Talent = Intellect + Work Ethic + Attitude. The most important decision any leader makes is about talent. One common mistake I see is a flawed hiring process. Hiring managers are busy and have lots of demands on their time. They often rely on others to identify candidates, screen talent and make hiring recommendations. When hiring becomes routine, managers typically make a choice between the candidates presented to them, often resulting in the question, “which of these two people are the best?” However, that’s the wrong question. The question they should ask is “if I had to pay this person from my own bank account every two weeks, would I do it happily?”. If the answer is no, then that hiring manager needs to engage with everyone in the process to reset expectations and show up differently. I’ve found that most people default to looking for candidates who already know how to do a specific job, placing less emphasis on the candidate’s ability to learn, grow and how their attitude will impact their effectiveness. Specific skills and experience is good; however I believe that hiring smart people that will work hard and have a positive attitude is usually the best option. Skills and experience can be learned, but I don’t have an interest or the time to teach work ethic nor change someone’s attitude.
I had the pleasure to interview Moneesh Arora the Chief Service Officer at Paycor.
Thank you so much for joining us Moneesh! What is your “backstory”?
My family immigrated to the United States when I was very young, and as a result, I had to create my own opportunities. From an early age, I learned the value of a strong work ethic, the art of persuasion and using intuition to differentiate and succeed. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had multiple careers and a wide range of experiences before ever graduating college. From my first job, at the age of ten delivering newspapers, to pumping gas when I was fourteen, then starting my own music production company at the age of fifteen, I learned that a combination of hard work and creativity could open doors. My passion for music led me to become a successful touring DJ and Billboard magazine reporter at the age of 17. This afforded me a unique opportunity to work my way through engineering school, while running my own business and exposing me to many cultures and perspectives. My “street education” has proven to be as valuable as my formal education. While running my music business, I earned a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering from The New Jersey Institute of Technology. Later in my career I knew I wanted to be a general manager and transform businesses, which led me to earn a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in Finance from New York University’s Stern School of Business (NYU Stern).
My passion for building winning teams and solving complex problems has led me to take on increasing challenges as a General Manager and C-Level leader throughout my 25-year career. I am rarely satisfied with the status quo and continually challenge myself and others to grow and transform. While some may see a glass as half empty, I see the need to ask why the glass exists in the first place. I strive to deliver extraordinary results and growth through constant disruption, reinvention and innovation. I believe that the most important role of a leader is to help people find meaning in their lives and through their work. My greatest reward in life comes from helping people achieve their life’s goals, while also learning how to become a more effective leader
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your division/company?
During my first month at Paycor I read about a charity event coming up. It was for a good cause and I wanted to contribute. Associates donated money to “pie someone in the face” for a good cause. Rather than just donate money, I also volunteered to be “pied”. After a busy day of meetings, I showed up to the event in business attire, not putting too much advance thought into it. When I arrived, I was surprised to find a long line of associates waiting for me, with pies in hand, ready to go. Apparently, my participation was billed as the “main event” with many people donating extra so they could get to “pie” me. I got to meet a lot of great people, in unusual and fun circumstances, as they shook my hand to introduce themselves and then gave me a pie in the face. People were surprised that someone in my role would volunteer for such an event. I developed an immediate connection to the team and this interaction paved the way for others to reach out to me. Pictures of me getting multiple pies in the face, covered with whipped cream, went viral and spread across our various locations. It was all in good fun and something I would happily do all over again. I didn’t tell the team, but I have first-hand experience with “dunk tanks”, which are fun too!
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Sharing a common aspiration or goal is critical to collaboration and productive working relationships. Connecting each person to that common goal is the most important role of any leader. Once you get people focused on a collective goal and identify what’s in it for them, departmental lines and titles start to disappear. I have a strong belief that when you empower people and encourage them to identify problems and the solution, you quickly find that diversity of thought emerges, and solutions once never imagined, become possible. Otherwise, people tend to wait for someone with a title to make a decision or wait to be instructed on what to do. Taking this approach, I like to identify strategic initiatives and assign leaders and team members who sit across different locations and teams, to work together to drive outcomes.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
When managing teams across locations I often find that the quality of talent can vary by location, which makes it difficult to deliver a consistent client experience and business results. Strong leaders typically hire the strongest people. The quality of talent typically comes down to how involved a hiring manager is in the process and their definition of “quality”. To drive collaboration and consistency, I empower hiring managers to own the hiring process at their location, while including a peer manager from another location to participate in the process. And provide input on the candidate. This collaboration promotes consistency and provides another leadership voice into each hiring decision. It enables leaders across locations to provide input into talent decisions, while driving consistency and visibility — I’ve found that this process motivates leaders to maintain a high bar, while promoting an ownership culture across sites. This is an effective way of breaking down silos and building a strong culture.
What advice would you give to other top-level managers to help their employees to thrive?
There are three pieces of advice I give to managers. First, I encourage them to think and act like they are the CEO of the company when making daily decisions. This empowers people to think and act like an owner, with the big picture in mind. The second thing I do, is ask them, “is this the decision you would make if you had to write a check out of your personal bank account?”. It changes how managers view their impact, especially when hiring talent and proactively managing performance. The third thing I do is ask managers to think about their roles differently — to consider their role as someone who works for their team, not the other way around. My belief is that a leader’s main reason for existing is to remove obstacles for their team and identify opportunities to help each member of their team succeed. When you focus on enabling the success of others, it is highly likely you will have a high performing team, that will be aligned and ready to run through brick walls for their leader.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
Retaining talent is all about finding what motivates people and tapping into that motivation, both on a personal and professional level. On a personal level, most people are motivated by being able to provide for their families and their communities. Money and titles can be strong motivators professionally, but I’ve found those to be fleeting. Helping people identify and connect with their purpose or calling, on a personal and professional level, is when you truly begin to understand someone and what motivates them — only then can you begin to link their motivation to the impact they make each day. Most people want to find meaning in what they do and more importantly, understand how they impact other peoples’ lives for the better. Taking a big boring corporate goal, like revenue growth, and being able to translate that into how a front-line client service associate impacts an individual client’s success, and how that drives the company’s success, is very powerful and creates an emotional connection. The most impactful managers are the ones who find ways to connect people to something bigger than themselves, leading to a bigger meaning and a purpose.
Very talented people are hard to find, but they are also easy to retain, if you challenge them to grow in ways that tap into their unrealized potential. People generally avoid difficult conversations and if given an option, would rather be liked, than take a chance to provide challenging feedback. I often ask managers, “would you rather be liked or respected?” The best way to retain top talent is to be candid with them and coach them to do the right thing, which is often also the hardest thing. High performers will usually want this input and value the investment the leader is making in them, and respond by incorporating the feedback. Those who only want to hear positive feedback will not be open to input nor consider changing. I often find myself sharing feedback with peers and managers that others have been afraid to share.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
1. Give People Meaning. The most important thing a leader can do is connect people to their purpose in the organization. I am a big fan of Simon Sinek and “Start with Why”. Every communication I have with people at any level in my organization, I ask myself “why should they care about what I have to say”. I start presentations using the statement, “why should you care”. It captures peoples’ attention and disarms them. Recently I was presenting to 300 sales professionals who I knew had some challenging experiences over the past few months with a part of the business I recently took responsibility for. I began my talk by teeing up a list of controversial topics and self-critical issues that I knew they were concerned about — that immediately disarmed them, and they quickly realized I was there to take ownership and solve problems, which then allowed me to enroll them on a shared journey. Starting every communication with “why” we are doing something and how decisions are made, immediately creates transparency and builds trust. It demonstrates that the role of a leader is to support their people and remove obstacles.
2. People Remember How You Make Them Feel. From my own experience and from the teachings of Simon Sinek, I’ve learned that you can share data, feedback, opinions and charts, but in the end, people don’t remember what you say, as much as how you make them feel. I start every performance review with, “No matter what we talk about in the next hour, here is how I want you to feel when you leave the discussion…” That powerful statement acknowledges that we are all emotional beings and addresses feelings up front. Once you engage someone’s emotions, they can begin to actively listen, process facts, opinions and data more clearly. When you lead with the headline, you remove ambiguity. It can be a challenging way to communicate for timid managers, especially if you are engaging in a challenging conversation — you will need to accept up front that the associate receiving feedback may feel upset, angry or disagree. I leverage this method of communication on a regular basis, not just for performance reviews, so most people I interact with are never caught off guard with any feedback; they already know how I feel and how I want them to feel, as a result.
3. The Front Line Has All the Answers. I make it a point to block out 50% of my time to spend time with front line associates. They are closest to the customer and are the lifeblood of any business. By sitting 1:1 with associates across locations in every position in the company, I am able to learn things I’d never know about our people and clients. Front line associates know where the problems are, and they usually have the solutions. That’s feedback I took to heart, when I had the honor of hearing Ret. General Colin Powell speak at an executive offsite several years ago. He shared what he learned by talking to soldiers on the front lines. By talking to troops who were directly in harm’s way, he learned what they really needed to fight the enemy and what they weren’t getting fast enough from their commanders. In war, that timely critical feedback can be the difference between life and death. In business, it’s the difference between engaged people who feel supported and that of a culture of mediocrity. I challenge all of my managers to spend at least half their time with their people at their work desks, not in offices or conference rooms. As I’ve taken on more and more responsibility throughout my career, I’ve found myself spending more time in conference rooms, looking at PowerPoint decks to understand what’s going on in the business, not because I’ve wanted to, but rather because that’s the way most companies operate. This is very common scenario and is part of the reason executives lose touch with the people they lead. Data and presentations are important, but leaders need to remember that we lead people not PowerPoint decks — leaders need to be visible, actively listen and be accountable to their people. Being on the front lines often brings eye opening data and stories I’d never discover otherwise. From my associate 1:1’s, I often walk away with a list of “homework” items that I need to focus on to make the life our associates easier. I follow up with a list of notes to the front-line associate, sharing what I learned and what I plan to do with their feedback. It’s amazing how impactful this type of interaction is and how it gives me purpose to do more for my people.
4. Build Leaders, Not Followers. I’ve found that most leaders want to do the right thing, but some feel pressure to agree with their boss or those around them. This behavior can stifle creativity and innovation, leading to mediocrity and a very unfulfilling work environment. This mentality is often the beginning of the end for organizations and is why many people aren’t engaged by their work or inspired by what they do. A culture of transparency and accountability promotes individuals to take on leadership initiatives, at every level, and can inspire associates to take on challenges they never would have otherwise. One way to build leaders is to recognize that raising the bar is everyone’s job. I play my part by surrounding myself with people that are smarter and more creative than me. Every hiring decision I make, I ask myself, “is this someone I would want to work for”. If the answer is no, then why would anyone else want to work for them. I’ve learned from playing sports, that when I had strong players on my team or when we played a fierce competitor, it brought out the best in me and everyone on my team. To the contrary, when we played weaker opponents, we didn’t try as hard and sometimes lost our edge, potentially even losing to a weak competitor because we stopped caring. Hiring smart and opinionated people isn’t enough — to build a culture of leaders, it’s important for everyone to see that debate and constructive conflict is the foundation of a strong culture. As a leader, I find it very stimulating when people challenge my point of view or ask tough questions publicly — it demonstrates that diversity of thought is thriving, and that the best ideas don’t have to come from people with big titles or teams. I’ve found that people with the strong followership often don’t have titles at all, they simply have good ideas and focus on doing the right thing. Ultimately, people follow leaders, not titles. Anyone can be a leader, you just need to actively listen and ask for feedback, be authentic and put others needs before you own interests.
5. Talent = Intellect + Work Ethic + Attitude. The most important decision any leader makes is about talent. One common mistake I see is a flawed hiring process. Hiring managers are busy and have lots of demands on their time. They often rely on others to identify candidates, screen talent and make hiring recommendations. When hiring becomes routine, managers typically make a choice between the candidates presented to them, often resulting in the question, “which of these two people are the best?” However, that’s the wrong question. The question they should ask is “if I had to pay this person from my own bank account every two weeks, would I do it happily?”. If the answer is no, then that hiring manager needs to engage with everyone in the process to reset expectations and show up differently. I’ve found that most people default to looking for candidates who already know how to do a specific job, placing less emphasis on the candidate’s ability to learn, grow and how their attitude will impact their effectiveness. Specific skills and experience is good; however I believe that hiring smart people that will work hard and have a positive attitude is usually the best option. Skills and experience can be learned, but I don’t have an interest or the time to teach work ethic nor change someone’s attitude.
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.
When I have persevered in life, it’s often been as a result of someone either believing in me, which led me to do something great, or when someone doubted me, and I wanted to prove them wrong. From experience, I can say that “belief” is the most powerful human emotion. Whether it’s someone’s belief in their god, their cause or their own ability to overcome an obstacle, belief is what fuels humanity. Believing in someone is one of the most powerful things one human can do for another. That’s why I’d love to see a movement focused on mentoring and believing in “at risk” youth. A movement where everyday leaders could be a source of belief and inspiration for young people, who otherwise might not have someone to believe in them or guide them. I know there are youth mentoring groups out there, but I have yet to find one that has this specific focus and is tied to business in my community.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
There are many quotes that speak to me, but one attributed to Andrew Jackson is one I often use to help guide me and gives me strength, “One man with courage is a majority”.
In life and in business, I’ve learned that being popular feels great, but it is rarely fulfilling and is often temporary. As I’ve gotten older, I care less about what others think about me and I care more about speaking up for my truths and standing up for what I believe in. My beliefs and views aren’t always popular, in fact, they often challenge the status quo. As I continue to build belief in myself and the less I care about being popular, the more I am able to effect change in a meaningful way.