Interviewee: Jay Bhow is a Vice President at Lithium Technologies
Interviewer: Preeti Anand is a Director & Practice Head at Zinnov
Global Center setups are on an upswing. What is really encouraging is the fundamental shift seen in the DNA of new Global In-house Centers. These centers no longer focus only on scale and lift-and-shift of existing work from the HQ; rather, they are smaller and more focused entities, driving core engineering for products that are completely new to the organization. This marks a paradigm shift in the role of a GIC leader from delivery excellence to transformational leadership.
So it’s only natural to start at the beginning, by delving into the key priorities of a GIC leader in the crucial first 100 days of a new center. The pertinent question that all GIC leaders need to ask themselves in such a scenario – How should the foundation of the Global In-house Center be designed in order to ensure that the local site delivers on strategic business outcomes from its inception, rather than as a natural process of increased maturity and scale of operations over a period of time?
This interview delves deeper into that question and provides insights from our discussion with Lithium Technologies India center head, Mr. Jay Bhow. Lithium is a Bay Area-based company, that has enabled global brands such as AT&T, Fitbit, Samsung, Airbnb, Sephora, etc., to digitally engage with their customers through online communities and build strong, trusted relationships. The India center is in its third year of operations, and in a relatively short time, has demonstrated that its local teams can truly own and deliver end-to-end world class products for global customers.
Lithium’s core products are 100% SaaS (born in the cloud) and we manage ~500 million new digital interactions daily, with ~100 million monthly visitors. Hence, for us, 24×7 availability and managing scale of operations is paramount; we focus on providing a complete set of solutions for social customer engagement, along with deep analytics to ensure global brands can build strong customer relationships through a great digital experience.
What we provide to our customers is cutting-edge, and for us at India center, it was imperative that we build something of lasting value. It started by first defining what we wanted and then we worked on how we would go about doing it. At Lithium India, we were very clear from the beginning that we would focus on solving the harder problems first. The most critical element of this was to get an endorsement at the CEO level, without which we knew we wouldn’t be able to make this vision a reality.
We focused on certain principles that largely involved:
As a site leader, I traveled to the US at least 2-3 times in the first 100 days to meet our teams in the HQ. This helped me gain a strong understanding of our customers, partners, and products. It also helped build a level of trust, which was instrumental to convince the HQ that the success of the India center depended on them working with us as equals as opposed to seeing it as a team that was 8000 miles away. A major part of my time was spent meeting with core business leaders to convince them that we had a one-time shot to impact change, and that we needed to make it count.
We created a rock solid agenda for every C-level visit (create a vision of what portion of the business will be in India in 2-3 years), and ensured that it was outcome-driven (see things happening on the ground). This also helped us in creating strong advocates for the India center in HQ, which also played a key role in defining the strategic importance of the India site.
We had taken on a charter to set up a team to manage one of the social media platforms. It was a difficult project for us to begin with – required higher engagement with end customers and continuous touch points with a highly active online community. The design of the platform and the security requirements were complex. We had set up a brand new team, but soon realized that it would be challenging to drive it from here. So we had to shut it down, returned the budgets, and reassigned the people to other projects. That was a hard call but I think we learnt how to let go when it wasn’t working out. We also realized that it is important to have other support teams such as HR, Quality, etc., integrated with the core project teams, and is especially important when you have to take tough calls.
When we set up the center, we sent a report out to C-staff every month. This was primarily around 3 areas:
Measuring the results in isolation wasn’t enough to gauge the progress, we realized. We needed to focus on the behaviors of the leaders, the employees, the team dynamics as well. This is where seeding the right culture mattered. The report out to C-staff helped the HQ get more visibility on our progress, and also more importantly, partner with us in addressing any challenges that arose.
However, as we scaled and started delivering on our goals, the report outs became less frequent, ultimately terminating them after 6-8 months. No other global center did a report out, and we were no different. Instead of report outs, we replaced it with more frequent and open communication, along with encouraging more meet-ups.
a) I think we would focus on driving a product-led agenda vs. an engineering-led one. For any business, its customers need to be the starting point. But we probably hired our Product Managers a lot later than when we should have. We now have a healthy number of Product Managers; but hiring them early on, along with Head of Engineering and Quality, would have forced us to answer the questions of Why/What we are building, and then get into the “How”.
b) Another area would have been to push for expat relocation for a period of 6 months to a year, to help us collaborate more strongly with HQ, tap into their domain expertise and global network, and also mentor and groom local leadership.
c) As is common, we made our share of hiring mistakes. Initially, we were looking to get people from upcoming start-ups who were used to operating in a ‘crisis mode.’ However, when they joined, they had different expectations, which led to an expectation mismatch. We learnt from those mistakes and have changed the hiring profile that has ensured stability from year two onwards. However, one thing has been consistent – we never focused on attrition as a number – it is more important to focus on who we lose rather than worry about the numbers as a measure.
We are mid-way in our journey. We are trying to build a deeper sense of ownership across our data platform, data engineering, and social intelligence teams. The Product Managers here are driving the roadmaps rather than being directed from HQ. However, we still need to establish strong customer centricity – the Indian customers are beginning to get more brand savvy, and we are seeing some opportunity here. We have also started taking POVs on globally relevant topics, e.g., on GDPR, and doing roadshows on the same for our teams in Europe. We need to think more holistically about the impact we create, and over the next few years, help influence the decision-making with strategic initiatives.
We are banking on the superb capabilities of a very talented staff, and their impactful contribution is testimonial that we have a world-class team. This is indeed a great time to be working for Lithium Bangalore!