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March 27, 2023 | 6 Mins Read

5 Pillars of People-First Leadership

March 27, 2023 | 6 Mins Read

5 Pillars of People-First Leadership


By Sarah Nicastro, Creator, Future of Field Service

Have you listened to last week’s podcast with Venkata Reddy Mukku, Vice President for Worldwide Service and Support at Bruker Nano Surfaces & Metrology? If you haven’t and have the time, I’d suggest you take a listen to his words of wisdom. For those who need the cliffs-notes version, I am aiming to share here some of Venkata’s key points – because the perspective he has is so important to leaders of today’s service organizations. 

We know the landscape of service has changed significantly in the last ten, even five, hell two, years. Yet many leaders cling to methods and tactics of leadership that simply don’t fit today’s needs – focusing on control that squashes creativity, all the while looking around and wondering why other companies are having more success remaining relevant, attracting talent, and innovating. Then there are the leaders who see the industry’s evolution clearly and who are stepping up to the plate by pushing themselves to learn, grown, and change to be effective by today’s standards. Venkata is one of those leaders. 

The foundation of Venkata’s approach is a very simple formula he follows to keep his priorities aligned in the way he feels is most important: 60/30/10 leadership. He focuses 60% of his time and efforts on his internal teams, 30% on customer KPIs, and 10% on commercial metrics. “It's the people that are delivering those numbers,” Venkata explains. “If you don't take care of people, those numbers will not come. When it comes to service revenue and growth generation, if we take care of our teams, if we take care of our customers, the commercial part becomes easier.”

I really appreciate how clear Venkata is in his prioritization of time, and how much conviction he has that if we, as leaders and organizations, do the right things by our people and customers, the numbers will follow. But what does people-first leadership look like in practice? Venkata shared some examples in our conversation, which I’ll break down into five pillars. 

#1: Change How You Hire

Like many service organizations, Bruker used to make its hires based on technical skill. As the role of the frontline worker has changed, and therefore the traits that contribute to success in that role, the company has updated its hiring process to reflect the importance of attitude, soft skills, and cultural fit. 

“We have equal weighting for our technical and non-technical skills. Communication, attitude towards work, teamwork, and the culture they were part of before and what type of culture they would want to be in. We try to make sure that by the time our recruitment team filters the CVs most of them are technically capable,” explains Venkata. “But what we really look forward to seeing in a candidate is how they approach if we use some scenarios. We try and understand their behavior, their thought process, and then how they would fit into our organization.”

#2: Take a Human-Centric View

Another point that came up in conversation is that Venkata is sure to treat employees, “as humans, not resources.” I think this is such an important point and one of the core ways a leader’s view must evolve – yes, numbers on the balance sheet matter and all employees can be viewed in terms of their contributions. But when we view them as people versus resource, perhaps they’ll contribute more?

Beyond making the distinction that employees are human beings versus simply company resources, Bruker encourages behaviors, actions, and decisions that support this belief. “We try and make sure that people put themselves first, and we try and put it in action. Whenever someone is sick, we try to be empathetic. When they come back, they know that my team has been rooting for them, they come back with full energy and do their best,” says Venkata. “It's not always easy; there are challenges here and there. But at a high level, if you really create that environment where people can be themselves, take care of themselves, and then take care of their family, they actually can contribute more to the organization than if you just say, you’ve got to do your work. We don't care what's happening with your life or with your family. That detachment is not going to help in the long run.”

#3: Create a 3C Culture

Company culture plays a big role in the employee experience and, in my conversation with Venkata, there were three characteristics that Bruker is focused on that stood out: fostering creativity, creating connection, and connecting to a purpose. 

Venkata emphasized that it is important to give team members purpose in work beyond simply meeting commercial metrics. “Our technology helps people to find cures for cancers and to come up with the latest and greatest chips for all the cars and phones. We tell our engineers, ‘You are not just coming to just fix something or install something. You are changing how we live for future generations,’” he explains.

Another important aspect of the company culture is giving employees the freedom to be creative – and the awareness that it is OK to make mistakes. Encouraging input from anyone and everyone in the organization is a way for companies to aim toward being more innovative while giving high-drive talent an outlet for their ideas and a sense of contribution. “I always say, the best idea wins. It doesn't matter if it comes from a junior engineer or from a senior director. We want to talk. If you have a better idea, please speak up,” Venkata says.

And finally, creating a close-knit team helps promote commitment to the company’s vision and objectives because employees feel they are in it together. “Meeting everyone under one roof and having a bowling game or doing some activity takes us a long way, really makes them feel connected to different people that they talk or interact remotely all the time. That helps them build bonds and engage better,” says Venkata. “When people don’t have those connections, the attrition is much higher. So, it's very important that we create that bonding, we create that environment for people to meet, share knowledge and help each other.”

#4: Invest in Employee Success

Not only is Venkata investing 60% of his time into focus on his teams, but the company is committed to investing in employee success throughout the journey – and that starts with ensuring the onboarding process is smooth, effective, and impactful. 

“Once we get somebody on board, the next thing is making sure we have a good 30, 60, 90 plan, because that's when we can make sure that the team member gets settled properly. We can't expect them to do very well if we don't give them the right tools at the start, especially in the first 30, 60, 90 days. We try to make sure that those first three months are productive for the team and make sure that they get, not just the technical knowledge, but also culture and the process of organization,” explains Venkata. 

Of course, that doesn’t stop after an employee is onboarded. Bruker continually looks for ways to provide not only training to keep technical skills up to date but also to give soft skills training, remote and online trainings, and to try and get teams together once or twice a year to maintain that sense of connection. 

#5: Focus on Empowerment 

If there’s one lesson I want you to take from what Venkata shared, it is this: you will get far more from putting effort into empowering your employees than you ever could from trying to control them. What Venkata’s efforts really center around is creating employees who are empowered and who feel a sense of ownership in what they do. THIS is how you end up with employees who delight your customers and help spur innovation and growth. 

“If they have that sense of ownership, they find creative ways of helping customers and also making sure the customer understands what our goals are so that we work towards a win-win situation,” Venkata says. “With trust and ownership, people think out of the box, and they come up with solutions. If you have rule book and say, this is it, people will stop thinking, stop coming up with innovative ideas to help customers, to help themselves and the company.”