Interview: Startups and corporations should respect each other

Comparing Deloitte with startups sounds crazy, but corporations can also offer people freedom at work and tailor positions to their needs. We talked to Pavel Šiška, Partner in Charge for Consulting at Deloitte, about changing the structure of big players, creation of company culture and a certain type of management called servant leadership.

You started as a marketing specialist, then founded two companies, and today you are Partner in Charge for Consulting at Deloitte. To what do you credit this success?

At first, I found what I enjoyed, and then I tried to be good at it. From my experience, there are no people who are bad by default and destined to be sacked. Usually we were just not able to find a fitting position for them. In my work, I try to look for the right people and put them in the right places, while giving them some freedom to tailor their position to their needs.

Pavel Šiška, Partner in Charge for Consulting at Deloitte

Is this even possible in your business?

I know that comparing Deloitte to startups may sound crazy, but even in our company there are areas that give people freedom. While auditing and taxes are part of a heavily regulated field that requires a high degree of centralization, consulting is much freer and more creative. People in our teams are very self-sufficient and we do not necessarily think that the one who has the highest position in the hierarchy is the smartest one. We still have the old classical model of consulting, in which the old sculptor in the workshop is the boss, but this is because the market is set up that way. However, eighty percent of the company does not care whether you are a partner or a consultant. What is important is whether you are fit for the job. We are not so tied up, and from the point of view of organizational structure, we are rather flat.

Is this approach typical only for Deloitte Prague?

It is part of the Deloitte company culture that strives to be as effective and flat as possible. What twenty people in other corporations would do is done here by one person who has the assistance of an operational manager. Decentralization of business is a trend of the Big Four accounting firms, which have transformed from classical consulting to deployment of technology. In addition to trying to change our culture from the inside, we also cooperate with startups. We buy some of them, with others we create alliances, and we use some of them directly in our projects.

You are inspired by startups. How can you as a corporation inspire them?

In many cases, entrepreneurs are excited about technology, but they cannot explain the added value to the customer. For example, they create a great search engine for semantic analysis, but instead of telling people how it will help them, they talk to them about technical parameters that are of no concern to anyone. At Deloitte, we save people the frustration that no one understands them and help them come to the board of directors of the bank and say, "Our blue elephant saves you 3% of the price of risk." Until you get to that sentence, all technology is useless.

What other knowledge can corporate people give to entrepreneurs when they have never done business?

Sometimes I ask myself the same question. I think people who manage to keep common sense in the corporate environment can do well at the stage of scaling up. I myself have experienced three times in which a company has gone through some critical points. When you have ten people in a team, you are friends and you do not need to write procedures on paper. The breaking point comes with 80–100 people (Dunbar's number) – you do not know each other and at that moment you have to start talking about company culture.

How should such a culture be set up?

Company culture is determined by what business you are doing. When you are working at a nuclear power plant, you will have other demands on work performance than in a marketing agency. The culture should be stated by the founder from the start because their way of working and behaving with people influences the whole business. When it's a company norm that you do everything for the customer to be happy, it's called culture. A newbie does not need to read about company culture in some documents, they immediately understand it and adapt to it. Culture is how people act when you are not watching them.

What if the culture is not set up well from the very beginning?

I think changing an established culture is very difficult. When you introduce a culture of "good" people, it's hard to change it to a culture of "bad" people, and vice versa. In Deloitte, I have experienced the transformation from a classic consultancy firm to a more modern one. We have grown from 150 to 300 people and the whole transformation took three years. When I look back at it, the most effective measure was replacing some people.

How do you manage people from a position of leadership? 

I follow servant leadership. In practice, it means I'm trying to serve people so that they do their job well. Even though I have a busy calendar, I talk to people, I answer phone calls and when people come to me with a problem, I use all my strength to resolve it. It is clear that in my position I decide a lot of things and give direction, but I try to trust people and give them freedom. I do not want to control everything; on the contrary, I support them in what they do. I'm here to make people succeed.

Do you have any final advice for startups?

There is different advice for every stage of a startup, but I often feel that I, as a corporate employee, lack respect from startups. For small businesses, it is easy to criticize a big bank for having to follow many regulations. Most surprisingly, then, these startups want corporations to sell their product. Would it not be better to try to understand how the other party works and to respect it instead of criticizing it? I think people should be honest with each other. Few people say, "I am doing a job that is totally useless. I am super lazy at it and I deserve my salary to be lower or get sacked." If I am a brilliant data analyst, I am probably not the best lawyer, so I should respect others.