When Parsa Rohani left Microsoft in 2000 to start his own business as a technology partner to Microsoft, he had some clear goals in mind of what he wanted to build.
Rohani saw opportunity in the advent of the Microsoft.net platform and joining with co-founders Tim Marshall and Anthony Ferry, he set out to build a company that could capitalize on it.
Neudesic LLC was soon a success, becoming profitable in 2004. But as the company began to really take off and grow — with more customers, more employees and more locations — the focus began to drift. Neudesic has about 550 employees overall, with 390 in the United States and 160 in India.
“I was talking to my partners and even though we knew what our values were and we had an idea of what our vision and mission for the company was, maybe that vision and mission was not shared across our offices,” Rohani says.
“Although we are headquartered in Irvine, we have offices across the country. One of the things we felt was lacking was our value proposition and our mission. The idea of who we were as a company was getting diluted the further you went away from Irvine.”
Neudesic was still achieving profitability when many companies were scrambling as the global recession of 2008 hit, but it wasn’t growing as quickly. Rohani realized that if he wanted the growth to continue, he and his employees would have to take a few steps back and get refocused on what it was all about.
“The things you do when you’re a five-man company versus a 500-person company, there are some similarities,” Rohani says. “But there are also some significant differences in terms of how you operate the business, what you look for and how you train and educate your people. Fundamentally, it starts with you as the leader.”
In other words, your employees are probably not going to come to you and say, ‘Hey, we’ve lost sight of our values. We need to do something about it.’
“You are the first one who needs to change,” Rohani says. “If you don’t change and you expect everybody who works for you or reports to you to adjust to the new realities of business, then it’s going to be an utter failure.”
Seeking to avoid that fate, Rohani decided it was time that he and a group of his leaders get away and get refocused on the company’s core principles.
Do the groundwork
It’s easy to talk about getting away from the day-to-day routine of your business to talk about big-picture issues. The key to making it work is to have a plan for what to do when you get away.
“You have to have a purpose for what you’re doing and you have to work to engage the leadership of the company,” Rohani says. “Not just a few, but you have to engage a pretty good cross-section of your company to be part of it and understand why you’re doing it so it doesn’t just seem like busy work. It is the purpose of the company.
“If you don’t have the time to do it, in my view, over time you’ll become irrelevant. If you’re always tactical and you never take the time to look at the strategic value of your company, then it’s only a matter of time before you’ll be irrelevant.”
In 2010, which is when this process began, Neudesic had about 300 employees. So Rohani wanted to build a team of about 20 employees to take part in this off-site workshop to refocus the company’s mission, vision and values.
“What you want first and foremost is people who are passionate,” Rohani says. “Who are your most passionate people about a particular topic or about your business? Another group of people I would strongly consider are the ones that are most interactive about how to make the systems or the company better. People who are always OK with everything that you do may not be the best choice to figure out how to prepare your company for change.”
Once the team is chosen, your job quickly shifts back to purpose. You can’t wait until you get to the off-site meeting to start discussing the key points.
“About 60 days before the off-site, we started a collaboration effort across the company with these 21 people,” Rohani says. “We put in a variety of topics to be discussed and we did a lot of pre-work remotely, as time allowed, to prepare us for the off-site.”
Challenge your people
As the discussion began at the off-site meeting about what values were most important to Neudesic and how those values fit into the company’s mission and vision, Rohani was full of questions.
“My role was to facilitate and ask questions and challenge people on their ideas and thoughts,” Rohani says. “I did not propose a set of values and say, ‘OK, these are the 10 values I think are important. Let’s vote.’ I was an active participant.
“When you ask people the right questions, people who are passionate and smart, they tend to find the right answers. When you help them find the right answers, they own the whole thing instead of if you gave them the answer. Then you own it and it’s not theirs.”
The 21 people who were part of the off-site meeting were divided into teams, and each group was given the task of choosing five values on its own. With more than 20 possibilities, the list was eventually whittled down to five: passion, discipline, innovation, teamwork and integrity.
“So you take the first letter of each of our values and it’s PDITI,” Rohani says. “We looked at it and said, ‘If you’ve got these five, what else do you need?’ At the end of the day, there was consensus that all 20 some odd values that had been presented by the teams were represented by these five.
“Quality was one of the values that was out there. If you’re passionate, disciplined and you work in teams and you have innovation, quality is part of that. So do you call it out separately on its own? You can’t have quality without discipline.”
It was a smooth process for Neudesic, but there was some give and take to arrive at the final five values. That’s good. You should be concerned if you get people together and don’t have a little conflict in the process.
“If people aren’t engaged and challenging and asking the questions, they are basically conformists,” Rohani says. “They are not telling you everything that is in their head. Either you have a problem as a leader engaging these folks or you have the wrong people. The first thing you look at is yourself. Are you providing the right forum? Are you encouraging the kind of participation that is needed?
“An organization is composed of many individuals. Those individuals collectively are smarter than any one leader. If as a leader, you fail to cultivate the collective wisdom that is in your organization, that’s your fault.”
Building on the momentum
With five core values in hand, the Neudesic team returned from its off-site meeting excited about its regained focus.
“Even though we’re a technology business, everyone needs to be focused on the fact that it’s not about technology,” Rohani says. “It’s about business. It’s about innovating for our clients using technology, but not using it for the sake of technology. That’s been key in almost every initiative that we’ve taken since then. We were too focused on technology, and now our focus isn’t just technology, but the ultimate value it delivers to the business.”
So what’s the key to maintaining the momentum that everybody feels coming out of a workshop? Rohani says the key is developing a series of objectives that can help guide everyone going forward.
“You have to define the short, medium and long-term objectives that you have,” Rohani says. “Around each objective, you need to establish a rhythm. What happens a lot of times, and it happens to us too, is sometimes you say, ‘Hey, this is a great idea. Let’s do it.’ Then you don’t establish a rhythm. You don’t rally around it and measure the progress for it in a rhythmic, regular fashion. So it just becomes another thing you tried that never worked out.”
The objectives laid out a formula and provided the rhythm to keep things moving.
It’s not always an easy thing to do to stop and reflect on things like values, mission and vision. But those leaders who think their time is better spent on other things, or that their business is going well already and doesn’t need to look at such things, ignore these components at their own peril.
“I read a quote from Jack Welch a long time ago,” Rohani says. “He said, ‘Change before you have to.’ So it goes back to the biggest challenge for a business, which for me is managing change. Not responding to change, but managing it. Changing before you have to.”
How to reach: Neudesic LLC, (800) 805-1805 or www.neudesic.com
The Rohani File
Name: Parsa Rohani
Title: Co-founder and CEO
Company: Neudesic LLC
Born: Montgomery, Ala.
Education: Electrical engineering degree, University of Southern California.
What was your first job and what did it teach you? I was a sales clerk at a department store called Bullock’s, which eventually got bought by Macy’s. It helped teach me that you need to value your people because they certainly didn’t value their sales clerks. I was still going to school, so it was a part-time job, but I worked hard. The register recorded how much you sold per hour, and I was the top guy. I sold more per hour than anyone else. Six months after I started, I went in to ask for a raise, and they raised me from $3.80 to $3.90 an hour.
Who has been the most influential person in your life? My father. I love my mother dearly, but I got a lot of the values I have from my father, like integrity. If you do the right thing, are always truthful and are honest with yourself and others, you’ll have nothing to worry about.
What person would you like to meet? I’ve met him, but I would say it would be Bill Gates. What I admire about him is his ability to change the world. First he created the largest most successful software company and made computers commonplace. Before Microsoft, computers weren’t so prolific. He created that.
What I really admire about the guy is now he has turned his focus and attention to changing the world through his foundation. If you look at most businessmen who are successful, that’s what they do. All they do is run their business. It’s a very unique individual that is able to do both.
Take time to refocus off-site.
Push your team for strong solutions.
Establish a rhythm.