We talk with Fawad Zakariya, CEO of TalentCove about their culture, goal setting, and what stops people from achieving their goals.
Jacob: Hello everyone, I’m Jacob Shriar, Growth Manager at Officevibe. Today, I’m with Fawad Zakariya who is the co-founder of Talent Cove. Fawad, thanks so much for being here with me.
Fawad: Thanks a lot for having me, Jacob.
Jacob: Great. So, so excited to learn more about Talent Cove and how you guys do things there. Really, I want to talk a lot with you about goal setting. What stops people from achieving their goals, all that good stuff. Really, setting goals and achieving goals is a huge part of productivity. It’s something we talk a lot about. It’s something I know that you know a lot about. I’m very, very excited to talk more about that. Before I ask you questions about all that stuff, maybe, I think it would be helpful for our audience to just get a bit of background on you. Any background that you can would be great, maybe some other companies you’ve been a part of before Talent Cove. Just give our audience some context. I think that would be great. Then we’ll dive into all the good goal stuff.
Fawad: Sounds great, Jacob. A quick introduction to my background. I have been in the technology industry for more than 15 years now, both as a venture capitalist where I was investor in software company’s application, infrastructure software primarily but then for the last decade in operating roles, mostly at SAP. A lot of my work around those operating roles was in the sales side. My last role there was running all the channel sales and strategic business development for SAPs mobile division. Prior to that, I’ve had roles running the MNA strategies for SAP at the office of the CEO.
I’ve always stayed an active adviser and investor in startup companies here in Silicon Valley. What we started Talent Cove for was that I was also very actively involved in many of our HR and employee-related product and initiatives within SAP including the integration of the success factors acquisition. As we talk more about goals, what I’ll refer back to is lots of experiences I’ve had related to how employee productivity, employee goal accomplishment, higher performance teams became a passion for both me and my co-founder.
Jacob: That’s very interesting. Yeah, that’s cool to hear that you are part of that acquisition. I know that was a huge deal for them, and really you guys became very authoritative in the HR world than everyone. I’ve read a lot of great articles on how good the product actually is and how much… Anyways, we’ll talk more about that offline for sure. Maybe if you can talk a little bit about some of your experience there at SAP and sort of what you saw in terms of the high performing teams and maybe any tips or tricks that you saw on how they were able to achieve their goals and maybe things for our audience to watch out for. Really, any tips or tricks, I think, would be very interesting.
Fawad: Yeah. Jacob, basically if you think about why we got excited about doing what we’re doing at Talent Cove, it was really in the context of the way we thought goals and productivity and how high performing teams function. Really, it was changing in the workplace itself, over just a time period that we have spent in our own work lives. What success factors in many of the goals-based annual performance review companies introduced into large companies in particular into enterprises in particular, was this idea that management of performance, at least these things called once-a-year reviews were very, very important in staff ranking people and providing some kind of a real data structure for why compensation gets determined or why promotions happen or how people can be given some advice about how they get better.
I guess what we were beginning to really see very, very commonly in the workplaces was the cadence of a workplace was changing very rapidly. People wanted much more frequent understanding of the impact they were having, what goals were being accomplished in the much more nearer term which affected execution, people’s understanding of how much feedback they needed and how frequently they needed it in terms of impact.
What we really felt was that that combination of that much faster social and mobile business meant that goals and execution in high performance teams really needed to think about how that staff got to work outside of the traditional email and the verbal stand-ups. The goals really needed to be front and center as a near and medium-term focus, not just an annual process. That was, in our view, very compatible with this idea of annual process as well. Really something needed to be done what we considered performance and goal engagement and something that happened in a lot of companies at the end of the year, which was more traditionally a performance appraisal.
If you really look at what our focus was, we believe that goals that need to be accomplished by high performance teams are nearer term and that people need to keep an eye on those priorities and focus their execution on those nearer term goals. Lots of productivity and tricks and tips as you talk about come into play into how people really are to be doing them as opposed to keeping track of them on emails and notebooks. We’ll definitely discuss more of those.
The designing principle of what we wanted to do was make teams empowered to have an understanding of the nearer term goals, have those visible to the entire peer group all the time, and that the sharing of progress on those goals is a real-time activity on which people can comment and feedback so that the ability to complete those goals, to hit successful matrix, to make the team high performing and successful is more a continuous process as opposed to something that’s done once or twice a year.
Jacob: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense. I know I can speak from personal experience. Whenever I try to set a goal for myself, whether it’s losing weight or eating healthier or whatever the case, I would say that’s the biggest. If I had to really think about it, that’s probably the biggest hurdle to me ever achieving a goal is the fact that I don’t ever… it’s like I forget that I’m doing it so I’ll be consistent for maybe the first week, maybe the second week. Then, I sort of forget what my goal actually is or what I’m really trying to do and I’ll go out on a Saturday night and then before you know it, the whole diet is screwed up, right?
I was reading a very interesting article from a guy called James Clear about goal setting and things like that. Something was very interesting. What he was saying was that it’s very stupid to set deadlines for goals. I’d love to get your opinion on this because, especially in corporate environments and work environments, deadlines are a very real thing. This happens all the time. The examples he gave were around sort of exercise and eating and things like that.
One of the things he said was, for example, instead of saying, “I’m going to lose ten pounds by June,” which is an arbitrary date and means nothing. What you should do instead is have a schedule, which actually reinforces what you were saying before about switch over those frequent check-ins and near real-time monitoring is you can say, instead of saying, “I’m going to lose 10 pounds by June,” you say, “I’m going to commit to exercising three times a week every Monday, Wednesday, Friday, and that’s it.” Then, before you know it, once June comes, you’ve lost 10 pounds, right? What are your thoughts there? Setting a schedule versus setting deadlines and how that all works, especially in the work environment.
Fawad: Yes. A very interesting question, Jacob. We’re actually big fans of James Clear’s work. I think James has some very interesting insights into the way behavior effects our accomplishments. Obviously, unlike James who really thinks about goals in both a personal and a work context, we are very, very focused on helping teams deliver on those goals together. I would say that the thing that I really like by James’ work is his focus on practice and not performance. This dovetails very well with our philosophy, which basically fundamentally also incorporates the idea of the progress principle, which is Teresa Amabile’s work at Harvard.
The idea really is that you need a couple of four pillars on which goal accomplishments on a continuous basis within a team need to work. One is the idea of setting clear goals. In teams in workplaces, we often feel that just mere visibility in writing down of the goals is not done often enough so that people are in fact unclear about their goals. That’s number one. Number two really is the goal… and this goes back to the SMART goal theory in Locke and Latham. I think these have been proven over and over again that you actually want to make these goals measurable. Now, where we do think we would modify the work James’ view around schedule is that there’s no question that practice for us is the focus in continuous accountability and working with the team as a focus to get those goals accomplished, but we are not opposed at all in goal accomplishment, necessarily to due dates.
Our view is that in the workplace, due dates are sometimes going to be essential. They’re not going to be the reason you get the goal accomplished. However, they are realities in the workplace. If you know the due date, the way to accomplish them is not going to be just because you’ve set a deadline. The goal is going to be accomplished by regular practice towards making progress around that. You’ve already made the step to be clear about the goal. The next step is that the progress has to be made everyday no matter how little and incremental. Once it’s shared with the team, it actually creates that sense of accountability and support as well.
Our philosophy in the workplace is once you have clear goals, you still need regular practice and a regular sharing, which allows you the accountability and the support that will get your goals accomplished. We agree with James generally but I think what James is really focusing on in the schedule piece is very valid both in the workplace and in personal. In the workplace, it often means that you should really have some form of a process for regular check-ins. The idea is you should not let the due date be the time where you’re going to look back and see whether something got accomplished or not. You may be familiar for example, they have a concept of check-ins.
We are enormous believers within our teams of doing check-ins. The goal clarity is there. Everybody in the team knows what their goals are. They are making regular progress and then every week or every two weeks, depending on the team’s cadence, you sit down with the manager or sit down with the entire team and you actually review what the progress is. It actually builds transparency. It builds accountability. It helps you get the chunk of the goal accomplished and really makes that incremental step rather than something which you have missed at the end or accomplished at the end.
Jacob: Nice. Very cool. Very interesting. Something I sort of write about a lot or talk about a lot here at Officevibe is psychology and sort of how psychology affects sort of the way you work and things like that. Especially in terms of setting goals and trying to reach and accomplish goals, one of the things I talk a lot about in psychology is the fear of failure and how the brain sort of is really resistant to change. Obviously, I guess depending on what the goal is but when you’re trying to achieve a goal, change is required. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. What do you think about that? About how… the brain is naturally, I guess, resistant to change, but you need to potentially change to achieve the goal. How does that effect the goal setting?
Fawad: Yes. I think that’s a really, really good point, Jacob. I think it’s something every individual and every team has to work through. This is the idea that a number of top tiers in this area call habit forming because once you actually start to make yourself do something over a period of several weeks and several months, it becomes much more natural to you but that early process of really understanding how you’re going to do something regularly is a relatively difficult proposition for most of us. The giving up on anything regularly becomes a relatively easy thing to do.
In our world, there are numerous things that we really do encourage and we believe encourages people to stay on track. Some are tips and tricks that are individually empowering and give visual and other ways in which you stay on habit. Others are where you actually combine with the team to make sure that you feel this little sense of peer pressure support as well as kudos around things that you get accomplished that keep moving your forward as opposed to a lonely endeavor, which is a little bit easier to give up on.
If you think about the individual stuff, then that numerous things, we are big believers in, for example, incorporate that design thinking into our product. One is this idea that you should try to have no two days go by before you do something that is habitual so have a calendar, see a little cross that even if you wrote a little bullet point in terms of what progress you made on your particular goal or some slider bar that you move in terms of moving the needle, you did something that day. That deserves to be acknowledged by you, and that you need to feel good about the fact that you’re continuing to make the habit.
In our team-oriented product, what we find incredibly useful is that when you actually make those goals visible to others, which they are automatically in a team setting and then you share the progress, right away, this idea that people are liking your progress, giving you kudos, encouraging you to keep going really provides a very, very important impetus to keep doing it.
The third piece that we end up doing is you need reminders. There are natural ways in which we think mobile and particularly the newer products, take advantage of the fact that you even intend to do things but until that become part of your habitual day, they can slip your mind. That something happens and you don’t quite get to do them and so I think reminders and clever ways in which the product will help you to stay on track is something that becomes important as well.
We are huge fans, by the way, of work that Nir Eyal does in helping product folks think about how habit-forming products are done. We try to incorporate lots of those insights into how do you make people aware on a daily basis that they still need to do something. How do you keep them on track? How do you make it really easy so that it doesn’t feel like a chore to stay on habit because those are the things that make us give up.
Jacob: Definitely. Yeah. Great, great point. I’m also a huge fan of Nir Eyal. Really, really smart guy. I want to ask you about the problem of… I’ll say over focusing on a goal. I’ll give you an example. I used to work for one of the big Canadian Banks and I worked in customer service or like sales support. We used to always have problems with the sales man because their goals were purely numbers. They had sales targets. You have to hit, let’s say, 100 sales in a month. That’s an example. What they used to do was they used to lie and really make things up. This is actually very serious because we’re dealing with financial products and sometimes what you guys call 401(k)’s and things like that. They’re very serious and can have legal implications when you make the stuff up and lie around these things.
A lot of times, it can lead to unethical, sometimes potentially illegal things, I think, when you’re too overly focused on maybe one single goal. How do you sort of justify or balance the two between having this goal that you want to hit… hitting those sales numbers but also keeping it… making sure that you’re not screwing anything else up.
Fawad: I think, Jacob, that’s a good point. I mean, if you really look at the problem we think about… we’re really passionate about… we find that in high performing organizations, because people want to be a part of winning in high performance organizations. That is a thrill. That is unlike any other when a team that you work on is firing on all cylinders. It’s making an impact. There is a supported environment and culture to do that, and we often find that… the problem more often is that there is a lack of focus. There is a lack of transparency. There is a lack of support around goals and really being able to get people on focusing on priorities as opposed to working hard, which a lot of people do.
The idea is lots of actions, lots of tasks, lots of meetings can happen during the day. How do you actually work smarter to focus on things that are goals? The point that you are bringing up which is potentially in your shoe with, excessive focus on hitting certain matrix, particularly sales-oriented matrix.
I think, that’s a question… we often talk to organizations about is culture. I think you have to set a tone in any team or any organization that will dictate how goals actually get accomplished. I think if the focus becomes so excessively on, it does not matter how you accomplish the goal, but the goals accomplishment is really the sole way you’re going to be rewarded. You don’t have to be collaborative. You can have sharp elbows in that particular culture but as long as you deliver the sale at the end of the quarter, as long as you make your quota or exceed your quota, things work.
I think that’s a cultural impact that unfortunately no system or tool can really obviate. Our view of that always is be both focused but recognize that goals are really a very good way in which high performing teams will be focused. It will know on a day-to-day basis what it is that they’re accomplishing. The sense of purpose, the sense of impact that you create as a culture across the team and across an organization is the designed principle around which goals really operate. As critical as we think goals are for strong execution and performance, you can never divorce them from the idea of what the culture of an organization is and how it’s supposed to be collaborative and ethical and so on.
If that’s not emphasized along that in the culture, then any set of principles whether those are goals or some other way in which performance is expected, can go array. We really believe that the purpose and goals of an organization provide the clarity to employees to do their best. Other cultural elements that are valued and practiced by the leadership as opposed to just being talked about are just as important for a truly, truly well-functioning, high performance organization.
Jacob: Wow. That was so well-said. I probably could not have said it better myself. That seems like a perfect place to end it. I don’t know if there’s even any point of asking any more questions. That was so… I want to end it on a high note. I think we’ll end it here but honestly, just want to thank you so much for taking some time out of your busy day to have a chat with me. This was very interesting. I love talking about this psychology behind productivity and all that stuff. This was great and maybe we can do this again sometime soon.
Fawad: Well, thanks very much for the opportunity, Jacob. I really enjoyed talking to you. I think you’ve asked a lot of the questions we ponder and discuss with our teams and customers literally everyday. This is what really gets us up in the morning, excited about how to actually help teams be culturally stronger, purpose driven and goals driven, so that people are actually working to make an impact as opposed to working for the sake of working. I really appreciate the opportunity to be able to talk to you and look forward to having further chats as opportunity arises.
Jacob: Great. That sounds great. All right. Take care.
Fawad: Wonderful. Thank you.
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