Trust is very important to Pat Patel, and it is one of the keys to his leadership of Intelliswift Software Inc.
Patel puts a lot of trust in the members of his senior management staff, and he empowers them with the authority to make decisions. The founder, president and CEO of Intelliswift says entrusting his employees with information and responsibility shows them that the company values their work.
Intelliswift, which specializes in software services and systems integration, has grown its revenue 367 percent from 2003 to 2006.
Smart Business spoke with Patel about why hierarchies can be bad for business and why you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario.
Q: How involved should a leader be in the day-to-day operations?
All the people in the company should be involved in the day-to-day operations as much as the leader is. Now, ‘day-to-day operations’ doesn’t necessarily mean diving down into the nitty-gritty or micromanaging. But at the same time, for a fast-growing start-up, the leader needs to be involved in the operations side.
Now, once you grow the organization, the leader doesn’t really need to go out and get the business, but there are a lot of operational issues. Even though we have senior people who really do take care of the operations, most people look up to the leaders.
When I say leaders, it’s not just me; it’s the leaders I’ve delegated. People look up to the leaders and expect them to know what’s going on with the company, what’s going on with the employees, what’s going on with the products. At any given point in time, the leader needs to know what’s going on in each department. If there are areas of weaknesses or strengths, leaders should be aware of highlighting those or bringing up the weaknesses and helping in those areas.
Q: How do you manage growth?
That’s an area I’ve always believed you should be ahead of the game. Instead of doing it as a reactive process, do it as a proactive process. So, if we see we are headed for major growth in the next two quarters, then we end up hiring more people on the operations side first.
Rather than thinking, ‘Let’s first make the money, then add more people to operations,’ we always think ahead of the process to keep it running smooth.
At the same time, for a fast-growing start-up, the financials play a key role. When you’re growing too fast, your operations have to run at the same speed as your growth and so do your finances. If the leader is not able to really envision the financial growth or put together the right processes and finances in place, eventually, the same growth can crumble the company.
Q: How do you empower your employees?
Take people at a low level and start giving them autonomy. Let them put together their own teams, run their own projects in their area. It affects them in a very positive way. People with two or three years of experience do have the maturity, and if you give them the autonomy, then they are really excited to run with it.
They are so excited because of the autonomy that it starts reflecting on the people who work for them. It has helped us retain the excitement; the commitment flows automatically, and the trust gets built up.
Q: How do you create an atmosphere of trust?
Anybody can have access to any organization without going through the hierarchies. There’s always the case where you have to talk to your manager first, but that doesn’t mean everything has to be documented and flow through the hierarchy, which takes a long time.
We are a very nimble company, a very fast-growing start-up. If I try to put hierarchies in place, then things start taking their own sweet time.
People have access to all levels. They can tap into different groups in the company, so it’s more like a flat structure. They don’t have to set up appointments or get approvals from multiple levels.
Access to different groups keeps a healthy team spirit within the organization. People don’t feel intimidated by not being able to have access to specific areas.
Q: What are some pitfalls a CEO should avoid?
Most companies fail because there’s not a vision during the growth phase. Market conditions can change; financial conditions change. If things are going good, that’s not always going to be the case. So, you have to be prepared for the worst-case scenario. At the same time, you have to have a vision of where the markets are headed.
Keep abreast of what’s out there. Always keep a close eye on your competition. You can pretty much avoid the pitfalls of a down market if you plan in advance. Like IBM says, ‘Planning is half the job done.’
HOW TO REACH: Intelliswift Software Inc., (510) 490-9240 or www.intelliswift.com