Frustrations: I am not Alone – E1 - Pravin Shekar | Outlier Marketer

Blowing off steam: with CxOs

Frustrations: I am not Alone - E1

Having interacted with over 1000+ entrepreneurs & CxOs, I found out there's a common thread that strings them all together.

This thread is something that is hardly being talked about. Whether we are an employer or the employed or in the corporate world, every one of us has pent up some frustrations inside.

Hence, this series "Frustrations: I am not Alone" is here for all of us to let out the bottled-up frustrations.

Remember, I am not alone, you are not alone. We are all in it together!


Pravin: Hello and welcome to another episode of Frustrations: I am not alone. I'm your host and outlier marketer, Pravin Shekar and this entire podcast series is anonymized. It allows you and me to have conversations with CEOs, COOs, Directors, Founders and Senior leaders. All I'm doing is taking a pin and pricking that huge balloon of frustration and stress, underlying the fact that what you go through, I go through as well and there are several similar people like us who go through all. So today we have a CXO of a company that's in the 150 to 200 strong and this particular CXO is going to talk to us about our three pet peeves or topics of frustration which is hiring, operations and marketing. So, welcome, CXO.

CXO: Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you for having me in the show here.

Pravin: Beautiful. Low full toss to the leg side for you CXO, we'd love if you could share some of your frustrations related to hiring and it is a very open part. It could be freshers, mid-management or senior. What are some of the facts and aspects that really get your vote?

CXO: Okay, I think this is one topic that all of us will agree, that everyone is frustrated and everyone has their own way of getting out of that frustration. So if you look at my personal experience and experience with the firm that I'm associated, we have had frustrations at all levels. Be it freshers, we tend to hire a lot more freshers than lateral or seniors, because of the nature of our business and we do have hiresin that the middle and the senior management also. So if you look at the frustration at the fresher's level, it's typically the “you train me and then I'll leave you”, right. I remember my first employer, whom I joined, I worked for three months before going from my engineering to my MBA, did not release my check for the third month salary and on the reverse demanded that I paid him because he trained me for three months. So, that's sort of the scenario that we have. So when people come and work with us, then get trained, we spend a lot of time and energy and then we lose them. Surprisingly, here we don't lose the guys with the right temperament, we lose boys who are ambitious and whom we have not figured out who are ambitious at early stage and it's a combination of internal and external frustration. Internal frustration is more on how our ability to detect the person's ambition, where he wants to go in terms of a recruiting process I think there are challenges in there. And second from the culture that we have, which is external where people are not very open about taboo topics, especially when you're looking at the gender inequality, in organizations we are also prone to that. Typically at a middle management, women will join us, senior management will join us, they tend to stay for long. But younger women they don't sort of talk about their life events, they don't talk about things which might already be there in their agenda but they say, “Why should I talk to the organization about this? Let me get a job.” And then five months into the job, nine months into the job they come up with a marriage invitation and say they want to leave. Nothing wrong about it, but the culture, they're not very open. If they’ve told that upfront, we will still hire. Because we hire the best people. We want the best people. But we might have put them on a different agenda, right? So we might have put them on a different profile. We would have used them much better if we had known that they would stay around only for a year and a half or two, at least they are tentative, they can be open. So that cultural element is also quite frustrating that people don't openly talk about it, though you asked about it in the question. The other thing of frustration is very hard for us. People tend not to travel. So, the guy marks it as all true, joins you, then you want to put him in an assignment somewhere, you take care of him very well but he comes back and says that “Look, the food is not good I am not able to get my home food and stuff” and he's in a mood to even leave or she’s in the mood to leave just because of such things. I mean these are typical good people, very bright career, we see this very often. In our organization, we have a lot of intimidation where people travel and that's part of the recruitment questions that we ask. But finally when they go in and they don't agree, we left high and dry, we don't know what to do. There’s challenges around that, there is a very peculiar trend we’re starting to see recently that guys are very comfortable sitting at home, going back home or being within the comfort. These are typical hiring challenges both from a process standpoint: our own inability to identify the person's ambitions or where they want to be. The other thing is from the person’s side not being very open and being very candid about it.

Pravin: Right. Well in the same line, CXO, one of my big frustrations in my companies is the loss of time when we scrutinize and recruit the people and they have a two month notice period, we wait a couple of months and then they don't show up.

CXO: What's exactly I think, for us we've not had the challenge of people not showing up. We've had few but that’s statistically, very small numbers. But overall I think our ability to retain them for the wrong reasons. I mean if he’s moving for a better salary, or moving for a better opportunity, you understand. But the people going away just because we are not transparent, it's both the irritation and frustration.

Pravin: Yes, absolutely. Now, I know CXO that yours is a very fast growing firm expanding across the globe. Now I would love to hear some episodes or instances when you've been frustrated in the operational aspect with divisions, maybe not talking to each other etc., Let me leave it at that and let you talk here, CXO.

CXO: Okay, from an operational standpoint, yeah. Again, every organization is tending towards improving themselves and if you're not frustrated then you're doing something wrong.

Pravin: That's right, that's correct.

CXO: If you’re not frustrated with either sales or operations, then you've got something really wrong with your organization. Operations, if you look at it from a standpoint you put a dive in your leading question was very, it is actually leading. The silo effect, right? People not talking to each other or the senior management, people at my level and our level not able to iron these differences out and putting fairly, well understood culturally fitting processes. Because, all said and done, we are not a very process oriented culture. We are more creative, innovative and also a very authoritarian type of culture, right? We like to be told what we need to do and so there is a bit of combination of these and in terms of the senior management also not able to pick that up, I would put it at the senior management. Because operations is a symphony. You have multiple people coming together. One single person or one single thing, blame will always be on the senior management and here the frustrations are generally your own, right? Your inability to learn, your inability to see things a little ahead, your inability to take (or) seek external help. So these are typical frustrations. Some things in a high tech company that we a part of is not looking at technology trends and adopting them. It's also strategic in a way but operationally also, when you identify a technology trend, you've not built an organization which is learning and at times you start complaining saying that the team is not ready for that. It's also part of the team zone, you will have to put some percentage to the team and the managers there. But the organization doesn't realize that as overall. That’s one great frustration and a fast moving effect that we see. And especially in global operations when you look at it, we have frustrations in terms of or we have challenges in terms of getting our delivery mechanism fine tuned for different markets, able to understand and sort of appreciate what goes in different cultures, right? So you've decided to be a global organization, so it's part of what you want to do. And from operational standpoint, what a south-east Asian country may look at may be completely different from what a African country would look at. The cultures are different, the expectations are different and the conversations are different. So from a support, from a customer delight standpoint, which again is a very core function of operations, you tend to have a lot of frustrations. So, (the) team tends to pick up signals pretty badly in spite of good experience. So you need to align towards these, be constantly looking at it and the rightly mentioned frustrations are good but the same frustration repeating again and again is very bad.

Pravin: Now, CXO, moving into my favorite topic of marketing and no leading questions here I just need to hear your frustrations.

CXO: You’re always frustrated, right? It's a numbers game and it is the most quantitatively verifiable part of a business. It's what everyone focuses on. So in sales, the primary areas come in, it covers a few aspects. One: our learning in the markets that we work is, deals are not generally done based on what you have or what you can deliver, okay? There is a lot more than that you will have to focus on and this starts from market intelligence, competitive analysis and marketing plays a very important role. Typically the frustration there is once you get to know when you lost a deal or why you sold it at a lower price though the customer had agreed to the budget, is a failure of your market intelligence or your marketing mechanism and most of the frustrations are in the marketing space. Because, sales is more of an execution function, marketing is more of a strategy function, according to me. So majority of the failures and here again the CXOs the one who stands in the way, their own thinking ability, their own ability to look at problems is the biggest hurdle there. So, companies like us struggle to get external advisors. We are not able to get really good consultants who can help us with deal making as I call it. So, how do you get the intelligence? How do you put that in perspective? How do you course correct and how do you do things? And this is a constant thing that you keep on working on. But it is something that you feel very frustrated about because it's always that you were among the top two and you lost the deal. And after you win the deal one of the guys within the organization says, “We had a million dollar budget, but we squeezed you into giving it with a 40% discount.” These are typical frustrations and the biggest frustration I would say is, not knowing which deals to let go.

Yeah, you're stuck with someone and you're stuck with them for life, right? This is the biggest frustration. You go ahead and take that deal and you deliver and the customer doesn't appreciate you. And it is a very, very bad place to be. You repent all your life and the writing was always on the wall. You went into and you're rushed into just to close the deal. And I think the biggest problem is not what deals you get or which deals you’ve lost. The biggest problem is which deal you should have lost and you have got. The deals that you need to let go, the customers that you shouldn't work with, the customers you should lead out of your system is the biggest frustration. Because this has impact on morale, this has impact on culture, this has impact on operations and it has the impact on your future growth. So I have had a few experiences and it took us almost like three four years to sort of let go of those accounts and by the time huge damages were done. In fact, one of the metrics that we want to see is how damaging is a bad deal. Someone told me how damaging a bad recruit at middle management is. So, someone told me that if you hire a person who's a wrong hire, you have him for about a year, the organization loses about 17 man years, man years of productivity. This is someone who was a very very senior person, who's worked in very leading roles with the very top brands in the country. So he gave me this number. He told the middle management, the senior management level if you hire someone, it's the wrong hire and you have been for a year, productivity loss in quantitative measures if you’re able to quantify the impact, it will typically come towards “1” “7” years that’s 17 years.

CXO: Yeah so that's a large number. So it's also more important on how you look at it. So that's the thought on the field's frustrations that we have. Apart, my own personal frustrations that I'm not doing well and we are not improving and we are not self reflecting too much and you're too focused on operations and you're not too ambitious and things like that. Yeah.

Pravin: This is amazing. This has been an amazing 15, 16 minutes, CXO. Which goes to underline the very purpose of such a podcast called “Frustrations: I'm not alone”. And I love movies, I know you love movies as well and you've just been rattling off punch dialogues which as a summary I'm going to state. One is of course: “Operations is a symphony” “Watch out for the failure of your market intelligence” “The CXO stands in the way of growth and that is frustrating” “Let go or not doing which deals to let go” and the final best part is thanks to you, CXO: “If you are not frustrated with what you are doing, you're doing something wrong.” So this has been amazing thanks a lot, CXO.

CXO: Thank you very much, thanks for the opportunity. This very important thing that you're doing I think. You're doing a very good service to the entrepreneurial CXO community. Thank you very much.

Pravin: Lovely, thank you. And for all the listeners, if you've got frustrations to vent out, write into me at and let's have an anonymous call to let it all out. Remember, I'm not alone and you are not alone. Thank you.