Culture

Bob Maller

Bob is the President and Chief Culture Officer of Collaborative Solutions, and an expert at growing teams, practices and partnerships in the fast-moving cloud computing space. To call Bob an IT services veteran might be putting it mildly. He started his consulting career in the ‘90s at global consultancies Accenture and Deloitte, before going on to manage consulting teams at PeopleSoft. That experience served him well when he joined Collaborative Solutions as its second employee. Over the years he’s grown Collaborative to more than 1100 employees and Workday’s longest tenured partner. Along the way, he’s also created a firm well respected for its work, culture and dedication to diversity, winning a ridiculous number of Best Places to Work awards. Collaborative was acquired by Cognizant in 2020, and Bob continues in the same role at Collaborative as Cognizant’s standalone Workday practice.

Why are you passionate about helping people-based businesses?

When we developed our core values at Collaborative, the clear first value was People. While it can be cliche to mention People as a core value, it’s the businesses that truly nurture and develop their people who are most successful — especially in services. Real magic happens with collaboration, which is why when you’re building a firm or a practice, teamwork is such a critical trait. The “smartest” or most-skilled person may not be a fit for your organization if they don’t thrive as a member of a team.

As the second employee at Collaborative Solutions, you grew the firm from a niche PeopleSoft federal contractor to a ‘crown jewel’ of the Workday ecosystem with more than 1000 employees. What was the most challenging part of that early journey and what was it when you reached scale?

In the early days, the challenge was to differentiate ourselves. As we became a Workday partner, the fear was that we would build a practice and the large SIs would swoop in to hire them away. This is why hiring the right people and building a sustainable, employee friendly culture was, and is still, critical.

Our first acquisition (a Workday consultancy in Australia) was also an interesting milestone. Integrating them into what was then a North American-centric business and making them feel a part of the Collaborative family took real work.

At 500+ employees, I no longer knew each employee, which was a very weird feeling. We needed ways to stay in touch with each other and keep engagement high. So we launched the Collabie Convos series (intimate video calls with 15-20 employees) to discuss a variety of topics. We also put a lot more emphasis on developing the people in the firm to become leaders and great ambassadors of our culture. It cannot just be the senior leadership team who sets the tone for the culture.

You’re a huge advocate of culture and inclusivity. What is the key to scaling culture as the company grows, expands and evolves?

It starts with formalizing and promoting your core values. In the early days, it’s about defining and discovering those values as a founding team. As we got larger, it became very important that every employee around the world knew what our core values were and why we had them. We reinforced them daily and worked them into our processes. They weren’t just words or phrases on a wall in an office.

Selecting and developing the right leaders within your practices is also critical, and should constantly be reviewed. These are the leaders that new hires will look to, even more than the executive team. Do you have the right leaders? Do they exemplify our core values? Did we promote people into areas they cannot handle and would be better suited as individual contributors? We, as leaders, cannot be afraid to ask these questions and make adjustments along the way.

When it comes to inclusivity, it simply needs to be a priority – a focus from the top down. I’d also highly encourage instituting a buddy and/or mentoring program to indoctrinate people into the company and to ensure that they have someone to help navigate their careers within the company.

Keeping employees engaged is never easy, but it can be even more challenging during rapid growth and downturns. What are some things leaders can do to keep engagement high throughout a company’s lifecycle?

The first thing is to survey your employees, but just as importantly, do something with the results. Show your employees that what they told you is valued and, if it needs work, that it’s being addressed. I am a big believer that surveys are anonymous and people understand that improvement is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight. For trust to flourish, leaders need to be vulnerable and transparent. Talk to your people more often than you think, through a variety of mechanisms. Use video as much as possible when communicating important things (as opposed to a flat email that no one really reads).

Megan Nail

Megan has a knack for getting to the heart of a company’s culture and goals, and designing compensation structures that attract, engage, and retain the talent to achieve those goals. She is currently a leader in NFP’s Total Rewards Practice, advising clients on compensation strategies, pay equity, incentive pay structures, and how to use compensation as a key component of the employee value proposition. Megan’s career has been focused on professional services firms, and she is passionate about creating total rewards structures that support growth and scalability. Megan holds a range of professional certifications, is a board member for the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM’s) Indiana chapter, and is the co-author of Joy Powered Organizations. She’s also an active volunteer, sports fan and mom of two sons.

Why are you so passionate about helping people-based businesses?

People are the core of every business – but with people-based businesses, the connection is undeniable. I love working with services businesses because they are willing to invest in their talent, which they know is the only way to achieve their goals and ultimately success. This allows us the opportunity to think broadly and creatively about total rewards strategies, including compensation programs, that recognize and reward their greatest asset.

You’ve advised a lot of organizations on their sales compensation strategy over the years. How should CEOs and CROs think about compensation as they move upmarket and to larger accounts (>$1M+)?

As you move up market and grow your team, it’s important to make your sales compensation plans and strategy more sophisticated. An important note – this does not mean to make it more complicated! Sales compensation plans need to be simple and straightforward enough so they are easily understood by the team, but also clearly motivate and drive the behavior and performance you want.

The first step is to reassess your sales targets and cycles. Larger sales typically take longer to sell – and less frequent payments and achievements will impact your sales team if plans aren’t structured well. Then, evaluate your profitability on larger sales. Do you need to adjust your plan to account for different levels? If teams will be working on a sale, how will you share the credit and payments?

Finally, formalize your plan. In a start-up environment, it’s common to have little (or no) formal documentation of your sales compensation plans. Clearly communicating a plan so everyone is on the same page is key – and will avoid questions, dispute and ill will in the future!

What advice do you give to companies who are rolling out an equity incentive program to their employees for the first time?

Equity is a powerful tool – and employees are attracted to opportunities that provide equity because of its unique opportunity to create sustainable wealth. However, studies have shown again and again that equity compensation recipients do not understand their rewards. My advice is to take the time to educate your team on the awards and how they create value – and the important details like tax consequences. Also, invest in a meaningful and equitable way to structure the grants based on tenure, job level or whatever factors are most important to your business. The bottom line is intentional and clear communication around equity incentives will help ensure you and your team both perceive the high level of value that exists in these programs.

What impact do you think the move to remote work as a more acceptable practice will have on companies’ total reward programs and policies in the long term?

For many years, remote work was a key differentiator for consultancies; but that competitive advantage is fading as more and more companies are moving to remote or hybrid work cultures. For those jobs that can be done remotely, I believe this will become an expectation by employees and an imperative for companies to compete for talent. Total rewards programs and policies will become more consistent across the employee population and less focused on physical events and perks (such as free food, swanky offices and happy hours). Employers are demanding that all benefits be equitable for both remote and in office employees. Businesses must continue to evolve and rethink their employee value proposition.

How can companies structure their compensation and workforce policies to appeal to a more diverse workforce?

The workforce will only continue to become more diverse over time – which is a huge advantage. However, we have to recognize that with this diversity comes different needs and opportunities to structure compensation and programs. Giving options and flexibility will allow employees to customize a total rewards package that works for them. For example, while older workers may value a rich retirement contribution and the stability of a higher base salary, younger workers may value student loan repayment programs and a lower base salary with higher upside potential.

Darshan Deshmukh

Darshan grew up as a leader across a number of supply chain services and consulting organizations. He has helped global service organizations of all shapes and sizes improve their efficiency and effectiveness, and scale up their operations and customer success processes. Darshan started his career with IBM in various global leadership roles and managed service delivery in the US, Latin America, Eastern Europe and Asia. In his tenure at IBM, he built large delivery centers focused on globally integrated operations. He also built and led the Global Delivery Organization at Denali, a procurement services firm that was eventually acquired by WNS in 2017. Here he led the post-merger integration and integrated procurement services operations within the company. Post Denali-WNS, Darshan built and led customer success and professional services organizations for OpenGov and Icertis, both hyper-growth SaaS software organizations.

Why are you passionate about helping people-based businesses?

I am passionate about building sustainable people-based businesses. For any people-based business to grow and be successful in the long term, I believe they need to build a balanced three dimensional system focused on people, process and technology. I am a big proponent of building organization capability organically while building scale, and I feel a strong sense of fulfillment when an individual within the organization grows as a professional within a system I helped develop. It’s ultimately all about people and their ability to drive incremental change to build a business with long-term value.

As a services organization scales, having global delivery centers becomes more important. What should founders consider before expanding into a new region?

As founders look to develop global scale through international delivery centers, they need to transition to a “Communities of Excellence” model that is focused on efficiency, effectiveness and innovation. The intent of global delivery is to capitalize on talent globally and to scale productivity, but it’s also about adding customer value. When founders are thinking about expansion, they should ask themselves, “does my decision lower the center of gravity closer to the customer?”

From there founders need to assess:
1. Is the talent pool available?
2. Do I have a corporate culture that embraces globalization for growth, profitability, efficiency and effectiveness?
3. Am I willing to invest in the initial curing period so my organization, and ultimately my customers, will realize the benefits?

You’ve grown delivery organizations from the ground up with Denali, at a mid-sized organization with OpenGov, and in later stage companies like IBM and Icertis. What’s consistent across different size organizations, and what changes as you grow?

What makes any size delivery organization successful is the ability to meet and exceed the implied promise you’ve made to customers. Most organizations focus on written commitments, but when you change the organization’s DNA to assume the statement of work is table-stakes, and incentivize everyone in the organization to meet and exceed that customer implied promise, it drives incremental change quickly.

Simplifying goals is another key learning from my experiences building organizations. If a leadership team can agree to 3 or 4 goals for each functional organization, with one shared goal, it takes care of most of the organization tradeoffs and debates in a fast growing organization. I realized that this exercise is much harder than we think once you start implementing it though. Humans have a tendency to complicate decision making.

Later stage organizations have a much bigger internal change management issues (aka bureaucracy). It’s always important to be mindful that balancing faster decision making with quick adjustment can be more disruptive than spending time driving consensus. But getting the “goals simplification” strategy right can take care of these lifecycle challenges.