Intentional communication. When you’re in an office, information is shared through osmosis. When you’re remote, you have to be intentional about meetings and communication. At Sprinklr, we’ve tackled this challenge by implementing a number of strategies that help employees collaborate and share information — daily heartbeat meetings, a consistent global company All Hands, consistent email updates and a daily internal YouTube show that keeps everyone updated.
As a part of our series about the five things you need to successfully manage a remote team, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ragy Thomas.
Ragy Thomas is the CEO & Founder of Sprinklr. Over the past 15+ years he has played an instrumental role in the evolution of two business-critical channels for the enterprise: social media and email.
As founder and CEO of Sprinklr, the leading Customer Experience Management (CXM) platform, his mission is to enable every organization on the planet to make their customers happier.
Prior to founding Sprinklr, Ragy was the president of Epsilon’s (NYSE:ADS) Interactive Services from 2006 to 2008, and the CTO of Bigfoot Interactive, an email marketing leader that Epsilon acquired in 2005.
Ragy earned his M.B.A. in Finance and Information Systems from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and his Computer Science Engineering degree from Pondicherry University in India.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. What is your “backstory”?
I was born in India, moved around quite a bit growing up, including a short stint in Nigeria. Being able to live in many different places with different cultures was one of the biggest blessings. It gave me the ability to see commonalities between different people and cultures, and gave me almost a naive sense of trust in people. I still go through life with the belief that there is goodness in everyone, and that everyone deserves to be happier.
Even though I’m an entrepreneur, I didn’t grow up wanting to start a business. My parents were very driven but entrepreneurship didn’t run in my family — my dad was a professor and my mom worked for the government. But I’ve always grown up wanting to solve big problems.
When I moved to the U.S., I ended up working at a dotcom business. I co-founded an email marketing startup that later became Bigfoot Interactive. We sold the company to Epsilon in 2005 and I stayed on as President of Epsilon Interactive.
I left Epsilon in 2008, because I saw a massive problem that needed to be solved — the disruption of social media and modern channels on the way companies communicate with customers. I knew that if consumers were embracing social media, businesses would need to be on social, and they’d need help managing this.
The need to solve this problem is what formed the foundation of Sprinklr, which was founded in September 2009 with a small team in my spare bedroom. Today, Sprinklr has expanded from social into a unified Customer Experience Management (CXM) platform and is valued at 2.7 billion dollars. Our customers include some of the largest brands in the world — Amazon, Microsoft, McDonald’s — and we’re deeply passionate about helping these brands make their customers happier.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
When I started Sprinklr, I had already checked all the boxes. I had a wonderful family and enough to live my life happily. But, I saw a problem that had to be solved. So, the most interesting turning point was when I first realized this problem existed — social media and digital, channels were going to disrupt business just like email had, and companies needed a way to manage this disruption. It seems obvious now — of course customers are reaching out to brands on social media. Of course brands would need a way to manage their marketing, customer service and engagement on social media, because that’s where customers are. But in the early 2000s, this was inimaginable for so many people. So I threw everything into Sprinklr, and everything into our clients.
One of our first clients was Microsoft. In the early days, my contact at Microsoft told me that Sprinklr was being used across marketing and care. That’s when I knew that we were building a platform that could help brands collaborate across silos internally, to manage customer experiences externally.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the early days of Sprinklr, we had a list of adjectives and “dos and don’ts” to describe our employee culture. In hindsight this is such a funny mistake, because that’s not how you should ever think about a company’s culture. These “dos and don’ts” never reflected the real, core values of the company. So we switched the way we thought about culture, and instead thought of the values that united Sprinklr employees. This became what we call The Sprinklr Way — our values for working, living and being.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help their employees to thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s all integrated living. Everyone talks about work/life balance, but in reality it’s just one life, so don’t separate them. Most people go through life working to live, which means you work much longer when you’re 20 and work until you retire at 65. Those are the best years of your life. You’re only young once. Take the boundaries of 9 to 5 away. If you need to take a break to walk your dog — do it. If you need to bring your kid to an appointment — do it. Find things that you can enjoy, be around people you enjoy. I know it’s a little dreamy, but it’s what I call integrated living.
Ok, let’s jump to the core of our interview. Some companies have many years of experience with managing a remote team. Others have just started this, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Can you tell us how many years of experience you have managing remote teams?
From the beginning, Sprinklr has always had employees around the world. We are geographically distributed even at the executive level, with our Chief Technology Officer located in India and Chief Revenue Officer located in Italy. We now have more than 2,200 employees in 21 countries to support our global clients. From the beginning, we were lucky to have the infrastructure in place to enable our employees to work efficiently no matter where they are based. However, we do have major offices in New York, Austin, San Francisco, London, Gurgaon, Bangalore, etc., so COVID-19 absolutely pushed us to think about how we can maintain the same culture, employee engagement, and collaboration for employees who typically work in offices on a daily basis.
Managing a team remotely can be very different than managing a team that is in front of you. Can you articulate for our readers what the five main challenges are regarding managing a remote team? Can you explain how to address those challenges?
1) Intentional communication. When you’re in an office, information is shared through osmosis. When you’re remote, you have to be intentional about meetings and communication. At Sprinklr, we’ve tackled this challenge by implementing a number of strategies that help employees collaborate and share information — daily heartbeat meetings, a consistent global company All Hands, consistent email updates and a daily internal YouTube show that keeps everyone updated.
2) Balancing home life and work. It’s easy to blur the line between work and home life when you’re working remotely, so we’ve tried to encourage what we call “integrated living.” This means encouraging employees to block time in their schedule to take a walk and a lunch break, to grab their kid from school, to go to an appointment, etc. We also provide daily virtual meditation sessions and virtual workout classes to support healthy living.
3) Shared understanding of goals. Aligning on goals with your team and manager can be a challenge when working remotely. At Sprinklr, all employees create goals following the W2HMO process (What/Why/How/Metrics/Obstacles) which helps align everyone from top-to-bottom of the organization to the big corporate goals. To make sure we stay focused on those goals, managers ask their direct reports on a quarterly basis, “How are you performing against your W2HMO? on a 1–10 scale?” And then the follow up question, “What are three things you can do to ensure you meet your stated goals and initiatives?” Our goal is to encourage employees to listen, seek alignment, and make adjustments to their goals as needed.
4) Cultivating a strong culture. Working alone and remotely can make it difficult for leaders to engage with employees and spread the company’s unique culture. To improve this, we’ve encouraged managers and offices to have their own weekly virtual happy hours and host virtual games so that employees stay connected no matter where they are located. We also encourage employees to be flexible with their communications channels — pick up the phone to call someone if you need help, send them a Slack message, or text them. You don’t need to rely on a regimented communication structure.
5) Connecting employees. The emotional connection can often be lost when working in a remote environment. If calls are now 20% less effective than meeting in person, then you have to put 20% more effort in to make a connection. I always use my video in meetings and we encourage all Sprinklr employees to use video whenever possible in order to build an intentional connection with others.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of managing a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote employee?
My Executive Leadership Team meets every day. On Tuesday we have our long meetings. We start out with everyone describing their highs and lows for the week. 9 out of 10 those high or lows don’t have to do with work. When we say we treat each other like family — we really do that. We go through each other’s pain. This is all done virtually. This type of honest communication happens in manager and direct report meetings, too. Managers are encouraged to give direct feedback via video calls, and on a quarterly basis direct reports are asked to measure their happiness on a scale of 1–10. Then, they explain to their manager what three things need to change to increase their happiness. This process connects the manager to the employee in an honest, open way.
Can you share any suggestions for teams who are used to working together on location but are forced to work remotely due to the pandemic. Are there potential obstacles one should avoid with a team that is just getting used to working remotely?
People are happier at their personal best which allows them to be at their professional best. Working remotely can be incredibly challenging for some people, so it’s important not to lose sight of employee wellness.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
The pandemic has caused us to pause and think about what really makes people happy. Did people ever really choose to work for you because of the free food? Do you really need office parties to keep people happy? The best hours of the day are spent working, so what really makes that time meaningful? It’s the journey that matters. It’s the people you work with, and the values you cultivate. It’s not about the free food. It’s not about the parties. I urge everyone to enjoy every single second of the journey.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s not really a quote, but the idea of gratitude has always been really important to me. I’m so grateful to be alive. I’m grateful for my health. For my family. For the Sprinklr community. Being grateful helps me go through life with an optimistic view that things will work out, and no matter what I’ve been lucky.
Thank you for these great insights!