February 12, 2021

1Huddle Podcast: Sampath Sowmyanarayan — Verizon Business

Devin Hiett

DESCRIPTION
SampathEmployee connectivity has been a top priority for leaders in every industry throughout the pandemic, but keeping teams engaged, connected, and fired up with a distributed workforce can be challenging. On this Bring It In podcast episode, Sampath Sowmyanarayan, the President of Global Enterprise for Verizon Business, sat down with 1Huddle’s VP of Sales Kirk Madsen to share insights into how Verizon has successfully kept their team connected regardless of where they are. The pair also discusses leadership and how we can evolve and improve to be effective leaders, even if we aren’t able to see our team members in person.
Audio available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and Google Podcasts.  Apple Podcasts (1)SpotifyGoogle
TOP 4 HIGHLIGHTS
Below are some of the insights that Sowmyanarayan shared during our chat, edited for clarity. You can find more Bring It In podcast episodes here.
    • People are very adaptive and resilient. When you put people in a crisis environment, the best of them comes out.”
    • “Technology can replace human connection points to some extent, but using technology to micromanage and monitor input output at very micro levels is going to be counterproductive. You have to be able to trust the people you work with to get the tasks done that you’ve charged them with. ”
    • “Most people always do the right thing. There will always be an outlier, but you cannot take a rule that you’re developing for an outlier and deploy it across all your teams. You have to take a different view and be super agile in your leadership style. I personally have grown more as a leader in the last six or seven months than I have in the last 10 years.”
    • “When people are pushed into a crisis with their backs against the wall, internal barriers in companies collapse. You’re all suddenly trying to solve a problem together. You’re less worried about which department you’re from. Barriers come down and visions go up.”

FULL TRANSCRIPTION
Kirk: As you’ve gone through a global pandemic and managed teams in many different places and situations, how have you experienced changes in work over the past year? Sampath: You can’t talk about 2020 without introducing the word COVID into the first three words of your conversation. For us initially, this year has been about getting connectivity to our clients. We still have 99% of the Fortune 500 clients, some of the largest companies on earth, and getting them ready to work from home has been our big focus area right now. We have been able to move 30-40 million people to working remotely in a very short period of time, and part of it is just planning and building networks. Kirk: You’re working on 5G and 5G rollout across not only the U.S. but around the world. How has that connectivity started to change the way you think about how people work? Sampath: At the core level, 5G is going to give another way of connecting to broadband for the home and the business — think of it almost as a new pipe to the home. You get better quality connectivity whether you’re in your home or in a cafe. Moving forward, I think 5G has the ability to transform virtual meetings with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality. It also has a way to transform training and bring people together in a virtually real world. Those are some of the technologies we are working on right now, and I think the world is ready for something like this. Kirk: How are you engaging and keeping people together? It has to be a challenge as a global leader in normal times, but what have you done this year specifically to keep people together? Sampath: We run teams and operations in 120 countries around the world. What’s interesting is that every country is dealing with the pandemic a little differently. Step one has been understanding how local communities are dealing with it. Some are going into complete lockdown and have homes that are not designed to work from, so it’s a little more difficult. So just understanding local nuances has been very important for us. I think the second thing that’s been very important is the need to lead with kindness. The only thing that’s going to keep us all together is being kind. We are a very ambitious company that wants to be the best, we want to be the first and every single thing we do, and we want to bring forward how we do that with kindness. We’re doing a lot more 1:1 check-ins. In fact, 1:1 check-ins have gone up 30% post-COVID. Managers are finding more time with their teams and people are checking in a lot more, which I think is a good thing. You need to do a lot of different things to keep people engaged. That’s the single biggest thing that keeps me up at night, not the technology. Kirk: As you and your teams have ramped up those 1:1 communications, what lessons are you learning? What important things are you hearing from your people that surprised you? Sampath: People are very adaptive and resilient. When you put people in a crisis environment, the best of them comes out. So that’s been a big learning and a big ‘aha moment.’ And the question is, how can we tap into that? The second thing we’re seeing is the need to be more agile in your leadership styles. The command and control styles of bringing people together on calls and telling them what to do is becoming less and less effective. Because when people are working from their homes, you don’t have full visibility into: what is their input metric? What is their output metric? So you have to empower them by saying “this is the output I need, go make it happen.” So we need a very honest change in leadership styles, and I hope we never go back to some of our old leadership techniques. Kirk: It’s interesting you say that, because early on in the remote work days trying to figure out ways to monitor where people’s eyes are when looking for engagement was a big issue. So I wonder, where does technology cross that line or barrier from being helpful to putative? Sampath: I think privacy is key to this. When your team wants to engage with you, they will engage with you. I tell people: if you don’t want to be on video, don’t be on video. In fact, I highly recommend people spend two or three hours not on video. Part of it is you just have to respect people’s privacy and how they work. Second is, we need to give people the right tools. How do you replicate the water cooler? How do you replicate the cafeteria? How do you replicate the parking lot? How do you replicate the turnstile as you get into the office where chatter happens and things get done? So technology can replace those human connection points to some extent, but using technology to micromanage, and monitor input output at very micro levels is going to be counterproductive. You have to be able to trust the people you work with to get the tasks done that you’ve charged them with. And empowerment. You’ve got to trust them, and you’ve got to empower them to do the right thing for the customer. In these types of situations, most people always do the right thing. There will always be an outlier, but you cannot take a rule that you’re developing for an outlier and deploy it across all your teams.You have to take a different view and be super agile in your leadership style. I personally have grown more as a leader in the last six or seven months than I have in the last 10 years. Kirk: What was the biggest lesson that you learned in the last six or seven months? Sampath: Well, one thing is that when people are pushed into a crisis with their backs against the wall, internal barriers in companies collapse. You’re all suddenly trying to solve a problem together. You’re less worried about which department you’re from. Barriers come down and visions go up. Second is, people love being empowered. For me, those two things have been the biggest ‘aha moments.’ Kirk: How have you listened to your people and to your customers this year to respond and change what you do going forward? Sampath: When customers call and talk, you sometimes lose a little bit of the nuance because you’re not able to go and meet customers in person, read them, get their body language, and see the eye rolls. You miss some of that. As a result, I’m a little nervous that we don’t fully understand what customers are saying. So two things have changed: One is you rely on data a lot more. Customers are very smart, and they work with their wallet. They work with action. So tracking actions along the way gives you very good insight. And it doesn’t have to be just tracking if the customer left us, you can also see into: Has the customer stopped using the product, or are customers using our product differently? Secondly, I make it a point to have a rule of 10. Every week, I will have 10 meaningful engagements with customers, and it’s a very strict rule I’ve rarely violated to the point where there are times I cheat on Friday evenings and I do two calls because I haven’t made up my quota for the week. It’s a function to ensure that when we’re not traveling I’m still in front of customers. Kirk: How have you seen the tactics for salespeople and sales organizations change this year? Sampath: Some of our legacy demand generation models need to be changed. In a way it’s good, because COVID opened up pockets of opportunity for us that didn’t exist before. For example, I forget that almost half of small businesses don’t have a digital presence. It didn’t matter until nine months ago if a local barber didn’t have an online presence. Your hair still got cut. But increasingly now, he needs a digital presence. So demand generation models have changed. The ability to use sales enablement and customer discovery tools is also important, because you can’t see the customer. So we’ve started investing in a lot more tools and materials for sales enablement. The third thing is discipline. When you are on the road meeting customers, you have discipline because you’re away from home. Sometimes when you’re working from home, you could get caught up in internal busy work. So I’ve had to be very clear on managing output metrics from my team. How many customer appointments did you do today? What was it yesterday? What’s it going to be tomorrow? And you’ll see that when you track something, it gets done. What’s interesting is that we’ve closed multi-billion dollar deals not having met the customer in person once. I would have never, ever have thought that was humanly possible pre-COVID. Kirk: Let’s fast forward to a hopefully not distant future where COVID is a thing of the past. What changes do you see sticking? Sampath: I think two things will happen. One is that companies will make decisions faster than they’ve ever done before. Two, and probably the biggest one, is that people are going to be more comfortable working remotely or in some form of hybrid model, so your competition for talent is going to go up. On the other hand, you’re going to have access to talent pools you never had before. That’s another big thing that is going to change that I don’t think people have spent enough time studying: the demand and supply of high-quality talent. In the past, if you were a tech company, you had to be on the West Coast. The West Coast of America was where all great things in life supposedly happened. Now, because of the hybrid work environment, you can get top-notch engineers in Utah, Austin, Florida, Virginia, New York, and New Jersey. So talent is going to change. Talent is going to live where they want to live. Talent is going to work on projects they want to work on. It’s up to companies to make it attractive for them. Kirk: That’s a good segway to one last question. Sampath, When you think about the future of work and what’s coming, what’s your hope for the future of work? Sampath: I hope talent is no longer limited by physical boundaries. Companies and talent can be matched across boundaries, across state lines, and across industry lines. You’re going to be in a much more open world after COVID. My second hope is about knowledge training and access to knowledge. I think people have understood that remote working and learning works really well, so you’re going to see a massive explosion of people investing in themselves. They’re going to train themselves to do different things. Those are two of the biggest hopes I have. I’ve gone through the valley of desperation with COVID, but now I’m seeing the light.  I’m feeling very positive, and I hope others are too.

Devin Hiett, Content Marketing Lead at 1Huddle

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