Interview of Procore’s President and Chief Culture Officer, Steve Zahm
By: Vaishali Jadhav
Procore’s vision is to improve the lives of everyone in construction. This is a vision it doesn’t take lightly and as I wrap up my first year at Procore, I know first-hand that Procore is making an impact in an industry that needs transformation. To understand how Procore is making an impact for its employees and for the construction industry, I interviewed Procore’s President and Chief Culture Officer, Steve Zahm.
VJ: I have worked with several culture-first organizations like The Gallup Organization, Whole Foods and Indeed and have been so impressed with Procore’s culture. Give us an overview of how we think about culture at Procore. Why is it important and how has it helped Procore?
SZ: We knew that for us to recruit engaged, talented employees who would want to work at Procore, we would need to create a strong culture. Most people who are drawn to tech haven’t worked in construction and may not understand the industry. We wanted to create a culture that would keep them engaged, while learning about and impacting our industry.
For us, culture is a competitive advantage. It provides our employees with context for their work. It helps them understand “the why” behind their work and leads to a highly engaged employee base.
We drew inspiration from author Daniel Pink’s observation to create our Procore Promise. Procore provides employees with mastery, autonomy and purpose, and in return, employees commit to bringing their best work to their roles at Procore.
VJ: Do you have an example of how one of Procore’s values (Openness, Optimism, Ownership) helped you navigate a situation or make a decision?
SZ: Yes, I have an example of how our value of Openness helped us get curious with our customers. We know that we can’t build this platform on our own. Instead of thinking that we needed to come up with all the answers, we reached out to our customers to get their perspectives on how to solve specific problems.
As a result, we have Innovation Labs where we invite users with specific insight to a working session that involves engineers and designers to solve a specific problem. This is an example of our value of Openness in action.
VJ: You hear about brilliant jerks in tech. I am sure there are brilliant jerks in every industry, including construction. Talk about the impact of brilliant jerks on a company’s culture, values and employee engagement. How can your values or culture address this behavior?
SZ: Brilliant jerks are Incredibly effective at bringing in projects on time and meeting business goals, but they make everyone around them miserable. In the short term, this behavior may yield the company positive results, but over time, no one will want no one want to be on their team. It may even be a badge of honor to have survived working with them. In the long term, employees will leave rather than work with this individual. This toxic behavior will have ripple effects.
It’s important that leaders honor their values when dealing with brilliant jerks. If you don’t address this behavior, you are telling your employees that profit is more important than culture. That is a culture that is not succeeding. You are also telling them that the values aren’t valued.
If you are going to state your values and culture, leaders need to act on them.
Every industry, including construction, has its brilliant jerks. For us, what we found is that our customers would have very good experiences with our employees. Our customers would interact with our team members and have a positive experience and talk about how they worked with a happy employee. They would tell us that they liked our people and that our employees are enthusiastic and seem to love Procore. Over time, customers would ask us how we created an environment where our employees were engaged and happy. As a result, we created Culture Academy where we bring in executives from the industry to work together to cultivate a healthy workplace culture. In this immersive experience, industry executives come together to bring meaningful change to their company culture and the industry overall.
VJ: When I started a year ago, I heard about the importance of developing our frontline leaders. This was the priority for the Employee Development team when I joined Indeed. Simply put, frontline managers seem to be a focus for many tech companies. From your perspective, why is this group one that we have prioritized? What support do they need?
SZ: What we know is that a leader could be placed in a role without ever having been a leader. They may be very good in their role in sales, finance but they have never led people. They may never have even led people in school or outside of work. We know that we have managers that have to lead, coach and steward a team without ever having done it before.
It is vital that we give first time managers the tools they need to lead. In addition to formal training and LinkedIn Learning content, we provide them coaching. This helps them approach their role as a coach for their team.
VJ: What are the skills that managers need to leverage during covid?
SZ: Patience. Even within Procore we have had to change our return to work plans. Things are changing on almost every level, so I would advise managers to exercise patience, with themselves and with their teams.
At the end of our All Company Updates, we tell everyone to take care of themselves first. Managers need to prioritize this during covid to make sure they are modeling this for their teams.
VJ: As we look into the crystal ball on the future of work and thinking post-covid, what’s the future of manager development? What are the most critical skills leaders need to cultivate?
SZ: Longer term manager development will need to focus on diversity and inclusion, full stop.
Leaders that don’t focus on this won’t have the skills that people are looking for in the workplace and won’t be able to create environments where people feel safe and can speak up. Topics like mitigating bias and psychological safety are vital skills to develop now and will be so post-covid.