How did Siddhartha rise as a leader?
Get Your Hands Dirty: Experience is the best teacher and this true for any leader who aspires for success. Prior to joining Mettl, I was with a multinational software corporation which provided me a good platform to learn and grow, it also threw in a plethora of opportunities for me to evolve as a Sales Leader. We started as a small team in India, with just three pre-sales team members which meant that I had to understand the business dynamics end to end to have a convincing conversation with industry leaders.
I selected two to three difficult industries and mastered it completely. I read everything that was ever written on the industry and gathered deep knowledge that can translate into building powerful vocabulary to conduct client centric conversations. I could have taken couple of easy industries and made inroads there and secured my place. Instead, I chose to select some of the toughest verticals where there was no presence.
Go for High Hanging Fruits – The choice I took!
My preparation involved tasks that pushed me out of the comfort zone to:
1. bringing in specialists 2. educating the customer on the value propositions 3. stakeholder management and it is a lengthy and complex process spanning several months, that taught me patience. This is how I introduced not just a new business but new industries to the organization which earned me the right to grow within the organization.
My role even demanded me to have executive conversations even at the board level for organization wide implementations. This meant my conversation must deliver value and impart messages that demonstrates how the bottom-line will improve.
As a leader the interplay of your choices and actions define your growth within an organization.
In the transition between your previous organization and Mettl, what were the considerations that helped you take a better decision?
Transition always involves resistance and change. It can happen only when you overcome your limiting beliefs and fears. Some critical questions that leaders can/ should ask themselves are:
- Are you comfortable as a figurehead carrying a large revenue goal in an MNC?
- Are you courageous to let go when you know you are no longer adding value?
- Can you fly without a brand name of a huge conglomerate?
- Are you ready to build your own brand and deliver value to customers rather than allowing the big brand to speak for you?
- Are you ready to shed your self-limiting beliefs and be humble?
- Can you identify yourself with young start up entrepreneurs who possess abundant ideation brilliance but may lack operational experience?
- Are you looking for a role which gives you the elbow room to understand all operational aspects of business?
- Do you have a chemistry with the founders and can relate to the solution that the start-up is solving for the industry?
- Do you have a risk appetite? And are you up for failures?
- Are you ready and willing to unlearn, relearn and shrug out of your rigidity cloak?
- Are you ready to be always on and get used to being in a survival mode?
Conduct a reality check on the above aspects when your heart says yes, but mind says no.
Transition always involves resistance and change. It can happen only when you overcome your limiting beliefs and fears.
As you transitioned between industries what approaches helped you accelerate your learning?
The maximum learning for leaders lies in navigating the dynamics of the new role that they have transitioned into. Every action that they undertake, its reactions, consequences, outcomes, successes, and failures is what teaches them the most. The approaches that they adopt must be aligned to creating a tangible and results driven business value proposition to the business.
- People related Decisions: I have hired and fired more people in this role, and I received real life exposure to this. To let go or move senior people out and across the organization pillars can be strenuous and stressful. But gaining the prudence to handle such situations with calmness and objectivity is the seat of learning and the birth of emotional intelligence and maturity.
- Attention to Detail: In a jocular manner Siddhartha said, my involvement goes even in the smallest details such as the square feet rate of the property, our transport investments etc. But it is this level of detail that is giving me an all-round knowledge of the business, which is super critical in a start-up. Leaders who have the business acumen, financial acumen coupled with people and capability acumen have a better edge to handle the VUCA environment and their competition.
- Experimentative Approach: I have experimented with several new ideas and quickly pulled these ideas back and returned to the drawing when they were not working”. This fail fast approach provided me and the team with the freedom and flexibility to build a business on a strong foundation of what truly works.
- Need based Customization: Personalization is the name of the game, leaders who are able to bring value through their strong acumen and harness it to suit the new business will experience excellence.
- Prioritization Paradox: There is a saying in our organization, every brick that you pick has a problem. In a start-up it is easy to get swayed by the number of things you need to improve. But it is better to prioritize, add in some efficiencies and keep moving. The productivity hack for leaders lies in prioritizing tasks and in delegating appropriately.
- Business Alignment: As a Business Leader every act must be aligned to value that you deliver to your organization. Leaders will have to grow the muscles to adapt to failure, think like an owner, pivot when need be and stay committed to the business objectives completely.
- Enjoy being frazzled: The business environment has completely changed in the last 4 to 5 months with Covid-19 and is ablaze with pandemonium, problems, and potential. The critical learning here is to figure yourself amidst this mayhem and put a method to the madness. This is the way you learn in a spanking new role. But unfortunately, some leaders who hail from big brands having held very senior positions are unable to change when the rubber hits the road.
The founders are keen to see you deliver value. Simply put they hired you for certain key leadership qualities and business aspects that you can deliver. Demonstrate before you demand. Next, seek opportunities that provide you the exposure to other parts of the business. I was keen to be part of the decision making in every department, learning for me was getting deeply involved into their functioning so much so when I became a CEO it was unanimous, because everyone knew how hardwired I was for this role.
What innovative growth approaches have given the best return to the business?
One trick pony will not work anymore. We must have mature innovative tech and product teams who take an idea to a minimum value product within 3-4 months. At Mettl our Idea to Execution cycle is built on the principles of agile innovation. Agile Innovation thrives on the principles of diversity, collaboration and business velocity.
What are the dynamics between founders and professional managers?
Positive chemistry with the founders coupled with freedom to deliver was the potent combination for my integration into Mettl.
• Having transparent communication with the Founders is a must, especially while working on people related decisions.
• Taking the lead and proving your value is imperative, especially while championing new projects across the organization.
• Being vocal and speaking up to share your firm opinions is critical, as you are being watched whether you are working like an employee or like an owner.
What can leaders learn from a business takeover by a much larger organization?
- Timelines: Successful integrations are those that span multi years, as to contain the integration process in a single year is very limiting and does not afford much space or scope for true integration to happen.
- Threads: Also, there are various threads of integration that need to be rolled out and monitored.
- Stakeholders: Both sides need strong stakeholders to communicate and set boundaries and buffers as well.
- Education: People working for the smaller brand will have to be educated gradually to make them understand that the potential benefits of being part of a bigger brand.
- Process: Start-ups are known for the scant respect they have for processes, which is good in one way but with the larger brands there is process rigour.
What is it about Mettl that prompted HBR to publish a case study about the organization?
The unique aspect about Mettl that prompted HBR to feature us is that this is a ground up innovation focusing on B2B rather than B2C. Also, India is yet to significantly fully leverage technology for education. Educators and academia are facing roadblocks to usher in technology, so we were ahead of the times in the education space.
Thomas L Friedman, had also mentioned about Mettl in one of his articles, and that could have also been one of the reasons. Moreover, our founders are simple and humble people and it is education that has brought them where they are. All this put together must have made HBR to spotlight us.
What has worked for you when it comes to time management?
I live about 55 kms from work and subject to a high-pressure work environment, so being conscious of time is what keeps me productive. I am brutal with my time, and do not waste it with Netflix and Hotstar. I focus only on things I enjoy the most – I love reading.
I use productivity tools like Evernote and am organized with a priorities folder which has sub folder consisting of today’s priorities, I keep reviewing these and strike off. If something is slipping repeatedly then I go deeper into the why and delegate it.
I have a good team. I do not try to do everything as there are talented people around me and I make sure meetings are planned with an agenda. When it comes to an hour for meditation and physical exercise, there is no compromise as it helps clear my mind and stay calm and focused.
What has worked for you when it comes to unleashing the talent within your teams?
As much as it sounds cliched, Hiring Right is the fundamental. I often look out for talent who have instances to show The Founders Mentality. We need people who are thinkers and who are passionate and self-motivated to deliver business value.
Communication on what the organisation is trying to achieve, what is his/her role in that is key. If this is aligned, they become owners of their tasks. Problems arise only when the role alignment is missing. We make granular plans at yearly and quarterly levels that are clearly defined.
Empower your talent to fail fast. Today there is much fear associated with failures as everyone wants to look good always. So, create an ecosystem that supports constructive failures coupled with empowerment and encouragement to move on. This ecosystem must have no hierarchy but have large doses of humility and freedom to voice.
Through your career, what have you done to improve your Executive Presence?
For me, Executive Presence needs to be built consciously. During customer interactions, our gravitas shows through the accurate knowledge that we possess of the customer and the ability to have a value based intelligent conversation with the customer. To build these, leaders will have to read up, read wide, read deep. Having a diverse set of mentors to gain perspectives, is important.
How well you communicate in a simple language, emoting without sounding too intellectual when interacting with teams and your ability, to show them where they are in the big picture will strongly determine your executive presence.
I was fortunate to be part of an Internship program at Compaq early on in my career and was part of the leadership strategy team. I learnt enormously from my boss whose discipline was amazing.
What is the future of Mettl?
We live in times of unprecedented change as is evident with the events happening around us. The future of talent development and acquisition lies in tapping the digital ecosystem smartly. At Mettl we are of the opinion that – The time has come for online assessments/examinations and today we are the first in India, but we want to be the number one in the globe. With accelerating our go to market, we are confident that we will be there in five years and we will be open to onboard the best talent from anywhere in the world.
- How can you as business leaders take the leap of faith to transition from a large multinational to a role in an upcoming start-up environment work for you?
- What types of learning approaches can accelerate your transition?
- Agile Innovation thrives on the principles of diversity, collaboration and business velocity.
- How can you unleash the potential in people and teams?
- Is Executive Presence or Gravitas a needed skill, if so, how do leaders develop the same?