In this edition of ‘CEO Insights’, we have Mr. Sandeep Bhargava, who is the Chief Executive Officer at Provana. In his conversation with Rahul Mahajan, Country-Lead of Great Manager Awards, he shares with us his thoughts on organizational vision and competencies of great leaders.

Rahul: How would you describe your leadership style? 

Sandeep: If you combine authentic leadership with an entrepreneurial mindset, I think that combination is what best describes who I am as a leader. I tend to lead with purpose, and my purpose tends to be very aggressive and very large. I percolate that down to my employees. Some employees just want a good job, they don’t want to stretch themselves. I’m very transparent with them when they join the organization. However, for the ones who want to strive to get to the next level, I want them to understand what they can be, and what is the purpose of the company.

In my last venture, when I sold the business of a large company, we came up with this phrase called enabling transformation.

Enabling transformation is about what a company can do to create an ecosystem where an employee can shine, can be empowered with all the tools that they need to be the best of themselves.”

If you talk to any of my former employees, they will describe that I tend to demand a lot, I will push you to do more if that is what you need from me unless you tell me otherwise.

Another part of me sees it as important to be a role model. I’ve seen since the early days of my career, that there are leaders who will preach what they do not practice. Employees can see it. So, you have to be a role model, and a good role model at every level.

The last tenet for me is that life is too short and you have to be bold you have to go after your dreams. I want my company, my employees, even my clients to dream big. So, that is how I would define my leadership style.

Rahul: Who have been some major influencers or mentors in your life?

Sandeep: I’ve had some close professional mentors in my career. One individual, his name is Paul Himes, is probably the best mentor I’ve ever had. I learned a lot from him about how to think big, but also how to make your big thoughts and ideas real. Anybody can say, I want to build a billion-dollar business, right? But where’s the roadmap to build that? He is very good at creating that roadmap and helped me look at ideas from that perspective.

During the early 2000s, at the boom of IT services in India, I got a chance to know Narayana Murthy very well. I was influenced by him, his authenticity, and his principles. Working with him and seeing the culture he was building in the process inspired me.

Basab Pradhan, who is a very good friend of mine, is a big influencer in my life. I saw him evolve at the same time that I was evolving, which made a great impression on me. Lastly, my business partner, Karen, who I have known for the last 23 years has been a mentor to me, in many ways especially in terms of challenging clients and working with them to build a long-term relationship

Rahul: What is the vision of your firm? How do you ensure that everyone in the firm is working towards that vision? 

Sandeep: I have evolved in my thinking in terms of looking at what my purpose is, and what am I trying to do. From a Provana perspective, for the past 9 years, our vision has been to build an India-centric, full solutions company that focuses on small-medium businesses in the US. An added vision for me is how to do that and be profitable. The efficiency of the operating model is very important.

How do we make sure everybody lives this? Firstly, it’s impossible for me, in a 1000 plus employee company to interact with every employee, every day. So, I do town hall meetings every three to four months to make sure that everybody is hearing from me. I call myself a parrot because I repeat myself a lot so that everyone gets the message.

The second important thing is to make sure that my next level, the middle management layer strongly believes in our mission. Many of them have worked for more than 5 years, and I call them the custodians of Provana. If I disappear, I think the company will still run and run very well because of them. I just keep checking with them and making sure that they are doing the same thing and creating the next level.

“In my mind, the middle management level, often becomes the custodian of the vision, because it’s difficult for the executive team to be the only custodian.”

Rahul: What are critical competencies or capabilities, that are required of great managers?

Sandeep: The first competency I look for is what I define as intellectual intensity – or how curious are you? How curious are you about your business mission? About your company? What’s happening in the marketplace? What’s happening in the ecosystem? How are we growing, right? I believe curiosity is a very important competency.

The second competency is problem-solving. As middle management, you’re usually solving problems.

You need to have structure around problem-solving and you need to guide your employees on how to do the same.”

The third one, which is practice really, is intellectual intensity. Is it in your mind? Or are you looking at computers and other sources to retrieve it?

“The mind is a muscle and you can practice making this data storing a natural part of who you are as a manager. It’s important for middle managers also to invest the time in their employees to help them with their career roadmap.” 

Rahul: If you face a situation where and you’re interviewing a candidate for a leadership position, and you only get to ask one question, what would that question be?

Sandeep: I almost always ask this question especially for the leadership position – who do you want to be? I think it’s very important for me to hear from them. Who do you want to be in three to five years? It’s interesting that even though it’s a commonly asked question, and people prepare for it, you can see the authenticity of the individual through how they answer that question. If they answer that, “I want to be a better version of myself”, or “I want to get to the highest level in the organization that is possible for me”, then I know that this is a prepared answer that they read somewhere.

This, versus somebody, says that in five years, “I want to do this specific thing”. The specificity of that answer is very important for me to hear because that tells me this is a leader who is going to understand my pressure. This person will make their ideas instead of just doing without thinking. It helps me understand if this person is intellectually intense or not? Or are they just following a standard career roadmap?

Rahul: What are some of the X-factors that you feel should be developed in your leaders?

Sandeep: “I would say flexibility and how you pivot in a business model and operating model is very important.”

I think one thing the world has taught us in the last two years, is that you have to learn to deal with the unexpected. The only way to do this is to stay still focused on your overall mission or purpose but pivot quickly. Pivot means how do we get work done for clients? How do you make sure that you pivot to a new market? How do you have your operating model designed in a way that you’re using technology much more efficiently? I think that flexibility and the ability to pivot without compromising the objectives that you set for yourself, is the most important attribute for an executive team.

Rahul: What is the most common piece of advice you find yourself sharing with this generation?

Sandeep: A very common theme I see in the younger generation is restlessness. I think that they’re distracted and more restless than we were. They tend to be very short term in their thinking. This whole notion of a career roadmap seems to have been lost. They’re not focused on building the core skill set. The first few years in any job are just so important for you to understand and discover who you are; find what you are good at.

If you can introspect and understand yourself better, and use that to build a career roadmap for yourself, they’ll be so much happier in the long term. It’s difficult to convince them to do that because they’re restless. They’re looking for a way to make a little bit more money or be in a cooler job. I feel that if they don’t kill that restlessness there will be a problem. I feel that’s something that overall, this generation has to fight to deal with.