Frustrations: I am not Alone – E2 - Pravin Shekar | Outlier Marketer

Blowing off steam: with CxOs

Frustrations: I am not Alone - E2

Listen to an episode of a hiring-based frustration of a CxO. If you can relate to it, remember, you are not alone! We are in it together.

I am looking at collating, talking to 100s of CXOs, making a compendium of these frustrations, to underline the fact that you and I are not alone.

Let's vent it out. Let's celebrate life.

Write to me about your frustrations to and we shall discuss our frustrations to remind our entrepreneur community that we are all together in this.


Pravin: Hello and welcome to another episode of “I am not alone: Frustrations from CXOs.” I'm your host, Pravin Shekar, and I am an entrepreneur myself. Whom do I go talk to about my frustrations, of course, each one of us in our carrier, whether we are employed or the employer or in the corporate world have a whole bunch of frustrations, there's no point keeping it bottled up inside. Hence this series of conversations where I indulge certain CXOs who will remain anonymous and I will encourage them to talk about their frustrations. Because, I am not alone. You are not alone. And we are here to let things out to blow off steam. And all I'm doing here is be that small pinprick in that huge balloon of stress and frustration. So welcome. Today, we have a CXO, who's a part of a 150 strong growth-oriented technology company. And she's going to talk to us on our or her pet frustrations, but something that is related to our line of work. So CXO, welcome, welcome, welcome.

CXO: Thank you, Pravin. Thanks for having me.

Pravin: Great. Now, 150 people strong, growth-oriented, so, there's a lot of push that goes on in terms of bringing people in. CXO, can you tell us something about your hiring frustrations? More specifically? Do you hire a lot of freshers?

CXO: Yes. So yes, there are a lot of hiring frustrations, there are a lot of tensions and anticipations when you want to hire the right kind of people, especially at the stage of the company that we are in, which is growth-oriented. So obviously the number one frustration is finding the right people, finding them quick enough. That always continues to be a huge frustration. And when you find that, what seems to be the right person, because you might have gone through a lot of regular trigger and made sure that you are asking a lot of the questions upfront. But say two or three months down the line, you figure out that something just didn't work, and this person is not there with you anymore. So, this having to learn, having to adjust, having to really change your course, along the way is definitely a huge frustration, because we do want to get a lot of people in as quickly as possible. But to make sure that we're getting the right person, how do you balance the two? How do you balance speed with the quality? I think that continues to be a frustration

Pravin: Ah, speed with quality, CXO, isn't that always an issue? But you know, one of my biggest frustrations as we go through the rigor, we hire the resources, and they don't join. Have you ever faced something like that?

CXO: Oh, yes, absolutely. We do. I mean, that's that, “Just tell me!” is the frustration I have, you know, if you're not going to join us at least have the courtesy to turn around and say I'm not going to join. So yes, on the day of somebody joining, you discover that they're actually not going to join, they turn off their cell phones, all of that sort of thing has happened to you. So as an entrepreneur, as a CXO, obviously, you're not making the call, but you have to make sure that your HR team doesn't get put off or your team doesn't get, you know, they don't get dejected because that new person that they thought was going to join is no longer there. So yes, it is a shout out to everybody who's trying to join another organization just have the courtesy to say you're not going to join, have the courtesy to decline an offer, if you're actually not going to come in. I think that's just basic courtesy that I wish everybody would just pick up.

Pravin: So, CXO, what do you do? And obviously, it's very frustrating, top to bottom because, well if I'm a project manager working in your team, and I need that resource to join and he or she doesn't show up. Well, I've given commitments.

CXO: Right. If you were a larger organization, let's say you were like one of the bigwigs, you can always bad. You say you want three people, you can hire 10 people. Because you know that, you know a certain percentage is going to drop off. You cannot do that when you are a smaller, you know, a growth-oriented bootstrapped organization, which is what we are. So, we do have to only hire the exact number of heads that you know we need, we have budgeted for. So, yes, it is not something that you can completely avoid but the best thing we can do is to make sure that we plan for it to some extent. So, when we make out an offer, we add the back of at least my mind, I know that there is always an X percentage of chance that this person doesn't make, doesn't join and then what if, right. So those are things that you probably don't have it written down but you know, over years of experience you know to start planning for it.

Pravin: In the same vein CXO moving from freshers into intermediate or senior people what is your experience been like? Frustrations, talk to us about what pisses you off?

CXO: Sure. So we don't see this behavior with a little bit more experienced, thankfully. They are a little bit, you know, as you've gone through a professional life, you either, you know, accept the offer or don't accept the offer and you negotiate upfront. So, all of that is pretty much there. But the one, I suppose a frustration and this is more of a learning, I think, is that the person looks nice and shiny during the interview, but when the minute they join, it's oftentimes we find that this is not quite what we thought. Yeah, so that's been a huge frustration and again, it's back to the drawing board to fine tune and refine your job description, to refine your interview process. I think the biggest learning or the biggest takeaway for me over the years has been, there is no magic pill, you cannot hire somebody assuming that they're going to hit the ground running from day one. Everybody requires a lot of settling in time. And you hire for attitude and not for the skill. So, you're really looking for somebody who you can connect with, who has that learning ability, who has that ability to come in, figure out, own the problem. And especially like you were asking me about the mid-level and the senior executives, I think that's kind of what you should be looking for. Irrespective of how well they did in the past really doesn't matter. I think it all comes down to their attitude.

Pravin: Well, CXO on the same line, I would love if you could give me an episode, give our listeners an episode of exactly what happened with one of your senior hires.

CXO: Um, sure. I think I can remember one instance where we had hired a person, who seemed to have the exact kind of expertise and exact kind of experience that we were looking for. And we actually did a lot of due diligence, prior to the hire. Made this person do a lot of, you know, hands-on exercises and things like that. But within a week's time, you could sense that something was off. Within a week of this person joining, I think some of the basics were getting missed. And it was very obvious that perhaps, you know, he or she was very successful in the previous role, because of all the supporting infrastructure. But taken out of all of that, they felt completely lost. And it was becoming more and more apparent, into the second week that this just simply wasn't working out. And I think and the good thing is that we took the call both of us mutually to say that, “Hey, you know, what, this is not working out. Let's part ways on good terms.” I think I've had this episode happen like a couple of times, actually. So, one was, you know, different customer facing role and another one was a technology role, where, you know, very quickly into the role, there were some very basic questions that came up that I was like, “Boy, you know, I clearly did not expect this sort of a question from someone at this level!” and then that's when it hits you that, okay, you know, you're bringing in a person to help you solve a certain level of problem, right? And if the ability is not there, then it's just going to, over a period of time become more of an issue than the problems that they want to solve.

So thankfully, in a couple of these instances, I think, we should probably be happy that it got resolved in the sense that we recognized that this was not a good fit. And a few weeks into the sort of like this engagement we decided to part ways and said, “Okay, it's not working out.” But I think that is the kind of the danger that you have with hiring senior and mid-level folks. It is sometimes a hit or a miss. And I think you should be very, very ready to fail fast and that should be part of what you are prepared for as well. You cannot get married to the fact that, “Hey, you know what? I did all of this due diligence, I'm really gonna hope for this person to work out.” If there are certain markers and certain indicators that are just not okay, it's far better to say, “This is not working out.” and move off rather than trying to work with something that is just not working out.

Pravin: Yeah, I agree CXO, it’s so frustrating, but what we lose, as CXOs here is time. Because you lose that significantly and the bigger issue that I face, that's frustrating to me, is ‘Once bitten, twice shy.’ The second time around, when you're doing it, you tend to put in that much more effort. Because you're always running, “Oh, will this person stick on? Will he or she be a good fit as it appears before?”

CXO: Yeah, so I have a small strategy, which I use to, you know, state this off. So, you're absolutely right that when you put in so much of an effort in trying to find the right candidate and really hire, you know, really talk to them, have multiple people interview, collate all of those things, and then they turn out to not really be the right person. Sure, it's, you know, you're like, “Okay, I lost all of this time, I lost all of the effort that I have put in, I wasted so many people's time.” And sometimes it's the wrong thing to do is to say, “Okay, I have already invested so much of time, let me invest a little bit more, and try to see if I can recover what I have invested in” right. But I think that's the wrong approach, because this investment is for the longer term. So, if there are certain, and I'm not talking about missing something, you know, it's a human error here and there, I'm talking about some basics that are simply off. But some of these things come out only when you start working with each other. It's far better to fail fast. And so, the strategy I use is sure, you know, sometimes such mistakes happen. But at the same time, there are also people who really surprise you far beyond what you thought they could do. And they come into your organization, and they hit it out of the park, I think it kind of balances itself out. So, you shouldn't be shy to say, “This person didn't work out, let's just call it quits.” much quicker, fail fast, you know, the karma just kind of plays out. So, if you find a few bad apples, you're bound to find really, really sweet apples that surprise you.

Pravin: That's a nice approach to the corporate world. Taking a segue here, CXO. Obviously, given your 20 years of experience, you've got involved in hiring but also operations. Frustrations related to operations or teams talking or not talking with each other, CXO, we'd love to hear some episodes, examples.

CXO: Yeah. I think the team's not talking to each other, I'm sure every entrepreneur everywhere, you know, has faced that. Somewhere, I think people feel like you are the judge in between or the umpire in between, and two sides can come and talk to you into the two ears. And then make you the central person who's supposed to balance things out or try to stifle the argument. So, I think this sort of realization hit me much more later, in my later part of the year. I think, anytime you see a conflict, it's time to step back and see what system did not work. And usually the answer is, when things get stuck, or blocked, or there are emotions running high, it's partly because there are, when emotions run high, especially that's usually happens when people care.

Pravin: Give us an example.

CXO: Sure, I mean, your typical thing in a technology company is engineering, product management , testing, and they don't really, you know, like, the technical support on the production.

Pravin: So what happens in a meeting? And I'm drawing on the frustration, all of us have been there, but I need to know or hear your experience.

CXO: Yeah, the customer complains and you know, we're trying to figure out who the ball actually is the first to land on. And everybody tries to figure out, you know, how they are not at fault and it's really not. So, the engineering guy [says], “The requirements weren't okay.” And the production team would be like, “No, we gave you the requirements, you didn't read it correctly, or you gave us a half-baked product.” or whatever right? So, it's at the end of the day, it's about who do we actually pin the blame on. I think as the entrepreneur or as the CXO, it's your job to change that to the conversation from trying to find out who to pin the blame on, in trying to actually figure out how to solve the problem.

Pravin: With the rest of them trying to cover their ass.

CXO: Correct, yes, and then you have to spot the CYA to cover your ass from a mile away right and kind of really, really make sure that doesn't come into your organization. And again, I'm talking about the smaller organizations where you just don't have time for the cover your ass scenario at all. So, the best thing is to put people in a room, have a conversation about how to not have this problem happen again, and go into that sort of a problem-solving mode and always keep in mind that if we had designed certain processes and systems correctly, this would not have happened.

Pravin: Good CXO, I'm going to pull you into a random question out here. On any given normal day, how many times do you get frustrated?

CXO: It used to be quite a bit. Probably about four or five times, in a day, customer would send an email.

Pravin: You’ve got a lot of catching up to do CXO. For me, it is in the 10s and late teens.

CXO: Yeah, no, it used to be like that. So, I'm just wondering if people have stopped copying me on emails right now? And is that something I should be worried about? No, I think frustrations are good. Let me talk a little bit about.

Pravin: Here comes the philosophers’ hat.

CXO: Yeah. Philosophers hat, right. So, I think frustrations are actually a great opportunity for you to figure out what's not working. And I think you should encourage people to voice their frustration. So, one of the things that I have with my immediate reportee is I asked them to write down their frustrations. And I asked them to, you know, I have those sort of like mentoring sessions with people to say, “Okay, tell me what's not working? I don't want to hear about what's working, tell me what's not working? What are the things that are, you know, really bugbears for you?” And again, use those to, you know, for instance, I can give you this example. So, we are a product development company. So, we have, you know, engineering, product management, we have testing, we have technical support and we have even the team that uses the product in house. So obviously a bug goes by customer complaints, technical support handles it or does not handle it, there's all kinds of, you know, blame to go around. And usually what happens is, whenever there is an escalation from a customer, we are in a very reactive mode. And that's not all the best time to try and introspect and see what went wrong. So recently, what we started doing is calling a round table discussion, and allowed everybody to kind of post their frustrations on a board.

And we just went around the table and said, Okay, here are some of the frustrations from the technical support team. Here are the frustrations from the testing team. Here are the frustrations from the product engineering team, the product development team. And once you kind of put it out there it became objective, right. So, it's no longer about a particular instance, about this customer feeling, you know, escalating it and jumping up and down. But it became about a problem that was potentially a process-oriented problem. And if you wear the hat that you can solve such of these problems by designing the communication, by designing the way data flows between one team and the other, many of these frustrations can be resolved. So yeah, that's something that we started doing in our organization, which I think has been was very useful. So yes, coming back to the point, frustrations are not a bad thing. Frustrations are a way for you to observe, and for you to know about what's not working within the organization, but also to look at it as an opportunity to put in a design, to design something, to ease that flow of, you know, whether it's communication, or data or whatever it is, to make sure that moving through.

Pravin: Well, CXO, the way you make it sound is like you've reached the Zen state from a frustration point.

CXO: I think, once your frustration’s out, you sort of try to figure out what is the point of all of this and make sense of life.

Pravin: Lovely, lovely, lovely perspectives, at least one key learning for me is to request some of the people that I'm working with to list out their frustrations about me without putting their name and then just slip it through. Good. Now CXO, coming to my favorite bugbear of all because I've over my couple of decades of career track with a lot of CEOs and marketers. What's your frustration in around with, within marketing?

CXO: Yeah, the key frustration is that, at least what's true for our organization, is we tend to get shy about marketing. If you don't come from marketing hat, right, you tend to get very shy about telling the world what you're capable of, what your product is capable of, what your team is capable of. And I don't know if it's just very unique to our organization, but you start feeling, I think shy is probably the right word, to use here is that you just don't do enough marketing at all. And that's been a key frustration for us at this stage that we are into try and overcome. Very, very simply put, so when we receive a good, you know, positive email from our customer, we don't even bother to turn around and say, “Hey, can we put it on our website?”

CXO: We don't even ask for testimonials. And what's been very surprising is when we turn around and ask the customer, “Hey, can we use your last email where you said you were happy with our services and can we put it on our website?” They are happy to be asked. And they're happy that we took their word seriously and that we want to put it on our website. So yes, the frustration is why are we not asking more? Why are we not being a little bit more? So, I think that's more of a cultural shift that we are at the stage in our company. But yeah, that's a key frustration. So, in marketing is not something that comes automatically to maybe it's our Indian mentality, I don't know. It doesn't come naturally to a lot of people. We don't want to talk about ourselves, we think, you know, our deeds should speak for itself, right? And we shouldn't really be tooting our own horn. But that's not really, I mean, marketing is really about educating customers and prospective customers.

Pravin: But, are customers willing to be educated, CXO? Is that a point of frustration for you?

CXO: You know, you never know until you try. I think that's again, is a frustration, right? You shouldn't try to answer the question too prematurely, without giving it a shot. So, from all of the interactions, going back to this asking for a testimonial, where the customer comes back and says, “Yes, please take my testimonial.” And that's a revelation to us is that they actually wanted to be featured on our website, and why aren't we doing more of it? Why aren't we asking more of that? Right? So, marketing should be something that can be injected into the gene pool of everybody within an organization, when you're at that stage, right? It's not just something that belongs to a marketing department.

Pravin: CXO, I’ve got a solution. We just talked to the government and added along with a vaccine that's got to be given to all the people.

CXO: So, I think the biggest frustration is in thinking that marketing and sales is kind of like in a separate silo. And it's just you know, a certain number of people within the organization who should be thinking about it. In a smaller growth-oriented organization, that is really not the case. Everybody should be thinking about marketing. How do you change that? How do you change people to start being more outspoken and asking and putting themselves out? There is a huge mystery figuring it out.

Pravin: Trying to answer the question itself can be quite frustrating.

CXO: Yes, absolutely. Like I said, we're still figuring it out. So...

Pravin: Lovely. Thank you very much for talking to us, CXO. Listeners. Well, we heard about the frustration of an up-and-coming growth-oriented CXO on hiring, operations and marketing. Any of you have any kind of frustrations, hey, write it to and I'll be happy to have a word with you. I am looking at collating, talking to a 100s of CXOs making a compendium of these frustrations to underline the fact that you and I are not alone. Let's vent it out. Let's celebrate life. Thanks a lot listeners.