Technology plays a key role in bringing together distributed teams and serving as a bridge between businesses and customers. In this dialogue with Elevoro CEO Hiba Sharief, CIO at Gainsight Karl Mosgofian talks managing growth in IT and how best to manage a remote-working team.
Hiba Sharief: Hi Karl. Talk to us a little bit about how you are managing growth. What are some of the focus areas for you as you grow?
Karl Mosgofian: There are challenges in any company. There are challenges when you’re shrinking, and that’s a very unpleasant and difficult challenge. There are challenges when you’re stagnant. I think in some ways those maybe the hardest situations to manage. Growth is a good problem to have, but it’s definitely a challenge. You’re hanging on for dear life.
I think the thing is that you can throw technology at problems. To some things, you can throw people at them. The most important thing is to start building the process layer. When I came in, we had help desk people who were working like crazy. What we didn’t have were strong processes.
“That’s the trick to this whole thing. It’s not just technology, it’s how you connect that technology to what people are trying to do.”
When you come in and find IT people that are working really hard, but things are slipping through the cracks, customers are upset. The fix to that, at a certain point is not just to throw more people at it. It’s to say, “No. We need to get better organized.”
I think, right now, that’s my biggest focus: putting the foundation, the process, and the structures in place. Then when you add people to it, it’s effective. It’s almost like you build this machine and if you build it right, then you can turn the crank faster and it works. But if you don’t build the machine right it doesn’t matter how fast you turn the crank. It’s not really going to work.
Sharief: Now that you’re on the leadership side in IT, how does your background in enterprise apps and enterprise architecture help you? What are some of the things that you can advise your fellow CIOs out there?
Mosgofian: I think that you can end up as a CIO from the infrastructure side, from the IT side, or from the security side. There’s a lot of different routes to get there. But, when you do, you need some knowledge across all of those things. You get something valuable from all of those, but the applications area specifically. It’s a lot about business processes and customer relationships.
Applications people spend the bulk of their time talking to people in the line of business, understanding how their world works and managing the customer relationship with them. When you’re in the application side of IT, it’s like being a consultant. It requires soft skills. Those skills are the exact skills you need if you’re going to be a CIO. You need to be able to talk to senior people in all the business groups, build relationships, build trust, and you need to understand their world well enough to help them bridge the gap between what they’re trying to accomplish from a business standpoint, and what technology can do.
That’s the trick to this whole thing. It’s not just technology, it’s how you connect that technology to what people are trying to do. If you were coming at things from an operations standpoint, you don’t have that applications background. Finding opportunities to play those kind of roles and get that kind of experience is very helpful.
In large IT organizations, quite often there’s a role that’s like a client partner and it often cuts across all of IT. I had the opportunity to play that role at Cadence and it was a fantastic learning experience. Those are the kind of opportunities that, if you have aspirations to get to CIO, you should definitely seek out and try.
“[C]ommunication is so important to everything.”
Sharief: You mentioned that you spend quite a bit of time working from home. What are your thoughts on a flexible and remote workforce, even as it relates to building teams?
Mosgofian: It’s interesting because it’s new to me. I haven’t really worked at a company that’s quite this distributed and focused on this idea that it doesn’t matter where you are. But we want to stay very tightly connected. For instance, I’ve worked in companies before where we had all of the infrastructure to do video teleconferencing. But it wasn’t the norm. No one actually turned the camera on. So you can give people technology but there’s a cultural piece to this as well.
The flip side of that is, at Gainsight, everybody turns their camera on, all the time. It’s just what we do. And, I think part of that is we are very distributed, we don’t really have a headquarters, so to speak. Even in the US, we’re in San Francisco, Redwood City, St. Louis, and Phoenix. About half the company is in India. So even if you’re in the office, quite often somebody in the meeting is dialing in.
It’s super important from just an IT standpoint to make sure in a modern company like that, that you have good tools, your conference rooms are set up well. That’s a constant battle. I’m not sure I know anyone who’s completely happy with all that, but we keep making it as good as we can make it.
Sharief: How are you, as an organization, managing this distributed team?
Mosgofian: It’s a big challenge. We do a fair amount of travel to try to make sure people are physically together. But I would say the India/US thing is the toughest one in terms of cost. We’re half and half, so it’s a lot of people to being one way or the other. We do travel where we can. But we really lean heavily on things like video as a way to bridge the gap when we’re not able to bring everybody together very often. For us it’s super important to be able to do this with technology. But there’s no substitute and you’ve got to try and do as much of that as you can, practically, within your budget.
Certainly, I make sure to travel a fair amount. I think it’s really important for the team to feel connected to me, to feel comfortable coming to me. I want to have my finger on the pulse of what’s going on everywhere in the world. Again, you’ve got to get out there. There’s no substitute for face to face.
Sharief: What advice do you have for companies and CIOs that are moving into a more global workforce?
Mosgofian: I think there are obviously specific challenges around global, international teaming. Those time zone differences are very difficult. For the people, let’s say in India, it’s really tough. I think just having some sensitivity, frankly, and really trying to think about it from their perspective, is super important.
It’s also really important to introspect what works best for you. Because to some extent, that’s individual. There may be some common things, let’s say in India, but if someone says, “These are the hours that I’m usually having dinner”, that’s what I really want to avoid. I’ve had people say, “I’m actually okay to do a call pretty late India time, it’s the in-between time in the evening that’s bad for me.” I’m like, “Okay, fine. I can work around your schedule.” I think a lot of it is trying to really have that sensitivity and do things that really work for everyone.
The other thing is, I’ve noticed that there’s this tendency where everybody feels like there’s something going on that they’re not hearing about. There’s this natural human tendency to just feel like-
Hiba Sharief: FOMO, right? Fear of missing out.
Mosgofian: Right. “There must be something going on in headquarters, at that other office, and I’m not hearing …” And then the second someone hears about something that they hadn’t heard about before, they’re like, “See, they didn’t tell us that, that was going on.”
So I think that communication is so important to everything. You can’t communicate enough. One of the things that we find very helpful is Slack. It encourages a kind of informal communication. So, things that you wouldn’t necessarily put into an email, you’ll throw into a Slack message. It helps you create that comfort with sharing all kinds of stuff, casually, and that helps break down some of that communication barrier.
At the end of the day, if you’re trying to build a team, and especially a distributed team, trust is hugely important. That’s why getting people together face-to-face is important. That’s where you build relationships and comfort and trust.
Sharief: Karl, it’s been such a pleasure having you on. Thank you so much.
Mosgofian: Yeah, it’s great to see you.