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A Winning Environment Starts with Your Culture

May 19, 2014, Shawn Farshchi - Winning. It’s what every Company strives to do every day in the marketplace.
A Winning Environment Starts with Your Culture

Winning. It’s what every Company strives to do every day in the marketplace.

Yet, sometimes you’d hardly know it. Over the course of my career, I’ve worked in and with scores of companies that operate in ways that undermine a winning environment.  

When I first took over as interim CEO in March of 2013, I was truly excited by the opportunities that existed, but also aware of obstacles that were stymying success. There were too many layers of management creating an organization that operated in a hierarchical approach. In addition, we were too product focused as opposed to adopting a market-centric approach focused on offering our customers dynamic solutions. Meanwhile, internal siloes hindered the opportunity for real collaboration and innovation.

In my view, there’s a clear answer to these challenges –  it all comes down to culture. At Saba, we made a commitment to win every deal we have the opportunity to close.  To consistently achieve that goal requires relentless commitment to fostering and furthering a culture of winning. There are some essential building blocks to creating an environment in which employees are engaged in the business and inspired to work together to win in the market. Here are the most essential:

Harness the power of humbleness

Collaboration is a big buzzword in business today – and with good reason. Yet I’m convinced that effective collaboration only thrives in a culture in which leaders are truly humble. So what does that look like? When you are humble you deal with others on equal footing. You are open to ideas and opinions, as opposed to a my-way-or-the-highway mentality. You’re a good listener and are not afraid to admit when you’re wrong. 

Being humble, quite frankly, isn’t easy – particularly for those who have spent considerable time in cutthroat corporate cultures.  Yet something magical happens when you start to assemble a humble leadership team. Fear, politics and siloes start to fall away and the true talents and ingenuity of people begins to emerge. Collaboration becomes more than a buzzword, but an engrained way of doing business. At Saba, I was amazed that people who were initially reserved and cautious emerged as thought leaders and innovators as they began to sense the changes in our leadership team.

Forego the filters 

Many top leaders in organizations choose to live in delusion. They build layers of management that in many ways creates a protective shield. Often,  by the time information reaches the top, it’s been sanitized and spun in such a way that it barely resembles reality. In the short term, this can be a comfortable way to operate -- a leader only hears what he or she wants to hear and becomes surrounded by yes-people who are fully vested in fostering a skewed sense of reality. Yet, before long,  this environment can be toxic and costly to an organization. It keeps top leaders out of touch with reality, and creates distrust and cynicism in the ranks. A culture like this drives out top talent and eventually loses its edge in the marketplace.

I prefer to live life unfiltered, even if it means sometimes seeing a troubling reality. After a short time at Saba, I flattened the organization and got rid of some of the filters that were creating a disconnect between the C-suite and the employees driving the business. Today, my direct reports are all clearly aware that they are expected to share the unvarnished truth of what is happening in their part of the organization. Ultimately, this approach makes for a happier, more engaged workforce, and the ability to respond quickly and accurately to changing market dynamics. In short, getting rid of filters increases your chances of winning. 

Build trust – one action and interaction at a time

Many companies tout an “open door policy.” Yet,  the unspoken rule is that employees are not really expected to walk through that door and share their true opinions and insights. Yet, in my view, it is simply impossible for an organization to reach its full potential if it fosters a culture in which people are afraid to speak the truth.

At Saba, our doors are really open – and so are the lines of communication.  Employees are free to discuss anything with anyone in the Company, including me. 

This open dialogue builds trust, one interaction at a time. And people start to notice.

Shortly after I took over as CEO, an employee published an internal blog that was critical of the Company. He received considerable feedback from fellow employees, both positive and negative. The employee wasn’t surprised by the response, what really shocked him was the blog was not taken down by upper management. By allowing that open exchange of ideas – and not censoring our employees – we build a culture of openness and trust that ultimately allows issues to be addressed in the open and for ideas to flourish.

Everyone is in on the wins 

Too often, engineers or others who are not on the front sales lines or interacting directly with customers toil away without any clear sense of how their work aligns with how the Company is trying to win new business and meet customer needs.

The result is that many employees become disconnected and disengaged, unaware of their potential to help drive results. What a lost opportunity! In my experience, nearly every employee – regardless of role or title – wants to be part of the winning team. We are focused on celebrating deals we win across the entire organization.

But it goes beyond celebrating the wins. We also look to the entire organization to align their work with what is happening on the front lines with our customers. We have a daily call to discuss deals in the works, and anyone in the Company is welcome to hop on to share ideas and offer solutions. The results have been remarkable. We have been able to land deals and deepen relationships thanks to the input and ideas of employees who never actually talk to the customer. With this approach, everyone wins. Literally.

In many ways, I view what we are doing at Saba as a grand experiment in which we are living many of the principles and solutions that we offer every day to our customers. It’s clear to me that modern management practices have to be different than those from the previous age. The new model embraces our values and also acts as our inspiration for the solutions we provide. As I speak to our customers, I see the beginnings of this change starting to take hold more generally and it's very exciting. I want our employees, and those of our customers, to be happy, engaged and committed to building a career with their present Company. The ultimate goal is to enable an organization so aligned in its mission that it becomes a self-sustaining, always-evolving entity that is bigger than any one person, including myself. 

That’s the real way to win.

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