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We’re passionate about the world of work, and how we can make it better. To help satisfy our curiosity, we’ve launched an interview series where we pick the brains of experienced leaders, business owners, managers, and individual contributors to get their thoughts on how we can collectively build better workplaces.

Vidya Santhanam

Join us in our next installment below as Vidya Santhanam—Co-Founder and CEO of Fitbots OKRs—shares her insights with us.

We’d love to get to know you a bit better, tell us a bit about your backstory.

My name is Vidya, Co-Founder and CEO of Fitbots OKRs.  I started Fitbots in 2018 which is a SaaS product for OKRs with an expert network of OKR coaches.   

Prior to which I used to lead Strategic Talent Management and Leadership building for a Billion $ company named Mindtree. Leading Organizational change and working on designing leadership building experiences helped me work with stakeholders and also build a strong leadership pipeline for the company. I also anchored top talent programs, which helped identify top talent across the company which was then almost 20,000+ employees.  

Having had a career in people & culture for 17 years before starting up, helped me to gain a deep perspective on Organizational building, people management and design of people practices.   

I am also a mom of an 11 year old and a 1 year old fur baby :) and an ardent birder whenever I get some time off!   

If we were to ask a friend to describe your personality to us, what would they say?

My friends would describe me as a confidant and someone who they can count on when they need someone the most.   

Thinking back to your career journey, what’s an interesting story that stands out?

In my career, I would spend a lot of energy designing leadership building programs. There was a particular workshop, where a senior expert from the industry was facilitating a conversation on the Growth Mindset and converting a problem statement to a business idea. 

We used a strategyzer business model canvas tool to create a mock idea. That was also a turning point to believe that we all have a bunch of ideas, and all we need to do is to work with a diverse set of people, and put the idea to paper!  The idea was  a ‘delivery app for Learning, much like a food delivery app‘, which was not executed :) 

What’s the most impactful lesson you've learned over your career thus far?

building connection will help build a better world of work with vidya santhanam quote graphic

The most impactful lesson was when I moved away from the warmth of the herd, to set up Fitbots. People would want to know if I have done sales or finance or technology programs.   

Founders are the best sales folks for their organization, and the impactful lesson is that we can acquire these when we are in the trenches! 

Thanks for giving us some insight into who you are! Let’s jump into things. When you hear the phrase “build a better world of work”, what comes to mind?

The world of work is ever evolving.

With hybrid work teams being the normal, not the new normal anymore, there is a significant amount of pressure on companies towards delivering outcomes, and engaging teams who one may never see in person frequently.

Building a better way of work would have the following: 

  1. Micro Moments to form peer connections in a hybrid world (task led to relationship building conversations and having laughs!) 
  2. Outcomes vs tasks and efforts—channelizing teams to focus on tasks which deliver outcomes 
  3. Manager’s capability to empathize with teams and coach them in a hybrid setting  
  4. The importance of data security and having each member be responsible for being a custodian 

For you, what’s the main blocker you see as standing in the way of building a better world of work?

The speed of acquiring skills to manage and inspire hybrid teams, and deliver business outcomes. There are three actions which people managers can place efforts towards: 

  1. Acquire basic skills or micro skills on coaching (more exploratory and helps team members think by asking powerful questions) along with mentoring (which is mostly directive or an approach where guidance is delivered to the team). Coaching as a capability can be acquired either by being certified as a coach or a manager as coach program.  
  2. Have a presence on social media, a lot of engagement and knowledge gets acquired by being present on Social media and networking with others globally.
  3. Carve out time for conversations which are not only work or outcome driven, but also fosters long term investment in your team.
    1. What does success look like to you in 12 months / 2 years? 
    2. What are some things you are proud of achieving so far? 
    3. What skills would you like to acquire for the future? 
    4. How can I be of assistance in your career growth? 
    5. Who in my network can I connect you to for future learning?  
    6. What blockers do you face today?  What steps do you think we can take together to move them?  
    7. What do you think can come in your way of achieving your personal goals? 

What’s one thing within our control that we can practically do to build a better world of work today? And, how do you recommend going about it?

We can definitely have conversations to build connections, rather than overtly task oriented ones.  A recent study by pew research in Jan 2022, revealed that 60% of remote workers surveyed have lesser connections to co-workers.  

Some actions to think about are small acts: 

  1. Have no meeting agenda to catch up on how a person is doing and feeling about their virtual environment. 
  2. Be mindful of work/life schedules and the best way to communicate with the individual. 
  3. Celebrate small moments of wins or even effort progress, as the team moves towards the outcome metrics. 

Can you share one thing you’ve experienced, seen, or read about that is leading us towards a better world of work?

The Butterfly Effect is a very interesting phenomena. The flapping of butterfly wings can have a nonlinear effect like a typhoon. This theory is much debated.  

With COVID 19, we have all experienced how the world is so interconnected, with the spark of the outbreak of a pandemic in one part of the globe moving across the world. After 2 years, this has led to the world being Hybrid. This has helped new sources of talent to get to the workforce, flexibility in work timings and saving fuel and commute time by setting up home offices.   

The Trillion Dollar Coach by Eric Schmidt, Alan Eagle and Jonathan R is an excellent book on People leadership and coaching. This is a treasure trove of management practices, and one can take nuggets to apply in a hybrid world too. I love the section on how to structure one on ones.     

I’m curious, thinking about building a better world of work, is there a company and/or leader who stands out to you as someone we should follow? If so, what are they up to?

Someone who I follow is Lazlo Bock and the work which he and his team are doing over at Humu.   

How can our readers follow your work?

You could follow me on LinkedIn and Medium.

Thank you for adding your voice to People Managing People’s interview series on How to Build a Better World of Work!

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By Tim Reitsma

Tim has deep experience in HR, people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.