Ladies and gentlemen, thanks for tuning in to a brand new episode of The Leader Show with Lou Carter. We are joined by Nirav Patel, president and CEO of Bristlecone, a leading provider of AI-powered application transformation services for the digital supply chain.
Under Nirav’s guidance, Bristlecone has experienced a significant phase of expansion, driven by his effective leadership in fostering a positive organizational culture and spearheading transformative initiatives.
Now, without any further delay, let’s find out what makes Bristlecone a Most Loved Workplace®.
Firstly, Lou and Nirav discuss Bristlecone and its approach to transforming supply chain management using modern, AI-driven technology. The latter highlights that Bristlecone, with its team of approximately 2,800 specialists, focuses on aiding Fortune 500 companies in transforming their traditional supply chains into more modern, digital ones. This is achieved using the latest technologies, including cloud data and AI.
Lou inquires about the specific tools and applications of AI that facilitate this transformation. In response, Nirav mentions three key areas of Bristlecone’s capabilities. The first area is advisory and consulting, which involves providing thought leadership in supply chain processes, process transformation, and domain consulting. This includes planning, procurement, sourcing, and fulfillment.
The second area is platforms, where Bristlecone collaborates with both established tech platforms like SAP and Oracle, as well as emerging cloud-native platforms. These platforms are an integral part of the ecosystem that Bristlecone creates for its clients.
The third area, which Nirav describes as the most exciting, involves building ground-up native supply chain systems. He notes that supply chain management, traditionally seen as a cost center, has evolved to become a competitive advantage for companies, especially in the wake of COVID-19.
This shift has led to a greater focus on modernizing supply chain networks, sourcing strategies, and planning systems. Bristlecone invests in accelerators, tools, AI, and cloud technologies to support this modernization, leading the way in transforming supply chain management.
Moving on, the speakers delve into Bristlecone’s RISE philosophy and its impact on the company’s culture, particularly in the context of a highly service-based industry.
Nirav notes the importance of people in the services industry, noting that while employees have always been considered the biggest asset, the dynamic has changed in the current era. Unlike in the past, where “assets” would leave the office daily, today’s workforce often doesn’t come to the office. According to Nirav, this shift necessitates a different approach to building company culture.
Furthermore, Nirav explains that the RISE philosophy is central to Bristlecone’s efforts to foster a unique and compelling culture. RISE focuses on three main aspects:
Rising for a more equal world includes a focus on inclusion, climate, ethics, integrity, and building a long-lasting, enduring organization.
Rising to be future-ready, emphasizing customer focus, technology, and innovation to prepare employees and the company for future challenges.
Rising to create value involves fostering an entrepreneurial spirit and driving impactful business transformations.
Nirav also stresses the importance of cultivating a culture of listening. He strongly believes that listening to employees, regardless of their physical location, is crucial in building what he calls “today’s Most Loved Workplaces.” Fostering a sense of connection and bonding is essential in a hybrid and virtual work environment.
The RISE philosophy, combined with a culture of listening, is key to aligning with employees’ individual purposes and aspirations, ultimately creating more exciting and engaging workplaces.
On a similar note, Lou and Nirav discuss the importance of listening to employees and taking action based on their feedback, which is essential for creating a Most Loved Workplace like Bristlecone.
Nirav shares that Bristlecone is proud to be recognized as a Most Loved Workplace. He highlights the importance of quick action-making in response to employee feedback. Nirav gives an example of introducing “My Day Fridays” during a town hall, where employees live-voted on the idea, and it was implemented immediately starting the following Friday.
Thus, it only goes to demonstrate Bristlecone’s commitment to quick listening and action, making employees feel valued and heard.
Lou remarks on the common misconception that employee culture surveys are solely for identifying company issues for the management to fix. Instead, he advocates for a shared responsibility model where employees also take part in changing their cultural behaviors. This fosters a collective effort to transform the workplace culture.
Nirav agrees, highlighting the sense of empowerment among employees. He explains how Bristlecone’s “My Day Fridays” initiative, which provides personal time on Friday afternoons, relies on mutual respect and ownership among employees. It reflects Bristlecone’s focus on best people practices, including health and wellness and diversity and inclusion.
Nirav also discusses the challenges CEOs face in maintaining a unified workforce, especially as companies grow. He stresses the importance of allowing the entire organization to resonate with the culture and having a clear direction that employees can align with, as it helps people understand whether they fit within the company’s culture.
Subsequently, the speakers delve into the significance of aligning personal and organizational values and how this alignment impacts employee commitment and overall workplace culture.
Nirav notes the importance of core values in an organization’s journey, highlighting professionalism, customer focus, and quality as fundamental. He emphasizes the value of upholding the dignity of individuals, even when making tough decisions that might not be universally popular. Maintaining respect and individual recognition is crucial, even when there are differences of opinion.
Nirav also touches on the role of being good corporate citizens. With its global presence in 12 hubs, Bristlecone encourages its employees to engage with and serve their local communities. This aspect of corporate responsibility extends beyond the organization’s boundaries, impacting the communities where employees live and work.
Such initiatives are vital for building enduring workplaces, resonating with employees’ values, and contributing to a holistic approach to organizational culture.
Next, Lou and Nirav discuss integrating different functions within Bristlecone, likening it to a relay race where advisory, platforms, and digital tools must work together. They then discuss how Bristlecone involves employees in planning to reinforce its workplace culture.
Nirav highlights the importance of personalizing the company’s cultural themes to adapt to employee needs. He gives an example regarding the work-from-home policy versus working back in the office. Initially, Bristlecone pushed employees to return to the office, but they quickly realized that this move did not align with most of their employees’ preferences. This realization came from their culture of listening, which values the input of all 2,800 employees.
Recognizing that forcing employees back to the office was not feasible, Bristlecone shifted to a more hybrid model. They now maintain smaller office setups to accommodate those who prefer or need to work on-site, like certain leaders, enabling functions, and innovation teams. This change demonstrates Bristlecone’s flexibility and willingness to adapt its policies based on employee feedback and needs.
Finally, Nirav shares how Bristlecone manages cultural differences within its global teams and promotes cultural awareness and cooperation.
He notes the importance of awareness in understanding cultural differences and finding commonalities. He believes that the first step for organizations is exposing employees to diverse cultures, which is fundamental to learning and understanding. Nirav stresses the importance of having a diverse workforce (the “quantity game”) and ensuring employees are exposed to this diversity, which is essential for effectively serving global customers.
He then discusses the “quality game,” which involves deepening the understanding of different cultures among employees. Nirav has observed that people are generally open to learning about different cultures, and this openness can trigger a self-learning model that fosters acceptance and understanding of diverse communities.
Thank you for your time!
Lou Carter : Hey, it's great to have everybody on here today. We have a great guest with us today. His name is Nirav Patel and he is the president and CEO of Bristlecone. They're the leading provider of AI powered application transformation services for the digital supply chain. So we're going to learn a lot from him today.
They're growing at a high growth period, which means you need a great leader like Nirav to make that kind of positive organizational culture and transformation. And we're going to hear all about how he's done that and how he became a Most Loved Workplace certified, which congratulations, Nirav on becoming A Most Loved Workplace.
Nirav Patel : Thank you, Lou. Pleasure meeting you today and thank you for having me on this discussion.
LC : It’s good to have you. Good to have you. So let's start first with Bristlecone. I want to hear more about it, what you do and what people should know about you. Tell us what it is people should know about Bristlecone.
NP : Yeah, I mean, I think the way I summarize this, Bristlecone is really focused on as a modern supply chain transformation company, all we do in everything that we do, we have about close to 2,800 specialists that day in and day out focus on helping a lot of our large Fortune 500 clients transforming their supply chain from more traditional supply chain to what I call to a more modern and digital supply chain.
And so when I talk about supply chain, that's been a very, very broad topic. How we do that transformation is all with cloud data AI and using what I call the newest set of technologies and tools available to modernize our client's supply chain.
LC : So let's talk about the tools because what a great way to do it through AI, which gives so much more efficiency to the process, you might say, right? Automating is the way that we can one day surf the rings of Saturn, it’s a lot easier than we could if we didn't have automation. So tell me more about what that application is in AI that allows that kind of transformation service for digital supply chain.
NP : Yeah, I think I'd summarize, I call the tool sets or the capabilities in three big buckets for us, right? The first one I think is really the advisory thought leadership, particularly around supply chain processes, process transformation, domain consulting, kind of leading around planning, procurement, sourcing, as well as fulfillment and execution capabilities in terms of clients are always looking for the best ways to really put in their planning systems, thinking about modernizing sourcing strategies and so forth.
So to me, first big block is advisory and consulting. That's very important. Then second thing, what I call is platforms. There are obviously the big behemoths with the SAPs and Oracles, which continue to really lead in a lot of those tech platforms transformation. But then you have a host of what I call emerging more cloud native platforms around Kinaxis, O9 Solutions plan and so forth. So there are a host of those platforms that exist today and clients are continuing to look at ways that they can have that ecosystem of platforms from the large scale core ERP tech platforms, but also more of the emerging set of platforms.
The coolest part though, in the third segment though, is all about building ground up native supply chain systems. And increasingly our enterprises are looking at keeping the innovation elements of supply chain to be more as a competitive advantage. Supply chain in the past was really a cost center, a lot more of an hygiene and wanted to make sure that it's kept lights on and it's never broken.
COVID changed the game of how clients and our customers and our CEOs, customer CEOs started to look at supply chain as a competitive advantage as against purely as a cost center.
And I think that shift in Mindshare is very fundamental in the way and how supply chain has become, I call the CEO's agenda items and they're constantly looking at ways that supply chain could really play as a competitive advantage for them and how can they accelerate modernizing of their supply chain networks and their sourcing strategies and their planning systems to reflect on that.
So, this is where more and more accelerators and tools and AIs and data and cloud comes in. And so we really invest and take a point of view that we will lead our point of view with those while trying to think about it. So to me, summarizing it is three sets of buckets, the advisory consulting, thinking about platforms and thinking about the digital tools to build up ground up supply chain systems.
LC : Okay, right there. We know we're a highly service-based industry for you, which means if you have that connection to stakeholders, it also means you have to have a deep emotional connection within your team, of course, especially as you grow. That brings us to your leadership of your culture, the Most Loved Workplace culture that you have and how the RISE philosophy, right, has really become a sort of central component around how people view their leadership and culture at Bristlecone. Tell us more about what rise is and how you see that as part of how you lead.
NP : That’s a good segue to talking about people and Lou, I think the interesting thing in services industry, and you talked about services industry as a very fundamental people driven play. We are in the talent business and in the past we used to say that our people are our biggest assets. They continue to be our biggest assets today, and that hasn't fundamentally changed, but in the past we used to say that our assets walk out of our office every single day.
Today we are in a place, my assets never come to my office. Working with these assets and really building a culture in today's time frame is very different than how we built organizations of the past. And to us the RISE philosophy plays very centrally in how we have really thought about building what I call a very compelling and a unique and a different culture.
You know, RISE philosophy focuses on three fundamental things. One, rise for a more equal world. So we want to focus on inclusion, we want to focus on climate, we want to focus on ethics, integrity, and how we really build a long lasting and an enduring organization. Two, RISE to be what I call future ready. Think about customer focus, think about technology, think about innovation, and that's what is going to make all of our employees and us future ready for our customers.
And the three and the final thing is RISE to create value, which is very entrepreneurial, very scale, impactful business transformations you can drive and so can you drive that culture of entrepreneurship among your people. So to me, our RISE purpose actually gives us a very solid foundations on how we want to think about our culture and underlying all of this actress of go and personally, my individual approach has always been installing a culture of listening.
And to me that is very central way as to how you can get to that building of what I call today's Most Loved Workplaces. I think it's important that if the workplaces are going to be fairly hybrid, more virtual, you are looking at your assets sitting in their homes, you're trying to bond yourself into a fun loving place, which is an interesting way to think about it because it's no longer the four walls of your office. I mean that's no longer the case to me.
And so the RISE philosophy gives me a very good way, and I continue to reiterate the point that you have to have a culture of listening. You need to listen to your employees no matter where they're seated. And if you listen, if you align with where their individual purpose and aspirations are, I think you collectively end up building more exciting workplaces.
LC : This concept of Listen is huge, isn't it? And I say that because, well number one, we're all about employee listening. That's exactly what we do is employee listening and that's one component of course of the process. The key, the change that we see from the more successful companies is listening and doing. So far too many companies that we've seen get lots of data in a lot of analytics and we do have process for looking at the top and the bottoms and there's no execution.
So, there's a lack of action fatigue that's happening. You hear survey fatigue, this is lack of action fatigue. So tell me more, since you're a Most Loved Workplace, what do you do when you identify? Of course we have that on our system, identify the top and bottom competencies, you identify the most difficult comments and best ones. How do you take those comments and connect them to doing inside your company? What do you do to make that happen?
NP : First of all, I should say that we feel extremely proud and privileged to be recognized as the Most Loved Workplace. And I think it's such an intense and thorough exercise that you guys do in identifying and I call crystallizing this notion of workplaces and what love means in the workplaces. And I think, so that's fantastic to see somewhat of a method to the madness of high true how to get that. I think to me, the culture of listening also ties very strongly to the fact that you need to be quick in action making. And it's important that, I think most organizations have very solid ways of feedback loops and they have surveys, they have ways to really start their journey on customer listening. But to me, I think you can elevate this if you make it fairly instant and quick. I'll give you one example.
One of the things that in our recent town halls, almost about a few quarters ago, we wanted to introduce this idea of my day Fridays where we basically said no scheduled meetings on Friday afternoons across the world. And so the way we did it is we actually were at a town hall and we said, Hey, what do you guys all think about this idea? And people could live vote it and we had 70% acceptance and we just write there, announced it saying this begins next Friday. And so this kind of ideas and instant response make your client and make your employees feel we are quick about listening and we are quick about actioning.
So I think it is important that the traditional feedback loop systems were waiting for an analysis- paralysis and sort of saying, okay, here are the five things that you want to take. But I think the instant respond mechanisms work brilliant. I think people love it because you're very honest, very direct with them in saying, if you feel that something has to be changed and it's implementable, it's practical go for. I think that's probably the best way to think about it.
LC : What's interesting too is far too often we look at employees culture surveys as things that employees see wrong about the company and the company has to fix them for them. What we're doing here at Most Loved Workplace is that we're saying, you take responsibility too. Employees take responsibility for this and changing their own cultural behaviors in doing the very things and comments that they're requesting of others because when we all change as a whole system, everything changes.
It's not just this power that comes down and helps everybody and I can help you. I'm the larger power that be. No, it's we are the larger power that be. We are it. Employees are it. Staff is it. Employees, managers, leaders. We're in this together.
NP : Yeah. And I think that sense of empowerment, you can see immediately showing up in employees, right? Because when they feel that, I mean there is no corporate policy that I've installed to say we are going to govern and manage My Day Fridays very strictly. Ultimately it is a people thing. I mean we said, Hey, everybody will respect each other's calendars and we won't do any meetings on Friday afternoons. And so that's what My Day Friday is, it's your own personal time. You think through what you want to do and catch up before you really wrap up the week. The execution of it demands the level of sense of ownership from every individual. And so that I think you can see a very, very immediate ratification in those conversations having what I call best people practices, particularly around health and wellness, focusing on diversity and inclusion.
These are very important aspects for employees today much more than in the past. So, I think you have to kind of relate and resonate to what your employee base is saying about the communities you work in about social issues and so forth. So I think it is increasingly a very, very balancing act for CEOs to really look at as to how to really represent a very unified workforce. And as you grow beyond a few thousand people, it gets increasingly complex. I think the point you made is fantastic, Lou, that you cannot do this just sitting at the top or with a few leadership people at the top.
You have to really allow the whole organization to feel and rhythm with how you think about the culture because ultimately while the guiding is coming from the leadership and what they reflect, if people don't align with your culture, and there are times people will say, Hey, this is not my type of company. Actually, you would want that clarity be more clearly articulated that people can make that choice. Because if you don't allow them and you remain a very confused organization, then people say, I don't know whether I can relate to this company or not. So I think it's important that as organizations you also pick a level of direction that people align and synthesize with. That is an important aspect.
LC : Nirav, you mentioned create value in terms of, in RISE, ours is the alignment of values. It's very similar in that way and under our model that you took, what's interesting about those values and discovering, Hey, is this the right values for me? Is this the right fit for me? That's an important one because it also goes to what we call an organization development effective commitment. How committed am I to what I'm doing and why I'm here and what is it that brings us to work every day and why?
And changing that around, it's not just what people are doing to me, right? You're doing this to me, thus I'm angry and I'm upset, I'm frustrated, which we actually look at in terms of sentiment. It's not just about that anger or frustration or disappointment. It's about what is leading this sadness and disappointment internally, right? Why am I fully sad? Why am I disappointed? Is it something that's happening with me? Why is what I am doing not connected to what the company must do to be successful?
NP : When you do that alignment, feedback, discussions, I mean, it's amazing that you will come to realization that there are some things of your core values that remain constant throughout one's journey. So things like professionalism, customer first, quality focus. I mean, to me that's I call table stakes of how you really build organizations and enduring organizations. What stood out for us is one of the things that people said that we want to think about dignity of the individual more so than anything else. And that's very important. So it's not about when you're making choices, you're taking stance. It's quite likely that you're going to be loved by somebody, but you're going to also be hated by a few. How do you really, while doing that, still continue to have a difference of opinion, but hold the dignity of the individual through the journey and not really at any cost dilute that.
And so to me, those are the aspects of your culture which talks about alignment saying, Hey, I align with the fact that I'm well respected, I'm individually recognized, don't have an alignment on all the specific themes or the issues that I think are important. And some there are, but I feel it's important to know that because when you're trying to synthesize and say something or do something that you want most of your organizations to relate to, right? That's the way you want to think about it.
So to me, things like dignity of the individual. The other point is corporate being good corporate citizens. We serve many countries and many communities. We have about 12 global hubs around the world. So representing and allowing our employees to represent those communities and serve them with the broader framework is actually extremely important and relevant. These topics, while they cross the boundaries of your organization, they are part of your culture. What you do, not just within the company, but also what you do with the communities you serve matter. And so these are very important points for a lot of your employees. And so you just want to make sure that you are thinking it more holistically of how to build more enduring workplaces.
LC : What's interesting is just what you said that we got this question and is exactly what you said with such a transformative application to supply chain industry, how have you kept your dispersed workforce, which you're talking about right now and rowing in the same direction, aligned with your three main buckets? Tell us about that. Tell us more.
NP : Scott, I think asked this question, and Scott, look, I'll say this is the hardest thing for today's leaders because you have to understand that you are servicing different minds and there are so many minds. And as we can see that when you have four members in your family, you have difference of opinion with people that you've lived for entire life. And that happens on topic. So I think in this way that the way you want to think about it is you really find what's the smaller employee passion that can relate to what you're doing as a broader company.
And I think you have to distinct the two and say, organizationally, we are going to do these, directionally, these 10 things. Now, you need to have individuals finding their passion and objective to these three buckets of what I call advisory platforms and tools. And these are functional things.
And sometimes people say, you know what? I am in this place. I want to do this, allow that mobility. And so one of the things we do as a company is we are saying you can try and be, do and visualize to do anything you have under the roof of the company. So if you're a support function, doesn't mean you cannot do a line function job. We have had people who came in from our enabling functions and support functions to take up customer facing roles in the advisory and the client partner model, how do you do that is because you're saying these are all skills. This is what is available for us in the company, and as long as your passion is in some place that exists in this larger umbrella, and we can enable that for you, we would like to work towards a transition and make that happen.
So it is something that is an extremely important question and one that you actually deal with it every single day that how do you really keep this idea of a highway in one direction going, but at the same time allow the employees to pick the lanes they want to drive on the same highway. So, you know that's the notion you'll have to kind of think constantly about.
LC : Absolutely, because those highways actually merge often, right? And there's handoffs, it's kind of like a relay race, sort of the full cycle, right? From advisory to platforms and digital tools, and often they really do need to work together and there's ways to bring them to do that. It's a great question. There's another one that just came up. Are there strategies and tactics that Bristlecone uses to bring employees into the planning process to continue proof of workplace culture?
NP : So, I feel you have to constantly personalize your cultural thematic. And I'll give this example, there was a question about work from home, working back in office. Is that part of your culture of how you really think? It's just a simple thing, but so touchy. And I think I talk about some of our mistakes we had in that journey because you're constantly evolving yourself as an individual, as a leader and trying to make it best for every employee.
And so we went into a play that we felt that was an important point for us to really bring everybody back into the office and so forth. If you have a culture of listening, so fundamentally you're saying my workplace culture is determined by my 2,800 employees. That's a very, very macro level summarization of how you want to think about it. Now I think when you start to really implement certain policies, you understand that you might not be making the entire a hundred percent of your staff aligned and happy, but you take a position and a stance, but you also quickly learn from it.
So we actually pushed ourselves really hard to bring everybody back to office, and we realized very quickly that majority of our employees looked at ways to really avoid that. And so they find ways to circumvent it and so forth. So things like that. So we really went from an interim hybrid circle model to a really permanent, and so we now have small office setups because there a group of people that like to come to office. Many of our leaders actually like to come to our office. Many of our enabling functions like to be in office in person together. Many of our innovation teams want to do their whiteboardings together in office. So you do need a combination of that.
And so we really quickly took a U-turn on our stance that, hey, this is too hard a stand to take, and most of our employees don't relate to it. So I have two choices to do, either change my policy or change all my employees. And I think that's a very natural choice for you to think about changing your policy and say, okay, if we are around to serve our broader employee base, then you take a different stance. So this is a kind of learning that comes in where we take decisions, people decisions with the right intent, but at times you should also be quick in learning and recognizing some of the mistakes to make amends with it and change.
LC : Absolutely. And I made a great point here. Kerry's mentioning that here, personalizing our jobs, right? And the last question is from Zachary Osa. Thanks Kerry for your questions as well. What challenges have you faced in working with the cultural differences in teams? We mentioned that around the world. How do you bring them together in their cultural awareness and cooperation?
NP : So I think Zach has actually talked a little bit about his answer in his questions. I think to me the differences start with awareness and the commonalities among the cultures also start with awareness. The first thing organizations need to do and must do is to ensure that your employees are exposed to a diverse culture that's very central. That's their first point of starting to learn. If they don't have that, I think they miss out hugely on not getting to know what it means to actually go out on a dinner with somebody from a slightly different community than yours.
So I think you need to really start to first allow an organization and infuse your organization to bring that. And I think that is a quantity game and that is a quality game. And so the quantity game is basically saying, do you have enough diverse communities working for you in your organization?
And are your employees exposed to that? More importantly, where your customers are. Because as a global company, we think that we can serve any customers anywhere in the world, but in reality to personalize that as culturally understanding your customers, that goes beyond just simply saying, I can serve you and I'm trying to serve you with my background as against the other way around. So I would say I think the awareness is a first point. Get into the quantity, make sure you have that, and then you start to focus on the quality of knowing each other. And we've seen amazing surprises of how people really are very open to learn. And the culture of learning is also equally important, intertwined in it. We learn every day as individuals both in our professional and personal lives. And I think as you are exposed more and more with diverse team, I think you will trigger a self-learning model for them to really be more accepting of those different communities.
LC : It's true in OD we call it using the self as an instrument of change. It's a concept, it's a way of being that we understand that there are differences and we must come to a conclusion that is inducive to a human approach, a consistent human approach that we both can agree on. All of the greatest negotiations, consensus building we look at that have formed in history have been based upon a truly understanding, empathetic human approach.
We go from Reagan and Gorbachev, we go to Jimmy Carter, and there's many different times in history for when negotiations have been best. When we listen and we hear and we do something about it from both perspectives, the common thread of decency and humanity, it can always be found always in business, right? In business specifically or government sometimes. I mentioned that it's important that we see that in a global approach, right?
Nirav, thank you so much for joining us here today on the Newsweek Leader Show for Most Loved Workplace. And I look forward to keeping up with our relationship and you as a Most Loved Workplace because it really is an important part of the world. I know that, and also of how we grow within our companies, especially as we get more demand, more employees, and keep this central core focus on staying emotionally connected, truly productive, and growing together.
NP : Thank you Lou for recognizing us and for allowing us to express our point of views and opinions in a constantly evolving world. So thank you for engaging into this conversation.