Thursday, 06 September 2018 19:26

Values-Based Leadership at Coupa Featured

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Leadership skills are not just for executives or even just people managers. Developing leadership skills is critical for any successful organization, from individual contributors to team leaders to senior executives. We, at Coupa, understand that the number one challenge for businesses is to improve leadership throughout the organization and provide employees with the training, resources, and community to become successful leaders and grow in their leadership skills throughout their career.

Several years ago, Coupa CEO Rob Bernshteyn wanted to invest in his growing team at Coupa. There were three core values he helped establish for the organization – Focus on Results; Ensure Customer Success, and Strive for Excellence – and these were well understood and practiced by the core team. These three principles are the lens by which we look at all of the challenges and opportunities that come our way.

With the growth of the team, Bernshteyn wanted to ensure the message retained its clarity. He and the executive team wanted to make sure that we keep focused on these core values and keep our entrepreneurial spirit while we scaled and evolved as a company. “We see leadership as supporting the people on your team and giving them space and opportunities to grow in their own personal and professional platform. We believe leadership is helping our employees leverage their strengths, as well as showing them where their blind spots might be. It’s about giving each person direction so he or she can achieve the most out of their personal and professional aspirations. It’s an extremely important role and we take it very seriously, "says Bernshteyn.

COUPA LEADERSHIP  EXCELLENCE PROGRAM

Bernshteyn tasked the training and development team to build a Leadership Excellence Program in 2016. Since its start, we have conducted worldwide workshops across a number of different disciplines from core Leadership and Communication Skills to Hiring Excellence. The most exciting thing about this program is that it enables those who show leadership qualities anywhere in the company with the opportunity to learn and sharpen these skills and visualize their journey.

At the core, the program has four stated outcomes:

>>  Clarify what Coupa expects from  leaders

>>  Gain insights regarding each person’s leadership skills

>>  Determine a leader’s role in ensuring culture is sustained

>>  Create a community of leaders across the organization

Each of these outcomes is designed to present the core values in a practical way, to make sure that each and every participant understands the expectations we have for leaders.

BUILDING AND TEACHING  COMPANY CULTURE

Before we can invest in our employees and enable their growth, we must first ensure that they have a complete understanding of the underlying culture of the company. Coupa’s culture is successful because we thrive on scaling to work with the strength of a big company and the soul of a smaller and more nimble organization. Our CEO’s point of view is that we should run our company and customer interactions as if 100 employees are 1,000 employees. In other words, provide 10x value and success across the organization. This value creates a hard-working, collaborative, and most importantly, the transparent team all working to fulfill the same goals.

The organization is also a “bottom-up” org, where all managerial members are at the bottom of the org chart, supporting their teams and the rest of the organization.

“We believe the top-down org chart is optimized for the Industrial Revolution,” according to Bernshteyn. “This works in a manual labor environment when there’s a supervisor telling people what to do. We’re living in a knowledge revolution where everyone has an opportunity to make an outsized impact to the organization and the world. And so, we believe in an upside- down org chart, which is best described as a tree with its roots, branches, and leaves. The CEO and executive team are at the bottom – at the roots of the entire organization, providing financial guidance, general direction, and broad support for the rest of the team. But the execution occurs at the individual contributor level – the leaves and the branches of the trees. When the wind blows, the leaves and branches feel it first. We want everyone at every level to understand their place in the market, the competitive landscape, and be able to provide quick action based on what they know and what they’ve learned.”

This mindset enables employees to make quick decisions that are results driven which allows them to accelerate at their job and lead a team that follows suit.

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USING AN OBJECTIVE ASSESSMENT

Attendees complete a prework behavioral assessment to provide them with valuable insights into how their personality traits play into their work communication and relationships. These qualities and the assessment are then discussed in the group to give an understanding of communication and leadership styles and adapt to the behaviors of others on the team. Their challenge at that point is to incorporate those working styles into the needs of the organization. We recognize the importance of having a diverse group of people working together towards a common goal and giving clear message to all employees that no matter what disagreements are had throughout the process, everyone is working toward the same purpose.

ROLE OF EXECUTIVE SPONSORSHIP

Each Leadership Excellence Program course has an executive sponsor in attendance, providing guidance and real-world examples of the core values. We have received a profound response from attendees regarding the Leadership Journey exercise with the executive sponsor. The executive sponsors for each class kickoff this exercise by sharing their own career journeys. Through a timeline diagram, they have an authentic dialogue with attendees about their positive and negative experiences throughout their career and how those shaped who they are today and how they deal with situations and relationships.

“One of the framing statements I like to focus on is leading with conscious intention,” offers Jonathan Fear, VP of Coupa University, the training and development team at Coupa. “Conscious intention is inseparable from self- awareness. It requires a commitment to see the world around us clearly and be present in the moment. Leading with intention is the intersection of four cardinal points: What I say, what I measure, what I prioritize, and what I do?”

The executive sponsor shares a pivotal moment or moments in his or her career that teaches a valuable lesson. This gives an opportunity to reflect on the positive and negative experiences those leaders have created for their teammates, taking the opportunity to take a step back and see how each decision has made an effect on those around them. By sharing these experiences, it helps newer leaders to understand the struggles and joys that come along with their new skills. Our executives have taken this personal journey and posted it on the walls in their office, so they can share all the demanding work and positive experiences as a reminder for their teams. By the end of the course, the expectation is that we have given a framework for leaders to guide their employees towards a greater adoption of our core values and principles.

PROVIDING AN ENTREPRENEURIAL SOUNDBOARD

This time with our future leaders is also used as a soundboard for their ideas. At Coupa, we are open to authentic conversations about what is working, what’s not, what innovative ideas can we experiment with to make everyone’s workflow a little easier. Throughout the Leadership Excellence class, our executives and talent team speak to the kind of company that we are trying to be and how each person is a part of that amazing journey.

POST-COURSE FEEDBACK  AND ITERATIONS

The major goal of the Leadership Excellence workshop is for each attendee to develop a toolkit of knowledge to perform his or her job better than they could before. However, this is not a closed-door process; we understand it is of the utmost importance to continue fostering these relationships through our employee’s time here at Coupa. Therefore, we have instituted group feedback and check-ins as post work for this class. We invite our attendees to be transparent and let us know what they found valuable or what they did not find relevant to their growth so that we can continue to grow the class into something that resonates for all employees as a valuable tool. The check-ins give an opportunity to ensure leaders are instilling our core values and principles into their teams.

“Feedback from the attendees has been tremendous,” reported Ray Martinelli, EVP of People at Coupa. “Each class has brought together a new group of leaders from across the global organization and equip them with new tools and resources to continue to spread our Coupa leadership culture in their own teams. We couldn’t be happier with its successes and will continue to iterate as we grow to incorporate innovative technologies and opportunities. With the incredible response we had from our Leadership Excellence class, we have branched this out into several other workshops to dive into specific skill sets and continue improving the soft skills of our ever-growing team. We are our own competition and are #CoupaProud to be investing in our own core assets.

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