Don’t build a company, Build a family

I grew up in India, the son of a military family, so by the time I’d reached college I’d been to seven different schools in the space of 12 years. Every time we relocated, I’d have to make a conscious effort to introduce myself to the other kids there. And every time, I was terrified! For most people, it gets easier the more often you do it, but I clearly wanted to buck the trend because I’d become more frightened with each city and year that passed.

Nowadays, however, I cherish the opportunity to reach out and connect with new people. I like to tell anyone who’ll listen, “if I can do it, anyone can.” Those childhood experiences have, in fact, played a big role in shaping not just who I am today, but the way I think about leadership and team-building.

One of the main reasons why I joined Concur was because it operated like a family, not a typical corporation.

From the very first interview I had, you could sense the respect that the team had for people – even me. Now that I’ve been with Concur for a few years, I’ve worked out three main principles that create this sense of family here.

1.     Competence matters, but so does chemistry.
Whenever we hire someone, they go through up to five interviews with different teams and individuals. This isn’t to test the candidate’s ability so much as to see how well they get along with the rest of the family. We want to hire people who aren’t just bright sparks, but who will thrive and grow from being part of Concur. Our way of working doesn’t suit everyone, and that’s okay. The chemistry needs to work both ways if we want to achieve great results both for our people and our business.

2.      You need enough trust to talk to each other.
“Madanjit, so-and-so is asking us to do this, but I think we should do this other thing. What should I do?” Go talk to them face-to-face. If people don’t feel safe to directly address concerns or debate with others in their team, you end up with a set of individually brilliant performers working in isolation – and where’s the joy or business value in that? I believe one of my main responsibilities at Concur is to build up that trust in the family. I constantly challenge them to tell me what they really think, instead of what they assume Madanjit wants to hear. Sometimes, especially in Asia, people aren’t so comfortable doing so at first – but it’s necessary if you want to maintain the correct course for the business.

3.     Earn respect before you give your view.
Well-functioning families aren’t democracies – most of us learn this in our early years. Without respect for age, experience, and track record, the family unit breaks down. I don’t expect the team at Concur to respect me just because I’m older than most of them. I do, however, remind them that they need to earn respect from their peers and leaders for their views to carry greater weight. Respect is the currency of the family unit, and when we acknowledge its value we ensure that although everyone gets their say, the wisest words usually rise to the top.

Why is this idea of family in the workplace so important to me? Because what we end up remembering, at the end of the day, are the relationships and human connections that we create, both in the workplace and out of it. You have to reach out on a personal level if you want to go forward, both in your career and in your own development as a happy, healthy human being. Remember, “business people” is a compound word – business is important, but we’ve got to remember our needs as people too, and that inclusiveness of family is one of them.

Madanjit Singh is the Regional Director – South East Asia at Concur Technologies Inc., based in Singapore.