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Three Ways We Lead with Respect at Appian

Screen Shot 2023 08 24 At 2.27.40 PM Stephen Vanaria

Screen Shot 2023 08 24 At 2.27.40 PM

Respect at Appian gives us common ground on how we make decisions and work everyday. 

I am about to celebrate my 10-year anniversary at Appian and if I looked back at my job every six months as Senior Vice President (SVP) of Customer Success, it would look like a very different job description. Through all the growth, the respect that people at Appian have for each other, our customers, and our work is a core part of what I love about Appian. 

Here are the ways we lead with respect at Appian and what it looks like in our everyday work.

1. Challenge our customers to achieve ambitious goals. 

“Listen, here’s what we understand your motivations to be; here’s what our motivations are, and why we want what’s best for you.” This is the kind of line you hear a lot in conversations with customers. I think there's naturally a level of respect that comes from putting your cards on the table and openly sharing your motivations.  Being honest and ensuring there is no hidden agenda opens the space for difficult conversations.  It demonstrates respect and builds trust; this ultimately builds a foundation that allows you to tell someone something they may not want to hear, but is critical to move things in the right direction. 

As a part of Customer Success, we have shared goals with our customers - to ensure applications built on Appian drive real value and impact at our customers’ organizations. 

If a customer asks us for a specific feature that we believe will not lead to the goal they want, we need to challenge the request to make sure they maximize their investment. It can be uncomfortable sometimes, but it builds trust. 

It sounds like: 

“It’s a great idea, but I don’t think it will drive the value we identified for your goals. Let’s map it out.” 

We recently went through an exercise with our Customer Success team in Frankfurt to collect feedback from customers all around the globe. We discovered a consistent theme was that customers love working with us because we’re known as challengers. We don’t have an order-taker mindset, and customers expect us to be honest. We’re always thinking about what will be most valuable and make the greatest impact

2. Over communicate internally between teams. 

In Customer Success, there are lots of times we’re working in areas where we’re stepping into each other's domains — with the Sales team and different divisions within Customer Success teams. Being really open and having constant communication with these parties, to the point where it seems like oversharing is important. 

For example, I was working on a project involving a customer in a different VP’s domain.  In this situation, it’s within my purview to directly reach out to the customer.  However, before doing so, I reached out to the VP to discuss, learn their history and assessments of the customer, and get their buy-in for my outreach.  Technically I don’t need to take this extra time to collaborate; however, in this situation, if I go directly to the customer without first talking to the VP, it’s a sign of disrespect; it suggests I do not value the opinion and relationships of my coworkers who know them best.

Other times, a Sales coworker will call me up and say “hey, I’d love to talk to this customer. What should I know about them? Do you have any concerns?” 

These kinds of conversations are a sign of respect. It takes time and it means I have a lot of my day communicating with my team and others, but it’s intentional and needed. I believe it’s critical for the organization to function well and have a healthy culture where people trust each other. 

Customer Success team members collaborating in a meeting room at HQ. 

3. Focus feedback on behaviors, not assumptions. 

We’re wired to tell ourselves stories; we observe something and, almost instantaneously, we tell ourselves a story to rationalize what just happened. 

It’s much easier to have a respectful conversation about something you observed, rather than a judgment or an assumption you used as the basis for your rationalization. One thing I am working on improving myself, is the skill of giving feedback. In this vein, it’s essential that feedback focuses on behavior you observed and not your inference about what caused the behavior. 

Appian values debate and constructive dissent. You’ll hear in meetings people disagreeing with each other and challenging others. These situations will come up where there’s a risk you could take something personally and interpret it in a different way, so that’s where giving feedback and staying grounded in respect is so important. 

Screen Shot 2023 08 24 At 2.27.40 PM

Written by

Stephen Vanaria

Stephen is the Senior Vice President of Customer Success at Appian.