This month we sat down with Ajay Batish, CEO of Incapsulate, whose corporate culture is centered around innovation. Check out this interview below!
Helios HR: What’s your biggest challenge today and how are you overcoming it?
Ajay Batish: It is not a new challenge, but it’s the most important one for a business like ours — getting good people and keeping them. The market for talent is tougher than ever, especially in technology. Good talent has options and these days, given how connected the world is (social networking, mobile, twitter, etc.), the next interesting thing for them to chase is only a click away.
Keeping good talent starts with the work — we’ve got to have interesting projects to keep our staff engaged. But keeping good talent also means giving them the flexibility to grow, both professionally and personally. So we encourage our employees to always be learning, whether formally or informally. We give them opportunities to play with new technology, to look at new products that we might want to use as a company or for our clients.
And we give them the ability to work in the way that best suits their individual needs. We have to deliver for our clients, but how we do that is up to us. If people work better remotely, or need to take a break in the middle of the day to hit the gym, we don’t mind. In fact, if you don’t take care of yourself first, you won’t be able to take care of anything or anyone else.
Ultimately, it is about giving people work that matters — and giving people the context to realize how they are adding value. If our teams understand what they are delivering — and really get the outcomes our clients are going after, whether it is improving access to healthcare for the sick, or giving students with special needs the educational services they deserve — the rest takes care of itself.
Helios: How are you growing and developing your team at Incapsulate?
Ajay: It starts with employee engagement. Given that we’re in such a dynamic industry, we only hire people who enjoy and seek continuous growth. But growth happens in different ways for different people, so engaging each employee as an individual to understand what’s important to them and intersect that with the opportunities we can provide or support allows us to chart the path together.
The most important strategy to developing individuals, is challenging them with opportunities that they don’t believe are possible, and then providing them with enough support and encouragement to help them understand what is. For me, it’s rewarding to see people achieve what they thought was unachievable and bloom in the process.
To make this work, people need positive feedback combined with smaller doses of coaching, encouragement during the tough challenges, context around the importance and value of their work, and providing them the flexibility to get their work done in the way that suits them best.
These days, we’re very focused on building a leadership team and culture that is people-focused. We’ve engaged Helios as a thought partner to help us on this journey because we know we don’t have all the answers. As a consulting firm, our assets leave the building every night (if they even came to the building in the first place). So I have to ensure that every senior person I bring in shares that same vision and is focused on taking care of their teams and providing people opportunities to develop. It may not take a village… but it certainly takes a team.
Helios: How do you encourage innovation within your organization?
Ajay: The key is giving our teams the space to think creatively, which means as the CEO, I have to set a tone of openness and collaboration — and encourage people to surface new ideas, no matter what they may be. And I have to make sure my leadership team feels and thinks the same way, because as we continue to grow, I can’t reach out to every employee directly. So my focus is now on growing leaders who can then themselves encourage and sponsor innovation.
And as a technology firm, we can’t be innovative if people don’t have access to the best tools. So we encourage our staff, especially our developers, to get the best hardware out there. You’ll see lots of Macbook Pros for example, although people are free to pick the device of their choosing. We also give everyone an allowance to get the newest smartphone, which is their phone to keep — not Incapsulate’s. And if they need new software — be it a development tool, or productivity tool, or something altogether different, they don’t need to fight through some bureaucratic IT department to get it.
Ajay: As a technology consulting firm, we are eating our own dogfood and making use of innovative tools and technologies to stay connected. We use cloud-based collaborative and communications tools such as Google Apps, Skype, GoToMeeting, Asana and Salesforce to make sure teams can stay in touch, and be productive no matter where they are. We have standing calls and meetings to share information and bring remote teams together.
We also get our people back to Washington, DC — where we are headquartered — several times a year. As powerful as technology can be for connecting a company across the country and the world, face-to-face meetings will always be important.
Helios: What’s the best piece of advice anyone’s ever given you?
Ajay: My father once told me, “You haven’t learned something until you’ve taught it”. For us, this means being active in engaging mentors and mentees internally.
Helios: Tell us one thing most people don’t know about you…
Ajay: Well, despite being a technologist, I’m an avid vegetable gardener! Apart from the satisfaction of working with my hands, being outdoors, and enjoying incredible food, it’s a reminder about the virtues of patience and hard work.
Mother Nature demands long-term planning combined with daily nurturing. You can’t make up for a week of not watering or planting at the wrong time. It’s a demonstration of the power of diversity in harmony: microbes, compost, worms, pollinators, and the weather… once again, it takes a team. (Though I wouldn’t mind a few less squirrels in my vegetable patch!)