E2 Radio Interop Preview: An Interview with Vivek Bhaskaran

Survey Analytics President Vivek Bhaskaran will be speaking at Interop 2014 in Las Vegas. Today we joined live on the air to tune into Enterprise Efficiency - The Efficient Information Technology Community on E2 Radio with Curt Franklin while he interviewed Vivek about corporate culture, IT and innovation. To learn more about the Interop 2014 event this spring in Las Vegas - click here - or continue reading to see some of the discussion points covered in the Q&A.

Curt: Do you start with a culture in mind and find the right people? More like a chicken and egg thing?

Vivek: We make sure people we hire think about business the way we think about things. You want to make sure the people you get on board are at least 30-50% fitting into the culture you have already established. In our culture, we do daily builds on the software and we keep updating things literally on a daily basis. From a technical perspective and software perspective, we want to make sure people accept that concept to avoid internal conflict.

Curt: Sounds like an off-shoot of the agile discipline – as you have gone through the process – are the kind of people you want to hire unusual? Or are you really setting up a culture that works with majority of people who are going to call themselves IT professionals?

Vivek: IT professionals tend to form certain barriers around them. What I have seen internally and through the products we deliver – there is a distant need of establishing a concept of listening. People that are more receptive to ideas and have listening as one of the establishing factors in their organization – they work much better.  IT is a partner to enablement, a partner to marketing, a partner to everyone. A partner on a very personal level that comes to mind is my wife. However, empathy is not possible in a business concept. Listening is important and teams that take the time to listen to each other tend to work better together.

Curt: You talked a lot about the culture of listening – one of the questions that have come up in our stream is the IT culture vs. the business culture. Do you find there are cultural differences between the IT group and the business side of the organization? Or is there is something you are doing to make it one unified culture across the entire organization?

Vivek: The idea has always been a separate culture unit. The most successful companies I have seen are where it all flows into one. The information flow is very rapid and wide. People on the IT side of organizations succeed when they know what is going on in the business side and see the value of things the business wants or is aspiring to do.  There is a constant friction but it is a good friction. Information flow has to be efficient combined with better technology to make us faster and better.  You can’t have a separate sales culture, IT culture, marketing culture – etc. They need to be a unified force where the disconnect stops, that’s when progress is made.

Curt: What anthropologists would call “tribes” – the tribe of IT, the tribe of marketing, etc. We tend to be very North American centric when we talk about what we do. When you talk to different companies and think about your companies – is there something about the way we are talking and listening to what the North American business environment is? Are there universal methods that can apply to international business?

Vivek: We have an office in Seattle, Cincinnati, and a very large office in India. We have an internal social network, we use Yammer. My Indian team really never got behind Yammer. My US team got really behind Yammer, they post pictures of their dogs, things they are working on and really everything. It isn’t really working for the entire organization. In India it is much more hierarchical. It is a cultural difference and we have implemented something new that works for all of us. We have a weekly e-mail that touches all employees and they quickly respond how their week was. I see a pulse of information and both cultures are responding well to this new behavior. My India team uses email as their primary model for posting updates, and the US team continues to use Yammer. We make adjustments based on the different countries we are going towards and hope to make it meet in the middle.

Curt: If managed properly, this sounds like it can add strength in a company. You have to figure out how to implement the system and processes to make it all work. You can’t just assume that everyone everywhere is going to “get it” to the same degree.

Vivek: If it’s not working, we have to figure out why it is not working. We tried something, it didn’t work, we go back to the drawing board. That’s the attitude I have chosen for our business. We keep trying to make it work and that’s the culture we have internally in the company.

Curt: What about a culture of innovation? I know you are talking about this at Interop in Las Vegas – when I think of an innovative culture, which carries with it certain assumptions of the people, how they work and what’s accepted in terms of risks and rewards. Do all of the companies that talk about innovative culture really want an innovative culture – or is that just sort of a buzzword?

Vivek: If you ask every CEO on the planet their one ticket to success – they will say innovation. Innovation is something that is an overloaded term. Everyone wants to get behind it. It’s like politicians kissing babies, you can’t go wrong with it.  There are a lot of things you have to do to actually be innovative. You have to encourage people to think outside of the box. Companies say they want to be innovative, but many systems and processes in place do not allow them to be innovative. Different parts of the companies may say I don’t need this coming from you, I just need you to do your job- someone that just answers a customer service call – etc. If you want to form an innovative culture, you have to try new ideas. If you do not have the appetite for risk you can’t be innovative. With risk comes failure – if you are afraid and have no willingness to fail – your capacity to be innovative is very very limited.  If you are ready to accept failure, putting a system together is not that complicated.

Curt: Can you tell us more about what you plan to talk about at Interop 2014?

Vivek: I would like to anchor on the concept of listening. It can define cultures and define outcomes more importantly. Listening between teams, to employees, to customers to get more established. From an IT organization standpoint I believe IT has a bad wrap. Whenever I ask something from IT it's a "NO." I would like to transform that conversation from a no to a yes or why not. Perception wise, we have that problem of assumption and I would like to talk about it.

For my second talk I would like to talk about us and some of the lessons we have learned as a company. We have adopted quickly and are fairly open to ideas and have not said no to many things. I want to talk about how this has impacted us and how we adapt as we move forward. 


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