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Evolving Syncsort: CEO Q&A with Josh Rogers (Part 2)

This article was first published on The American CEO by Joel Trammell.

In Part 1 of my Q&A with Syncsort CEO Josh Rogers, we covered his background and journey to the chief executive chair. In this second half, Josh discusses how he manages culture, acquisitions, communications, and his unique role as CEO – and why you shouldn’t believe the negativity about millennials.

Culture is important to most CEOs. How do you measure and monitor the pulse of culture at Syncsort?

Everyone has a culture. The question is: Is it the one you want? As I mentioned, we have grown aggressively both organically and inorganically. We’ve had the challenge of outside individuals and groups coming in via acquisition. To do a better job of assimilating these acquisitions, we hired a CHRO last year. She has put a few different things in place to help.

In the fall of last year, we administered an engagement survey to get an initial understanding of how employees feel about the company – what we’re doing well and not so well. Based on that, we launched a program to develop an explicit set of values this spring. It is important work. This is not something we’re making up from scratch. We want to harness what the culture really is. As a CEO you have to shape it. One of my themes is to strive for transparency, engagement, and collaboration. These are things we are doing well, but there is an opportunity for us to be more explicit and programmatic.

In addition, Syncsort has organically cultivated an R&D team that is about 40 percent women. These high percentages set Syncsort apart from most other tech companies and have attracted more women to apply.

What role does the CEO play during an acquisition?

The CEO needs to understand what the strategy is and ensure that the entire executive team is bought into it. Then he or she needs to ensure the company is executing against the integration plan. Post-acquisition, the CEO should be an ambassador to the newly acquired employees. They need to know what the rationale of the combination was and why there is a great opportunity in front of them. This is something I spend a lot of time on. Last week I was in Raleigh visiting a new team from an acquisition we made in November. I spoke with the CEO, CTO, and each individual employee to learn what’s going well and what’s frustrating them. It’s a great opportunity to learn from each other. If you take the time to do that, from my experience the acquisition employees appreciate it. What we’ve seen in our acquisition program is that there are great benefits from leveraging the talent that’s brought in via acquisition. Some of our senior leadership are contributing well beyond their original role and are great success stories of our acquisition strategy.

What do you tell these newly acquired employees when they ask what do you do as CEO?

For me it’s a couple of things: I try and understand what is working in our business and what’s not. What products are selling? Is our campaign messaging resonating? What development activity do customers care about? My job is to help us keep doing things that are working and stop those that are not working. We’ve developed a cadence in the way our executive team operates. With reporting and analysis we put resources behind things that are working and things that fit into long-term trends as well as our long-range planning. I ensure that the machine operates as efficiently as possible. Then I look a little bit further out to determine, given our capability set, what longer-range opportunities we need to exploit.

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At your company size you are removed from the frontline workers. How do you ensure they are reflecting your values and vision for the organization?

It’s about that cadence. We have lots of town halls at the local office level and on a regular basis companywide. For our all hands meetings, the video is streamed to all offices. We send out a survey beforehand and during the Q&A portion, we answer every question. Some are questions that no one wants to ask and some are frankly fairly tactical. What we’ve found is that this level of transparency drives good response from the employees. Everyone knows they have a voice and the ability to ask questions, and that the executive team will give them an honest answer.

You’ve spent 10 years in management at Syncsort: How has your management approach changed over that time?

Patience is a virtue: My Grandfather ran a business and always said his number one goal was to be “impatient slower.” The reality is the more you can listen, the more you can sit back and really hear what employees and leaders in the company have to say. You can create the right environment from a cadence and culture perspective. If you do that, the answer will emerge. As a CEO your job is not to provide that answer. It’s to provide a system to help the team answer the question.

With your unique perspective, what trends or issues do you think other CEOs should be aware of?

I want to address the millennial topic. I read a lot in the press about the dynamics of hiring and retaining millennials. I think Syncsort needs to do a better job bringing young people into the organization. Those who we have brought in are unbelievable. I’ve been impressed with their work ethic and desire to learn and contribute. If you create the right opportunities for engagement and real contribution, you’ll see amazing results. That’s what we’ve seen. So I don’t believe the negative stories about millennials. The talent and intellectual curiosity we’ve brought in will serve us well for years to come.

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