The shifts in the last eighteen months due to work from home have changed the minds of millions. Flexibility at work is not a strategy; it is a must in the future of work. Today’s guest is Tom Shea, CEO at OneStream Software. Inc Magazine ranked his company #1527 on the 2021 Inc 5000 list. OneStream provides seamless integration with SAP ERP systems. Tom takes on the hot topic of today, which is flexibility at work. We discuss why this is not a trend but a way of life. Tune in to understand how to make flexibility at work benefit the company and the employee.
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Tom Shea: The Transcript
About: Original founder of UpStream Software and architect of UpStream WebLink. These products pioneered a new space called Financial Data Quality and achieved a better way to manage data quality for Hyperion products by providing a packaged product (UpStream/FDM) every company could use. Original founder of OneStream Software and architect of OneStream XF. Focused on delivering real value to the office of the CFO through the OneStream SmartCPM platform.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
Tom Shea: Flexibility is everything. You just have to do what it takes to achieve that objective of making successful customers. As you start to get sort of, I’ll call it one foot in the success mode. You start to put in processes and standards and know, start to standardize behavior in a way that you can scale because you need to be able to do things at a higher frequency. And so as you continue to move along that continuum, you see your need for flexibility changes. It’s a different way. You’re, you’re working towards maintaining that Splunk scores that that ability to adapt to changing business needs as a startup.
Intro: Welcome to Growth Think Tank. This is the one and only place where you will get insights from the founders and the CEOs, the fastest-growing privately held companies. I am the host. My name is Gene Hammett. I hope leaders and their teams navigate the defining moments of their growth. Are you ready to grow?
Gene Hammett: The word of the year maybe flexibility. When we look at flexibility at work, we want to make sure that we understand what does it take to keep the culture aligned, keep customers satisfied, keep them, you know, really getting the value that they came to us for. And we want to make sure we’re hiring and retaining the best talent. Flexibility at work is going to be a very big conversation across our organization. And so I thought we’d have that conversation with the CEO of a very fast-growing company. We’re talking with OneStream solutions where we are going to look at flexibility at work with them. Tom Shea, really share some of the way he looks at flexibility way. He understands it within his office. They have over 900 employees, they’ve been on the Inc list six times and it continues to change and evolve. But one thing is constant. He wanted to make sure that the customers are getting the value that they came here for and the solutions that they have continued to evolve, to meet that demand. And they have to create flexibility at work to attract the best talent to retain that best talent. And it’s different across the. One of the things you’ll learn inside this interview with Tom is that he understands that it’s going to be something that he has to be flexible about. And the pun is intended there because you want to make sure that you are being able to hear what people are saying and move in a new direction.
And sometimes that’s, what’s required in today’s world. When you think about this, all the things it takes to be the strong leader that you are and to drive the company forward, you’ve got to be willing to look at yourself and reflect on where are your shortcomings? Where are your blind spots? This is one of the things that’s hard to do for yourself, but I help leaders do this all the time and I help them create a game plan to move forward. If you are thinking about what’s next for your leadership and how to evolve forward. I want to make sure that you know, that you can come to me. We have an absolutely free conversation to talk about what’s next for you. And that is exactly what I’m here to do for you. If you go to GeneHammett.com, you can schedule your call. We’ll get on there and talk about what is getting in the way of what you want. I can help you get more clear about the next steps. I promise not to sell you anything. I do this because I love to serve. I love if you’re an audience member you’re listening to the first episode, or maybe you’ve listened to ten or many more. I want to make sure you know, that I’m here to help you be the leader that your team deserves. If you want to get that game plan, just go to GeneHammett.com. Now here’s the interview with Tom,
Tom, how are you?
Tom Shea: Good. How are you, Gene? Thanks for having me.
Gene Hammett: I am fantastic. Excited to have you on the podcast. I’ve already let our audience know a little bit about you and what we talk about today, but I’d love for you to talk about the company. So tell us about a OneStream.
Tom Shea: Oh yeah. OneStream is a company that’s involved in helping large complex organizations. Turn their data and information. We really exist to help a company as they’re recording data on a daily basis, you know, activities that are happening all over. How do you take those data points and turn them into actionable insight for your business? What’s the real focus on financial intelligence. So the idea that eventually everything makes its way to a financial statement. And so our vision is to create a platform to do that and allow companies to get, you know, increasing value out of our business as the demands on them change over time.
Gene Hammett: You’ve made the Inc list many times before. In fact, it’s not your first company, but also that you’ve been on this list six times. , with this one company, what are you most proud of besides growing? ,
Tom Shea: I think the, the thing that I’m most proud of would be the idea that we’ve done it our way we bootstrap. We work hard when we did it, one successful customer, at a time. And you know, that happens. And I say we, because that happened through our, through our, our, our culture and our employee commitment. To making each customer successful and then taking that success and leverage it into the, to the next success. And, and, you know, that affords you the ability to sort of do things your way. So I’m really proud of that. And that way means in a way that, you know, the entire customer base or employee base believes in,
Gene Hammett: I love the fact that you talk about we and. Let’s be honest, you’re not on the front lines anymore. 900 employees. You’ve got a critical role as the company grows, but it takes a team to really create this kind of winning attitude and serve the clients the highest level. When you set out to do this, what was the real intention behind building this team?
Tom Shea: this company is sort of a 2.0 for a product called CPM or a collection of products called CPM. And when we thought about building this team, we thought we, the way that we went about and the thesis for this company was to say, if we come up with a really great product, we understand this because of our experience in the market, will we be able to attract the best and brightest people from this industry, from the people that we met from our, from our sort of prior company and our, and our time and industry that have been made their name. And this, you know, this space in this technology space that we’re in that is, that was always at the heart. We knew that we could build a great product, but these, we needed these great people to turn it into the company that it could be and get it to the most possible customers.
Gene Hammett: I think we could get a lot of different directions of this. And I know we did a lot of research on the company before we invited you on one of the things that you see. , strong force inside of how you guys have grown and been successful is having a flexibility inside your culture and the way you approach things. , I know you can be too flexible, so, you know, kind of where do you draw that flexibility line?
Tom Shea: That’s a great question. Well, it depends on the life cycle. So as a CEO, if you really need to be conscious of where you are in the business’s life cycle, and what I mean by that is when you’re in that early sort of, I always put it in three stages. Are you in survival mode when you’re in survival? Flexibility is everything. You just have to do what it takes to achieve that objective of making a successful customers. As you start to get sort of, I’ll call it one foot in the success mode, you start to put in processes and standards and, you know, start to standardize behavior in a way that you can scale because you need to be able to do things at a higher frequency. And so as you continue to move along that continuum, you see your need for flexibility changes. That’s a different way. You’re, you’re working towards maintaining that spunk or that, that, that ability to adapt to changing business needs as a startup, but as we’ve evolved to, you know, 900 plus employees, you start to see, we need processes. So it’s, it’s a, it’s a, it’s a delicate balance that you always have to perceive where you’re at in your life cycle and be making adjustments that way, you know, to reflect where you’re at as a business.
Gene Hammett: So here’s the big question. If you are the person that’s leading this company, and I know you’ve got, you know, executive team behind you, that’s probably strong and playing at a high level, but what are you doing specifically to drive flexibility at work?
Tom Shea: The number one thing at what, when we, I have to bring up COVID because that was the ultimate test, right? When you think about, the need for flexibility, it’s being aware of. Sort of how employees are feeling and then adjust your perception. So the first thing is to drive actual flexibility in the company is to say, we need to kind of meet people where they’re at because again, you have to look at the demographics of your employees and you have to kind of think I’ve got young people that are working here. That they’re a lot of their social interaction is being in person. I’ve got, you know, families that some appreciate that they could be home with their children and not commute. And so you have a whole different sense of what does flexibility means? Flexibility to a young person means I get to come into the office when I want to, regardless of COVID flexibility to a, parent means that I get to stay home and, and, and not drive-in. So the idea here is to let us do over-communicate what we’re trying. Number one, we’re not perfect, and we’re not going to make everyone happy all the time. Number two, we’re trying to make sure. We can meet your needs and still be successful as a company.
Gene Hammett: You just said the word over-communicate. And I think through COVID a lot of people struggled with now what’s the new cadence of communication. And I had said the same things in doubt over-communicated because of what’s going on and just unsureness of the future. But, but a lot of people have resistance to over-communicating. So what, how do you kind of look at that?
Tom Shea: I mean, when I look at, you know, we, we have all-hands meetings and we typically pre COVID but have them maybe. It’s twice a year or once a year, all hands, we have communication, formats and events and things where people would be together. But when COVID hit, we realized, well, a lot of those other opportunities to interact with employees are gone. So let’s have a very strict cadence, you know, move to quarterly, all-hands meetings, which you could argue that that’s about the right cadence to try to get everyone together. But the way that I react. Is, you could feel if you’re in touch with your organization, you could literally feel the anxiety building. , and in the absence of filling in the gap or individuals on what was really happening around COVID and around flexibility, you could see that employees and customers or whoever, would start to fill those gaps in for you.
And so the whole concept, when I say over-communicating, it’s, maybe right-sized communicating. And if you don’t know the answer to that really important thing was, and the first calls I came and said, I’m, I’m worried just like all of you, I don’t know what’s going on with COVID, but I’ll tell you, this is what we’re going to do. A, B, and C, and we’ll keep you updated, and rest assured that, you know, we’re going to be flexible and look out for your wellbeing. So. I think it’s, having a connectedness to the organization. If you are connected, you will feel the need to communicate.
Commentary: Now Tom’s been talking about over-communicating and I really understand the pressure that this puts on leaders of organizations. You don’t want to have to repeat yourself, but here’s the thing. Sometimes we do have to repeat ourselves. Sometimes we have to make sure that our words can not be misunderstood. And so you have to err on the over-communicate side of that, you can’t under-communicate and expect for things to be exactly the way you want them to be and, and have the standards and expectations of the organization and the customers and all that be align. You want to make sure that you are okay with this over-communication maybe you say the words I’ve said this to you before, but I want to make sure it’s really clear and you say them over and over and over because people will remember what you say now. You don’t want to say them. , you know, patronizingly, you want to make sure that you truly are communicating in a way that moves people forward. Maybe you’re telling different. They get to the same point. Maybe you’re telling a client success that stress, why you’re communicating, or why we’re doing this change over communication usually is a fear that’s inside the head and that causes resistance. I want to urge you to look at that and say, it just takes a lot to reach different people. It takes different modes of communication to make sure that you don’t fall into that. That I’m over-communicating let me just back off here, you want to make sure that you air on over-communication. If you going through some changes and you want to align people to a deeper level, just do it in different ways and become an effective communicator. If any of this is confusing to you, I’d love to have a chat about what’s next for you. Just reach out to me anytime now, back to Tom,
Gene Hammett: I want to go back to flexibility because I think that the core of this is what I heard you say. Really tuning in to what people have in front of them, how they see flexibility, a young person will be, see it differently than someone who has kids or someone who has an aging parent. How are you tuning into that with 900 people? Are you doing surveys? Are you doing some other ways of connecting with them?
Tom Shea: We definitely rely on. You know, that’s one way, we also have a lot of affinity groups in a, in a strong, you know, different group and participation, a strong diversity effort. And so just trying to make sure that, especially as we saw all the uncertainty really, that, that there was socially in 2020, we really tried to make sure that we were listening and, and, you know, trying to make sure that we had the right information about how people were feeling so that we can, you know, we can adjust our system, our processes. Our events and our structure, it sorta makes sure that we are learning and then adapting appropriately. In addition, it has a big impact on your sort of office and real estate strategy, right? Because you start to think about how do you collaborate, you know what, because part of it is learning you, the water cooler knowledge that you used to get, you don’t have anymore.
So it is a challenge to your point and, you know, surveys. So far you need to in-person to really look someone in the eye and get a read on how they’re feeling.
Gene Hammett: And then you have data across 900 employees and it’s always going be changing. What about this surprise you, anything that you could share with us?
Tom Shea: I think what surprised me is, I guess I did start to think of, you know, the, I, I didn’t, I didn’t account for the differences in the way that a young person would think about the company or somebody who was, you know, running a family.
Gene Hammett: Okay. When you think about the things that surprised you, how did you guys respond? I’m sure you went to your team and said, okay, this is what the data looks like. The interesting thing is you’re a data company. You understand how to create insight out of data. So now I’m asking you to, instead of doing it in a financial way, what kind of insights were you able to action from your team?
Tom Shea: A lot of the insights that we’re, we, we did again, some of the surveys that we did just by plotting where people exist because a good portion of our company was already remote during this. Right? So to start you think of sales and consultants, they’re typically onsite. So a lot of this COVID and this whole process made us, you know, helped us be a little bit more analytical about how we should be growing the business, how we should be promoting flexibility, what our vision for our office would be in the future and what it would mean to enable collaboration for different people at different offices. So instead of a single monolithic headquarters approach, multiple collaborations, that is, we were lucky that being smaller, you know, smaller in the sense of we haven’t created a massive real estate footprint, yet we were about to build a big building, right. Literally right when COVID hit, we were going to build a headquarters and we kind of pulled back that, that idea.
We should adopt a little bit more of a we work structure and the I, the concept of nice offices and more cities enabling sort of a common theme and try to transport our culture to more places rather than having the central sort of magnetic pole to a, to a corporate headquarters. And so I know analytically, the numbers helped us figure out that that would be the only way that we were going to get the collaboration that we needed. Given the. The new way of thinking that we see happening with COVID. It the new way of approaching work.
Gene Hammett: That’s interesting. I, I, I’ve seen that happening across some of my own clients about, you know, rethinking the way we look at headquarters and the way we look at office space. I appreciate you sharing those details. Something you said earlier. Really. I want to go back to Tom and that’s this. You want to attract the brightest and the best in your industry. And I know that you’ve guys have been hiring through this. Now that you have this flexible approach and maybe there’s some new things. What are you seeing in, you know, requests from new hires as it relates to flexibility?
Tom Shea: When you think of flexibility, it’s, it’s really two ways to think about it. It’s because of COVID now ways that we used to think about how we would hire, say engineers. We wanted engineers to be in the office and learn by sitting next to someone else. But now you realize. Your engineer. So, so the first way is thinking about how do we attract people? The second is what about people trying to attract our employees now? Because everybody can work from anywhere at this point in certain positions. So the way that we think about employees, there is a really, just this expectation. When you go to hire somebody new, now, it doesn’t matter necessarily what the position is that. You know, a viable candidate, if that they have the skill match, not there’s no more geo to that. And, so I think that expectation is the biggest change across the board. And thinking about that, both from, wow, the candidate pools larger for me now, because I’m not thinking about specific geolocation for an employee, but also my employees are targets for others because you know, if we’re not doing the right things, to make sure that they’re happy and wanting to stay here, there’s no geo boundary for them anymore either. So It’s really twofold.
Gene Hammett: I want to start wrapping us up with this one concept is a lot of leaders like yourself have struggled with how do we maintain a culture in a flexible world? So what are the two or three things that you’re focused on to maintain the culture and really try to create a culture that’s different than if you were all in one building?
Tom Shea: The number one vehicle that we filed for this was, and that was the pivot to the, to the new sort of collaboration center office structure. Because there’s, there’s, you can’t replace, in-person sort of whiteboarding sessions and water cooler, so we have to figure out, but that, again, it almost goes to the demographic. There’s another demographic element to that. And instead of saying here’s one size fits all for the company, there’s different departments that have different levels of collaboration and need. And so we’re really thinking of. What would that look like for the engineering collaboration requirements when we’re innovating on the product versus an administrative or finance level of collaboration for that type of team and the, on that side of the business. So we’re really trying to distill that down to a departmental level decision and then foster that through, through these new offices. In a way that you come into an office, these offices have neighborhoods, they have standardized approaches where you understand that this is a shared neighborhood. These are the residents that live in this office, and you should feel empowered at any one of the, you know, any office that you go in, you should feel empowered to just walk in there and feel like you’re at home.
Commentary: Tom just talking about some of the challenges in culture in this new world, I want to make sure that you understand. Yes, there are very specific challenges. One of them is we’re going to be limited in face-to-face meetings. And when you do have face-to-face meetings, you’ll have this, this connection together that you didn’t have before, because people are excited to see you. And the energy will be amazing. Now, as you are able to get more people together, maybe you have big companies and you’ve got to get 50 or a hundred or 300 people together, or a thousand. You’re going to be able to do that eventually. But here’s the thing you’ve got to make sure that you were engineering and intentional about ways to bring people together. Even if you can’t be face-to-face. If you’ve got to celebrate successes of, of teams and clients and all of the things, make sure you’re doing this in unique ways consistently. And you do it in a way that brings people together and feel that energy as best they can because you can say that, you know, it’s always better in person. Yes, it is. But you can always say, well, let’s find a way to do this when we’re not in person. Let’s find a way that make this work for now. That’s my 2 cents on this. Always think about how you can be intentional about really maintaining the culture that you want aligning to the results that the company is striving for. Back to Tom.
Gene Hammett: I appreciate you sharing that in detail because it is a struggle, I think, for a lot of companies. One final question for you, Tom, and this really just goes to the heart of your own style of leadership. What has had to change? As you were leading this new flexible organization and really focused on creating unity across this company. Can you pinpoint anything that has changed or shifted in your own approach to leadership?
Tom Shea: I just think it’s the main thing that’s changed for me is the recognition. Not only do we have the pressures of growth, which is such a you’re, you’re adding so many employees, which means you have less even pre COVID. I would have had less face time with those individuals, less opportunity to meet them. , and, and, and sort of, you know, share what it means to be part of this, or, or, you know, really be the evangelist of our culture. You couple that with the remote aspect of COVID. So you’re compounding. Into a twofold problem. So what, what I, you know, it’s, it’s that communication and it’s that, and it’s that appreciation when we do get a chance to talk to employees and taking the time to try to let them know that, Hey, when this clears up, I want to meet, do we want to be together? And so for me, it’s just, I think it’s just being transparent and authentic and that there’s still things that aren’t working the way that we want them too, in terms of our ability to collaborate, but we’re trying to get there. You’re appreciated, please hang in there. , and so what I’ve learned is just make sure that you’re honest with people when you don’t have every answer. , not that I’ve ever been dishonest, but just be transparent. People will give you a break. I think even as a leader, they know you don’t have every answer.
Gene Hammett: Well, I think a lot of people are afraid to open up and say they don’t have the answer. I think a lot of CEOs have pride themselves in their identity is I know the answer to whatever the, whatever the problem is in front of us. And what I’m hearing from you, Tom is as you’ve grown and as you realize, there’s challenges that that really are fairly complex, especially when it comes to people and, and now technology and these new things that are pressure of the pandemics and all the changes. You don’t have all the answers, but transparency is a really important. And I’ve seen across many companies and what drives their success. I appreciate you putting the spotlight on that.
Tom Shea: Yeah. I mean, just one closing comment on that, with that I would say is, you know, what we basically say is here’s what we’re thinking. We don’t, these outcomes are uncertain. Here’s our plan. We’re going to update you. We’re going to follow this plan and we’ll update you on it. So you always have to give confidence that you’re moving in a direction, but I think you have to also put the level of uncertainty that we’ve seen. You have to acknowledge that you know, no, one’s, I’ve never lived through a pandemic. I’ve never run a high-growth company through a pandemic, but this is how I see it playing out for us. And I think doing that you’ll, you’ll, you’ll re maintain, a level of, respect in the business. And I think people will, will want to follow you.
Gene Hammett: That’s a good place to end today’s conversation, Tom. Thanks for being here and sharing your wisdom.
Tom Shea: Thank you very much. Appreciate it. Have a nice day Gene.
Gene Hammett: So I just want to wrap up a little, I know Tom’s listening into us, but I wanted to just see how I reflect back on what I just heard. You know, flexibility is not going to go away. In fact, I think it’s going to be something that we have to always look at as we’re hiring the best people. If you want to attract the top talent, they’re going to want some level of flexibility. Whether that means coming in the office, maybe it’s remote GO, independence. They really are going to require flexibility. And so you want to make sure you’re leading a company with that in mind, you’re surveying your community. And you are being transparent where you, you can be. And it really is important if you want to create a company that will stand the test of time, and you’ve got to become a leader that can align all of the people together, despite the uncertainty in this.
And if you’re not sure of what your next step is a leader is, I’d love to talk to you about what that is and help you create a game plan. That’s what I’m known for. I would love to help you get exactly clear about how to move and evolve as a leader because here’s what. Even if you have 10 employees, you’ve got to evolve to get to, to 20, to get to a hundred, to get to 500 and 900.
I’m sure Tom would agree that it takes a lot of change and grit to be able to become a leader over time of a fast-growth company with so many people that are looking to you. So if you want to get a game plan with me, it’s absolutely free. I promise not to sell you anything, but just go to GeneHammett.com and schedule your call when you think of growth and think leadership Growth Think. As always lead with courage. Will see you next time.
Disclaimer: This transcript was created using YouTube’s translator tool and that may mean that some of the words, grammar, and typos come from a misinterpretation of the video.
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