Akshay Sateesh on Clarity, Power & Follow-through
Marni Melrose 0:02
All right, so today I have Akshay with us, and he is from Ziksana consulting. Akshay why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself and where you come from and all that fun stuff?
Get to know Akshay
Sure, yeah. So, I was born in India raised in Malaysia. I made my way to the United States for college and studied bioengineering, ended up graduating on the east coast and then being part of a small incubator in DuPont, which was a medical device incubator. So, my background is in bioengineering medical devices, kind of wore many hats in that field, led product development teams did some business development. I learned a lot in my first career, in a corporate setting. I was very lucky to have that opportunity. At the same time. I also was creating something creative to do along with my corporate job. So, I responded to a Craigslist ad back then in Philadelphia to start an Improv Theater. I have always been interested in theater on the side and did it in high school etc. I didn't have time for college. So just showed up and 10 strangers showed up together and started an Improv Theater called the "Philly In Crowd". So that was a kind of a side hustle back then or side project that was really, really fun to do. But also, what I realized about you know, a few years into it, is that the community and the ability for improvisers to work together or listen to one another. Really kind of be holding each other accountable to the team and putting on that in front of a paying audience. It's not just your show up it actually takes a lot of skills. And so, my thought was, I wonder if there is any opportunity to take some of the skills I'm learning there in the improv world and bring it to the corporate world. And so that was when Ziksana consulting was born. It's kind of this marriage of these two worlds that I lived in, and thinking about, well, how can we help. Corporations or teams can just do things in a more fun, creative, activated way that makes people want to come to work every day, and makes people want to show up in their best self and everyone is really having fun while they're doing it while still staying productive. So that was 2010, started the business and then, fast forward to 2020 it's been 10 years of Ziksana consulting, the focus has shifted a little bit towards the science of play. How do we activate the world of work through play? Applied improv theatre is part of where we came from but we expanded our services to be much more of a leadership development firm, executive coaching, help people with scaling their culture and their strategy as they grow and really, keeping that fundamental purpose of how can we create playful environments for people to be able to be productive at the same time. So, the marriage of two of those concepts is the basis of our organization.
Marni Melrose 3:27
That is awesome. So, tell us what you've gained from starting your own business.
I think there is a number of different things. So, on a personal level, I didn't go to school just to launch this business. I did have a minor in entrepreneurship. So, I kind of understood how to start the basics of business and accounting and finance and kind of thinking about strategic decision-making things like that, but that is all-in theory versus actual practice. So, one of the things that I learned is my style of leadership, what am I really good at? What am I naturally good at? I think in some ways I've learned that I'm naturally good if I'm passionate about something, which I am about this work, then I'm going to put my blood and sweat into it, and I'm going to really bleed the brand in a way that is very authentic. You don't really get taught that in business school or anything like that. You kind of have to experience it. So, one thing is just learning about my own style, and how do I inspire people. How do I get connected to my own brand, it's easy because the brand keeps the fun? Whenever I am kind of swaying into, "Hey, I've got to make these decisions, tough decisions, and financial decisions," I am forcing myself to come back to, "What is the fun in it?, "How can I bring that back?" What decision is going to fuel our brand so that our clients and our work can still marry that play and productivity side, and that makes it easier. So, one thing that I definitely learned is, it's easier if you have a clear direction and a clear vision of where you want to take an organization. I think the first three years, I'm kind of figuring it out and kind of in survival mode. Then as soon as we are launched into a very focused ... our vision is to activate the world of work through play. That is a very broad statement. However, we use it all the time. When we do something new, or we design something or we engage with a client, we ask ourselves the question, do we achieve that vision? And if so, how do we how do we make sure we capture that information? If not, how do we do it better than next time? Having that clarity is really important. Lastly, I will say that I've learned that I need a support system. My wife has been an extremely valuable person in my life just personally, but also just as a support. She's got a business she's running; I've got a business I'm running, how can we learn from each other, and be there for each other in terms of a network of reliance. I need help. I'm going through this problem or this decision. I think having one person is minimum of having a clear network it's really useful and I've gradually grown my network to reach out to different people to get advice, get some thoughts, but fundamentally my rock is my spouse. She can definitely help make some decisions help counter arguments, things like that. Having that person to counter off is great. Not just in my organization, but outside of it as well. That is been very useful.
Marni Melrose 7:04
That is great. So, you mentioned clarity a minute ago. So, let's dive a little deeper into clarity. How do you get clear? And when you are working with your clients, how do you help them with clarity?
Akshay on clarity
So, a couple of things, we have a framework that we use for everything. So, when it comes to clients, we always start with asking, what is your end outcome? What are you trying to really achieve? It's funny because we are in the leadership development training coaching culture game and everybody has this nebulous idea of what they think they want, but when we force them to name it, in like what are the top three things or the top one thing you want somebody to walk away with or people to walk away with? It's hard for them to answer. However, just asking that question forces them to come clear with, something very specific versus something broad and overarching. So, one thing is we ask them right up front, what are the outcomes that are most important to you? Because that is what we care about on one side of our loop. The process is our unique flavor in, how are we going to get to that outcome? Leave it to us, we have got super fun methodologies, we are going to engage the group in very unique ways that they're going to talk about for a long time and most importantly, we are going to nail that outcome. So, we just go back to our framework. Our framework is outcomes and people, productivity, and play. So, if we just start where the client is, then we can move them through our framework to our process, and then come back to their outcome. And then if we just continue to reuse that same process that we have when talking to clients, then they know that we are not doing it because we love our work only. We love our work, and we are helping you achieve what you are trying to do. So, our framework is really the fundamental place where we start. We use it for design. We use it for conversations with clients. We use it for making coaching frameworks. 360s, we kind of use that as kind of a mothership for all these other instruments that we have created.
Marni Melrose 9:33
Awesome. So, talk to us about power too, how do you in your own business, get the willpower on those days when things are not going well? How do you kind of power through things? I heard you talk about your wife as a support system, maybe that might be part of your power, right? But what helps you in those dark moments when you are like, I started this business and today things go wrong because we all know things go wrong, right?
Akshay on power
Yeah, that is a good question. Part of the answer is my spouse, who makes sure that our communication pattern is very healthy and open and always improving. Because, when I come home from work, and I have two kids, if it's a stressful day, if it's not a great day, if I'm disappointed about something, and I have an aura of bad energy, it's going to translate into my relationships at home. And being very open about where I am, what is going on for me, seeking help from my family, to be able to help me be resilient is one place to look. And fortunately, our brand also tells us what to do the word play in our vision statement, and we don't just write it on the wall, we actually live it out. We believe that being playful and taking breaks, if it's energy, and actually following your play preference is a way to keep you healthy, with a positive attitude, being resilient so that, it teaches you to be open to new possibilities. It teaches you to adapt to new situations. It teaches you to take risks where, you may not want to. Those are really fundamental skills to drive through tough times to develop resilience. So, I just go back to our brand and say, Well, I'm not playing enough. If I've had a dark day or a tough day. I need to stop. I need to go back to the other side of the loop, where we talk about that and just give myself a break. Actually, go play with my kids or go exercise will do something that is going to give me the personal energy, but also in the long run the resilience to come back to what I need to do. And so, we go to those things.
Marni Melrose 12:13
Yeah, I love that word that you use, resilience. Some of our other speakers and I've heard before anti fragile, I just love that. That is absolutely wonderful. So, thanks for sharing that. What about follow through? So, what kind of structures do you put in place? Now that you've got clarity, you've got power. What helps you to follow through on your commitments?
Akshay on follow-through
Well, the short answer to that is, we are a small firm, we have got about 8 to 10 people in our firm. We use OKRs as our goal setting tool.
Marni Melrose 12:57
Yeah, tell us what those are for the people Who might not know what those are?
Yeah, so Google came up with this kind of goal setting approach, where it's pretty agile in terms of, you set your goal strategically, and you've set some strategic objectives and then the trickle down to the next thing or next department or person is more specific than that. So, you have an objective, and underneath each of the objectives have key results. So, for me, I've got three or four objectives. Underneath each one has three or four key results showing that the objective is grow revenue or something like that, underneath the key result can be something more specific than that, what am I activities that I'm going to be doing to be able to drive that objective, and these OKRs that we use it the way that Google says to use it, which is we use it every quarter, in terms of a change potentially to the OKRs. Then we use it on a weekly basis in our meetings. We start our Monday morning meeting with our OKRs review, to say, where are we green light, yellow light, red light, to kind of measure in some way. And I have been asked me for help, not just writing it down, and measuring some way of saying we are making progress or not, but for the things that we are not making progress on sometimes that happens, and I need help. So, asking people for help is super important to be able to drive those results. And my expectation is that my team members are also asking for help. That kind of cross functional dialogue around OKRs is a fundamental way we hold people accountable in this company. And the last thing is that we do coaching. If we are not practicing what we teach other people, we are not going to be good. We got to coach ourselves. We got to coach our teams. We set up one on ones. We are accessible. We focus on performance sometimes. Sometimes it's just about development, we separate those two. So, we practice what we preach with that. Weekly and every two weeks, that's plenty of accountability for us. And I'll say one last thing is that there is no best accountability than your own motivation. So, one key driver for us is not just what's on your OKR sheet because the company needs you to do that. It's which OKR do you think you would like to do what's good, what is going to drive you to wake up in the morning and say, I love this OKR because it's mine, and I get to own it. I'm enjoying my work, and I'm enjoying doing it every day. That is self-motivation, self-accountability written in that. So that's something that we talk about consistently, too.
Marni Melrose 15:51
That is wonderful. That is wonderful. Well, thank you so much for sharing all of those today. And I know that you have a free gift for our listeners. So why dont you tell us more about your free gift?
Yeah, absolutely. We spoke about coaching before. I know in this virtual kind of format, what we are offering is a 30-minute coaching conversation with you with our expert coaches. We really drive right to those results. As we said, we come at in in a super fun way. So, we are, we want to schedule a 30-minute free coaching conversation with you. And we will give you a set of tools to walk away with and get you connected to what we do here.
Marni Melrose 16:32
Awesome, awesome. We will make sure to link that down below. And thank you so much for joining us today.
Thank you. Appreciate it.