Beware of Hiring People Just Like You
News | 7 Mar 2015
This interview with Vivek Gupta, of Zensar Technologies, a global software services company based in Pune, India, was conducted and condensed by Adam Bryant. Q. Were you in leadership roles or doing entrepreneurial things when you were younger? A. No. I was just an ordinary kid. I grew up in India. My father used to get transferred often, so by the time I was in high school, I was in my sixth or seventh school. Leadership came to me much later. But throughout my childhood, I would always latch onto a friend or a group of friends who were better than me in something, and I would then pace myself with them and learn from them and feed off of them. I always liked that challenge. That continued even in college. Tell me about your parents. How have they influenced your leadership style? My mother was a homemaker, and my father worked in the public sector. We lost him when I was in college, but he was my role model. My father was always revered by the people who reported to him. Even 20 or 30 years later, I would meet people who would say, “Your father was such a wonderful manager. He was tough on us, but he was great.” When we went out, we would have fun, but he would not allow that rapport to be used for leverage against him. He could be a coach, and a friend, but there would be a line you could not cross. So when I became a manager, I said to myself, “Can I be what my father was? Will people say 20 years after they stop working for me that I was a great manager and that they enjoyed their time working with me?” That’s what I really wanted to achieve. So what were some early lessons for you as a young manager? There was a young girl, straight out of college, who walked into my office and said, “I’d like to talk to you. I want to be in sales.” I talked to her, and I was quite nervous that she could handle the job. I had spent a rough five years doing sales, traveling all over the country. How would she be able to do that? I went home and told my wife about the interview, and that she didn’t fit the role. She stopped me and said, “ What are your requirements?” My wife told me to give her a chance. So the next day I laid it all out for her, and told her what the job involved, and that there will be days when she hates the job. I was actually very uncomfortable with the whole thing, and I told her: “Listen, this is a tough job in my mind. Are you prepared to do this?” She said yes. I gave the job to her, and she turned out to be the best salesperson of the company. I had been a biased 25-year-old who grew up in a world that gave more status to men than women. That day, I realized that women don’t get enough opportunities in the business world, and from then on I have been an advocate for equal opportunities. Other early lessons? I am a perfectionist. I’ve got an eye for detail. But as someone told me years later, “You know what a perfectionist is? A perfectionist is a person who takes great pains and gives them too.” Over time, I realized that you don’t manage activities. You manage people, and you worry about the outcomes. I’ve also learned over time that 50 percent of a C.E.O.’s communication is nonverbal. Everything you do, even the way you smile in a room, really matters. How do you hire? What questions do you ask when you’re interviewing job candidates? I learned something that is easier said than done. I have tried to hire people who are not my clones. If I find somebody who is just like me, I’ll get along with the person very quickly. But it would be a mistake to hire them just because they’re like me. I want to hire people who are very different from me or better than me in certain areas so that one plus one equals more than two. The second thing is that I try to focus on the person’s potential rather than their performance. What that means by definition is that I should be encouraging people from my own company to take positions before I go and hire from the outside. Most organizations are guilty of making this same mistake. We get so used to seeing a person in a certain role that we judge the person on their performance in that role and not on their potential. So how do you assess someone’s potential from another company? That’s where reference checks come into play. And I do a lot of the reference checks myself. I don’t want to delegate it to others because their goal is to check them off. I’m looking for reasons to reject rather than reasons to hire. If you only had a few minutes to interview someone, what question would you ask them? I’ll ask people for their elevator pitch. You’ve got three minutes. What will you tell me about yourself? It’s interesting to hear the traits that people focus on. What advice do you give to graduating college students? I always tell people to take risks. In the early part of your career, you can afford to make mistakes, even big mistakes. You go down one path, and you can reverse from it. It won’t make much of a difference. And I’m not talking about financial risks. You should move from function to function within the same organization as quickly as you can to get a well-rounded understanding of the business. I’ve given opportunities to so many people who raise their hand and say that they want to do something different. So I like to tell people try and do that as much as you can within the confines of what your company can offer. Raise your hand if somebody says, “Is anyone willing to take this job?” Take it. Be visible. Be seen. If you’ve got a good idea, don’t keep it to yourself.