In May this year, Alida, a creator of the world’s first CXM & Insights Platform, has been awarded the Great Place to Work® certification. This was a wonderful invitation for our team to meet up with Alida’s CEO Ross Wainwright and find out more about his approach to people-centred leadership, trust, and accountability at the workplace. We wanted to hear from the world-class CEO what it means to lead with empathy.

In 2020, Forbes listed Alida among 50 companies with the Best Culture. Achieving such success in a disrupted environment is admirable. Could you share key values that contributed to the strong and positive culture you now have?

In conversation with Ross Wainwright about leading with empathy

First of all, culture matters. Peter Drucker once said that “culture eats strategy for breakfast” and this is something that still resonates with me. With this in mind, we work really hard on driving and creating the kind of culture where our employees are valued and can thrive and in turn, take great care of their customers.

At Alida, our values are to be bold, curious, authentic, and empathetic. However, being authentic and empathetic are the most important values in building the right type of culture. When employees are able to be their true selves at work, and they aim to understand differing perspectives, great things happen.

How do you empower people to be themselves at work?

Often, the key lies in ensuring that people have the right balance of empowerment and accountability. When people are accountable and empowered, they learn and grow. For us At Alida, it is important to create a culture where it’s okay to make mistakes. We encourage people to stretch, experiment and get out of their comfort zone. It’s fantastic to watch a super-talented group of people do things they have never done before and achieve amazing results.

Vulnerability is often seen as a parameter of trust and psychological safety in an organization. What career events shaped your path of becoming an empathic and people-focused leader?

I’ve always gravitated towards building things and leading people with empathy. Over the years, I’ve had many lessons that led to ups and downs throughout my career, and one of the most important things I’ve learned is that employees respect a leader who “walks the talk.” It’s my job to be transparent, honest and to empower my team. I get a lot of energy from engaging with people, especially helping them grow their careers. It’s really satisfying to watch a talented person work hard, get out of their comfort zone, and grow. You can’t fake it. You either love doing it or you don’t.

From a leadership perspective, how does trust manifest in the workplace?

ALIDA team talking about leading with empathy.

When we hold ourselves accountable, then trust becomes pervasive. Trust creates an environment where people can be naturally curious. It is an environment where we constantly ask ourselves how we can do better through serving our clients and growing our business. As a result, we determined there is a direct correlation between trust and retention of your employee base.

Designing an employee-centric and customer-centric culture go hand in hand. How do you bring these together to ensure everyone at Alida moves towards a customer-led vision?

I’ve always debated in my mind around what is the right culture for an organization at a point in time. Is it a customer-centric culture or an employee-centric culture? To me, it’s both. CX&EX go hand-in-hand and create the total experience.

Most companies are created in silos. Let me provide a real-world example. When I joined this company 18 months ago, we determined our best path to success was becoming a true product innovation-based organization. However, to make this a success, it was imperative that we align engineering, marketing, product and sales. The result has been the launch of 6 products and over 60 enhancements in the past five quarters. This would never have been possible if not for the alignment and collaboration across all departments within our organization. We call this the “power of the interlock” and it’s built on a foundation of trust.

It is not rare for companies to obsess with the power of data analytics and start seeing customers as plane numbers. What is your way of finding out the Why behind customers’ needs?

The key is to understand what drives our customers. We try to figure out their goals, ambitions, and dreams. Once we understand the ‘Why’, we ask ourselves how our technology can enable those dreams by providing a competitive advantage. Finally, we need to find out what will support our customers to win. This might mean meeting their financial goals, solving business problems, reducing their costs, or accelerating time to value. Regardless of the objective, the collaboration STARTS WITH TREATING YOUR CUSTOMER as a partner. It should not begin as an opportunity to meet your goal. Only when your organization is ready to put customers at the centre of all your processes, true magic happens. The rest takes care of itself.

Achieving business excellence is a turbulent journey. What would be your advice for apprising CX leaders?

First of all, you have to do the right things every day. As leaders in the business, you have to inspire your people and your customers every day. You can’t really afford to have “off days.” You’ve got to put the employee and customer at the centre of what you do. You have to maintain the balance of the business and constantly look for ways to drive a healthier alignment and a more productive interlock within your company.

So how do you create this balance? How does leading with empathy manifest in your day to day life?

It starts with understanding what you’re trying to achieve in your business. For example, if you’re trying to accelerate growth or transform your business, by definition you’re actually creating chaos every single day. You need to help your people fight through that chaos.

Finally, be authentic, inspire your people, celebrate the small wins, pay attention to mental health, and if your company is growing, never stop recruiting. Keep it all in perspective, have some laughs, and make sure you are having fun while you lead.

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