Season 2, Episode 7: Transcript
Veanne Smith: Hello and welcome to Atlanta Business Impact Radio. I’m your host Veanne Smith, and I’m excited to have you join us for another episode of season two, where our theme is growing careers and building businesses. In today’s podcast, we talk about leadership and how to mentor your teams, to build relationships and lead through change. I’m excited to welcome Ravi Venkatesan as our guest today, to talk on this topic. Ravi is currently the CTO at Bridge2 Solutions, which is his latest adventure in his 15 year journey as a technology leader. With the mission to lead with purpose, Ravi encourages culture changes.
Specializing in driving business and technology alignment, with a business outcomes first and technology solutions second approach. Through his experience in consulting, technology, and telecommunications, Ravi has worked with industry leaders, including Accenture, deploying large scale enterprise systems for Fortune 100 clients. With Cbeyond, deploying technology to power Cloud and communications products for small and medium businesses.
Change can be hard in professional environments, but Ravi’s expertise as a technologist empowers him with an informed approach when thinking creatively through change, management, and the purpose of innovating his teams. Hey Ravi, it’s so great to have you here with me on Atlanta Business Impact Radio today.
Ravi Venkatesan: Veanne, it’s awesome to be here. I’ve been looking forward to this for weeks.
Veanne: Oh, that’s awesome to hear. Thank you, it makes me feel so proud to have you. Well, let’s jump in to our topic today, I’m really excited about what you have to share with us. So, you’re an officer at Bridge2 Solutions. One of the things I think is awesome is that, your team is so fortunate to have someone who is very passionate about coaching them up for professional growth. One of the things you focus on, is the importance of building and leveraging relationships. Can you tell us a little bit more about what you mean by this, and why you feel it’s so important?
Ravi: Well, especially in technology organizations that have a lot of engineers that come up with a highly intellectual and logical approach to – you know, kind of the spotlight approach to their work. They’re not real good at understanding or focusing on how people feel and how the human interactions are either working or not working. It makes a huge difference, right? In either creating or not creating friction in simple things, that have to get done. So, I focus a lot on coaching up technology professionals, that work in my organization, on how to avoid what I call, relationship toxins and things that can create problems.
Then, how to really amplify the relationship building, across different functional groups, across different capabilities, so that when work has to get done, it’s not a constant culture of escalation but rather, people working together and getting things done.
Developing Better Relationships
Veanne: Right. So, based on your experience, what have been the effective ingredients, in your opinion, in helping your teams develop better relationships?
Ravi: Well, if you look at what actually causes friction or what hurts relationships, there are a few specific things that happen. I like to think of things as, who is perpetrating change and who is a victim of change? If you think about, typically in most organizations, the people that come up with the ideas and have to get things done, I.E. your leadership team, your marketing team. Those are the teams that are perpetrating change, right? They’re coming up something that requires things to happen. Then, you’ve got on the other side, people like technologists, engineers, developers, testers.
You’ve got your project managers, you’ve got people in accounting, people in HR sometimes, people that are receiving this change and have to react or respond to it. I kind of, tongue in cheek, call them victims of change. So, what happens is, you will always see that the perpetrators of change have a tendency to express contempt a lot, and have a tendency to criticize a lot because they want stuff done and it doesn’t get done as soon as they want, or for the amount of money that they want to spend on it.
Then, you have on the other side, the victims of change and their typical reactions are, they would employ defensiveness a lot and they would employ stonewalling a lot, right?
Ravi: So, if you think about what really spoils the relationship, its contempt and criticism on one side, and its stonewalling and defensiveness on other side. What I do is just try to coach people to be aware of this, the paradigm and the natural tendency for the two sides to have this. Then, deal with it very consciously and very specifically, by avoiding these toxins, right? By avoiding doing these things or calling them out when they happen.
The Positivity Ratio
Veanne: So, a lot of the words you’re using connotate [phonetic][05:05] negativity to me. So, I think you’re familiar with John Gottman’s magic ratio, which says that you need five positive interactions for every negative interaction, if a relationship is to be stable. Then, the Losada ratio continued on with the John Gottman research. I’m an expert on this but my understanding is that, the sum of the positivity of a system, divided by the sum of its negativity comes up with ratio, and you should be between 3.0 and 6.0 to have high performance.
So, as a leader, how do you help inspire your team to have more positivity, versus all those negative connotations that you just mentioned?
Ravi: Yeah, that’s a great point. I’m a big believer in that ratio, by the way. You can look at it as relationship accounting and keeping track of – for anyone, at any level, there are always going to be instances, where you have to have a tough conversation, where you have to have an interaction that doesn’t end up so positive, or where you have to give coaching feedback or give corrective feedback. In all those cases, it leaves the other person with a little bit of a down feeling, right?
The idea is, when you do find the opportunity where you can give some positive feedback, where you can pat somebody on the back for a job well done, or a favor that they did for someone else in the organization, go take that opportunity and really execute on it because the more you chalk up those back to that ratio, the better off you are in balancing it. One positive doesn’t equal one negative, that’s the whole theory. You have to have three positives—
Veanne: For every one negative.
Ravi: Or four, for every one negative.
Veanne: To balance because negative is so strong, right?
Ravi: Exactly, but it works. It really does.
Veanne: So, do you think that a very high positivity ratio can be concerning? If so, why?
Ravi: Well, I do think a very high positivity ratio can be concerning. I haven’t seen it, by the way.
Veanne: It’s hard to see.
Ravi: Yeah, I’m hoping I’ll see it someday, somewhere but if it’s very high positivity, then I would say it’s a culture where people are being passive aggressive, and not having courageous and candid conversations right.
Veanne: Right, and not realizing there are maybe some negative things in the world, and we can’t ignore negativism, right?
Veanne: It has to be a practical balance.
Leading Through Change
Veanne: Very good. So, another topic that I know you’re passionate about, is leading people through change. Why is that really important to you these days?
Ravi: So, think about how much disruption has occurred, especially in technology but also in another businesses, in the last say 10, 15, 20 years. We are approaching a period which – you know, sometimes I joke about this, that when people were in the renaissance period, they probably didn’t they were in that period. It’s just later that history looked back and said, “Hey, that was a period of—“
Veanne: Renaissance period.
Ravi: Yeah, that was a period of huge change. My belief is that we are, right now, in one of those periods. Especially what’s coming with whether it’s autonomous driving, robotics really coming into play fully as expected, or artificial intelligence. Whatever it is, there is huge change that is coming. Businesses and other organizations don’t have the type of time they used to have, to react. If you think about that context, the pace with which people will have to adapt and react to circumstances is just going up and it’s accelerating, and it creates stress. How do you deal with that stress and how do you keep yourself nimble?
How do you keep your change muscle well worked out, so that when it does hit you and you’re able to respond to it, is really what I focus a lot on. It starts with, again, educating all the way from individual contributors, to line managers, to middle management. Giving them the tools on how to cope with that change, and how to deal with that change. Middle management tends to be the hardest, in my opinion.
Veanne: Yeah, let’s explore that a little bit further. So, any tips and pointers that you can give to other leaders out there listening, how to be more effective in managing that change, in terms of articulating vision, strategy being really clear, anything else that you can give some advice to anybody? In what you’ve seen work for you.
Ravi: Sure. So, it kinds of sounds hackinade [phonetic][09:20] and, “Oh yeah, everybody says that,” but it’s all about providing context, and it’s all about providing clarity. What I find is that, in most cases when the pace of change goes up, the first victim is communication. Whereas, that needs to be what you need to amp up, not go down on. So, what tends to happen is, many times I would talk to managers or even directors and say, “Yeah, what happened? Why didn’t this message, that we discussed and I provided you context on, why didn’t it get disseminated through your teams?” The answer is, “I didn’t have time for it.”
Ravi: That’s where things went wrong but that’s exactly when you should’ve doubled down on the communication. So, to me it’s all about providing more context. Communicating the commander’s intent, right? By commander’s intent, what I mean is, people don’t need to give people details and micro directions. Most people are, these days, very smart. We’ve recruited by them applying the right filters. They just need the right direction or the right context and then they’ll figure it out, but that micro direction needs to be communicated effectively.
Veanne: Right, I agree. We don’t have time for the details, you’ve got to figure out how, in 140 characters or less, to communicate this change.
Veanne: Right? That was a joke but I do agree. I mean, we don’t have time for it but we need the message. We need the direction, we need the enthusiasm around it, and somehow rallying everybody behind that, from a cultural perspective.
Ravi: Yeah, and also prioritizing the why, then the what, and then how.
Ravi: Right? Because what happens is, a lot of times people get wrapped around the axle, because they are straight away jumping to the how, trying to tell someone how to do something, and that other person doesn’t want to hear it. They know how to do it, they don’t even, sometimes, need the what, they just need the why.
Veanne: Yeah. I think we’re all pretty much the people who want to just go jump in and start implementing, right? Especially technical people.
Leading With Purpose
Veanne: Yeah, we want to start writing code, we want to go solve the problem before we really have listened long enough. We’re just anxious to start doing. All right, so having people get behind change reminds me of the importance of purpose within an organization. What is your take on purpose driven organizations, and leading with purpose?
Ravi: So, that is a topic that’s really close to my heart. Something that I do a ton of research on and speak about, both internally within my organization and outside, is the idea of a conscious organization. Now there is new research coming out, that pretty much proves that above and beyond being efficient with processes, being efficient with cost structures, access to capital, access to talent. Above and beyond all that, what makes organizations successful is that sense of purpose and the ability to inbue it in each individual, right? The way I like to think about it is, the difference between motivating people and inspiring people, right?
You can get people to do a lot if you motivate them, but you can get them to achieve the impossible only if you inspire them. So, it boils down to that. I think it’s unique to each organization, as it’s unique to individuals and groups people. An organization having a sense of what they’re trying to accomplish in the short, medium, long term and that purpose being a higher purpose. Even though it may be a profit oriented commercial organization, but still having a higher purpose is super important, in my opinion, to get to inspiration.
Who Are Great Examples?
Veanne: So, I would love to hear, if you wouldn’t mind, sighting examples of organizations, that you feel, do well at leading with purpose. Then, maybe others that you think maybe don’t do so well.
Ravi: Well, let me start with the one I work for.
Veanne: There you go, good job. Bridge2 Solutions.
Ravi: Yeah. Not to make this an advertisement for Bridge2 Solutions.
Veanne: Self-promotion is okay.
Ravi: Yeah. So, we are in the business of rewards redemption. We work with, whether it is employed purchase programs, loyalty programs, or employee incentive programs. Anywhere where an organization has a program to drive engagement with their employees or their customers, and build loyalty. They want to do that through incentives, we help them. We are all about creating unique purchasing experiences for those individuals that then amplifies engagement for this organization, right?
So, if you think about how that works, instead of talking to our employees or my teams about, “Hey, build this software that lets you redeem an iPad more effectively.” We talk about, “Joe, who’s worked really hard for the last three years, his son’s turning 16 and he can use our software to go buy an iPad for his son’s 16th birthday, get it custom engraved, go pick it up and BestBuy using our in-store pick up tools.” It just makes it more real and it provides connectedness for our team members, with what they’re doing and how it touches people’s lives.
So, that’s an example of how we try to build consciousness into the organization, and purpose and inspiration.
Veanne: Very nice. I love that you’re so behind the firm that you work for. How we say, we don’t have that long here and so, we spend so much time doing what we do during the day, it needs to be something you really believe in. When you do, you put your heart and soul in it and you feel that fulfillers that we’re all looking for everyday. So, that’s awesome. Well, one of the things I know about you, just because I know you and love your wife, by the way—
Ravi: Me too.
Veanne: You too? Yeah, I know. She’s very fortunate too. I know that you’re passionate and you have an active practice, in terms of meditation. So, I’d love always to make some personal-ness here out of it. So, maybe just talk to me about why you’re so into meditation and how does that, do you think, have a positive impact on you being effective as a leader and what you do here?
Ravi: A lot of times people ask me, “What’s the number one leadership quality? What do you look for? What do you look for in people you look for, work with, work around? When you are coaching leadership, what’s the number one thing?” To me, it’s integrity. One of the definitions of integrity is not having the self, divided against itself. It’s a weird definition. My meditation practice helps me get there, and stay there. Where there isn’t a contradiction within myself. I’m not saying one thing, but meaning another thing, and doing a third thing. So, that’s one way where meditation has really helped me with leadership.
It reflects in the way I approach job, the way I interact with my peers, the way I interact with my teams, etcetera.
Veanne: Well, one of the things I’ve always appreciated about you, and also your lovely wife, is I feel always so good when I’m around you. You always seem so balanced and complete. So, anyway, and I feel that here with you present in the podcast room. So, thanks for sharing that with us, as well.
Ravi: Thank you.
Veanne: All right. It’s been great having you here today. If anybody wants to reach out to you, I think you’re on Twitter, I don’t know how active, but if anybody wants to reach out to you, what’s the best way to connect with you?
Ravi: Yeah, I think Twitter is great. My handle is ravivenkatesan, which is simply my first name and last name together. My email is my first initial, which is R and firstname.lastname@example.org. So, both of those are great ways to get in touch.
Veanne: Fantastic. It’s been great having you here, sitting down with me today. So, thanks for joining us.
Ravi: Yeah, it’s been incredible being here. Thank you, Veanne.
Female Voice: The Atlanta Business Impact Radio is a project developed by SOLTECH, a software consultancy located in Atlanta, Georgia. Our host, Veanne Smith, co-founded the firm 18 years ago, with her husband Tim Smith. Together, they strive to bring education to the community about technology leaders, to improve the path to innovation for all. For more information about the podcast and learn about the work we do at SOLTECH, visit soltech.net, or find episodes of the podcast on iTunes. Also, if you’re interested in joining us as a guest for an upcoming show, send us an email at email@example.com.
Thanks for listening, stay tuned for insight into the tech community, on our next episode.