Your DNA. Be customer-value centric in your thinking — it should be at the core of your company’s DNA. If you have a culture that’s all about making the customer successful and helping them derive value, not only is it going to be more satisfying for your organization and your people, it’s also going to make you a more successful company. If people believe they’re in a company where it’s all about the executives getting their bonuses, or it’s all about trampling the competition to make a number, that may work in some cases. But what I’ve seen is that a large number of people want to feel like they’re making the world a better place. Being customer-value centric is about making the lives of our customers better. It’s not about perks like massages or gourmet food — you want an organization that derives joy in seeing missions accomplished and customers being successful. At Pramata, first and foremost we all share the drive to want to make our customers’ lives better and that adds to the strength of our corporate culture.
Krish: Strong company culture is something that everyone likes to think they have but very few have it. Why do so many organizations struggle with creating strong, healthy work environments?
Praful: Creating a strong company culture takes consistency and that’s hard. You can’t just take a holiday from your work culture for a couple of months with a “we just can’t live up to this” attitude. Also, companies wait too long to address cultural toxicity inside their organization. Not everybody is right for every culture. Some cultures are really strong on individual contribution and are hard-driving and others are more team-oriented. A personality who would thrive in the first would be a fish out of water in the second. Companies who care a lot about having a healthy culture think the culture can shape-shift to anyone and that’s simply not true. It’s like a garden — you have to be willing to prune things to make the tree stronger. While company culture can be diverse, it’s definitely not one size fits all.
One common mistake I’ve seen related to this is the entrepreneur who may turn a blind eye to one of their values because they are star-struck by a key hire. They may be setting up a company culture based around a certain set of core values, but instead they end up hiring someone in a very prominent senior role who violates one or more of those cultural principles. That is often a critical and fatal problem
Krish: What is one mistake you see a young start-up founders make in their culture or leadership practices?
Praful: Many start-up founders assume that culture is a given and it will just figure itself out. Especially younger founders often conflate the whole idea of having a good culture with having fun. They think if they have a foosball table, go on a ski trip once a year and have a beer bash every Friday, they have a good culture. That is simply not true. You can have fun together, but still not have a culture of mutual trust, respect, teamwork, customer centricity, etc. The ‘fun-centric’ approach to culture building can also create a skewed team mix, where people hire only the type of folks they like to socialize with. This can lead to unconscious gender or socio-economic background bias, which can be toxic in the medium to long-run.
Krish: To add to the previous question, young CEOs often have a lot of pressure to perform and often wear many hats. What’s a simple time efficient strategy they can start doing today to improve their company’s culture?
Praful: The most productive exercise I’ve ever seen to help identify a company’s culture is called a “Value Sort”. We took all of our employees, gave them a deck of cards that signified different values, had them select the five values that exemplified them as people. Then, we did the same exercise but selected the five values that exemplified the company. We learned about each other and realized we have similar but different values. Interestingly, while we had a great diversity of values as individuals, we had an 80 to 90 percent overlap on company values right off the bat! It was not difficult to then get down to 5 values that we agreed to as our corporate values — with a team of 45 people, I expected it to be harder! Culture is not a CEO-driven thing. It’s actually something you need to identify as a team — identify your four or five cultural principles early and stick to them.
Krish: Success leaves clues. What has been your biggest influence in your leadership strategy and company culture?
Praful: Every entrepreneur needs to cultivate mentors. If there is no one you are working with, either as a member of your team or your board of directors, who has 10, 15, 20, 25 years of experience, you’re leaving a great opportunity on the table. For me, these mentors have ranged from Pat Quirk, our independent Board Member and former CEO of Emptoris and Vendavo, to Geoffrey Moore, business guru and author of “Crossing The Chasm”, to Klaus Besier, former CEO of SAP Americas. Each of these mentors have been a part of successful companies and have picked up good cultural clues along the way. At each stage of Pramata’s maturity, I’ve gotten great advice from experienced leaders who have walked in my shoes at different companies. Bring this wisdom into your world, and most importantly, be open to the advice that they give!
Krish: What advice do you have for employees that have bad bosses? How can they take control and improve a bad situation?
Praful: Invariably, if the relationship that someone has with their boss is not built on trust and mutual communication, it’s just never going to work. So you have to zero in very quickly on what it will take to build trust and communication with that person. If you don’t have it, you need to figure out why the communication has broken down, as it’s the only way you’ll be able to build that relationship. If anything, you need to over-communicate because it’s impossible to address things that you can’t even talk about. Be proactive and take some risk in trying to open up channels of communication.
Krish: Okay, we made it! Last question — what’s one unique hack you or your company does that has enhanced your work culture?
Praful: As a company, we really go out of our way to get to know people as people. This includes our team members and our customers. Not in an overly stylized, structured or formal way but because we are genuinely interested in each person’s story. I think that’s a critical part of Pramata’s uniqueness, because culture is about connecting the people as people, not just workers. We celebrate each other and all of our idiosyncrasies The fact that we care about each other as people helps to create a foundation of mutual trust and communication, which is very handy as a company goes through the ups and downs of the startup roller coaster!
A note to the readers: Improving company culture happens at any level in an organization. If you learned one thing in this interview, please share this with someone close to you.
A special thanks to Praful Saklani again!
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