Chris Barbin (Appirio) in “The Corner Office”

Chris Barbin

Adam Bryant conducts interviews of senior-level executives that appear in his “Corner Office” column each week in the SundayBusiness section of The New York Times. Here are a few insights provided during an interview of Chris Barbin, chief executive of Appirio, an information technology company that focuses on cloud services.

To read the complete interview as well as Bryant’s interviews of other executives, please click here.

*     *     * “In one adjective, please tell me who you are.”

Bryant: What are some important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

Barbin: I would start with transparency — it is a huge part of our culture, and what I think makes a company and team really thrive and work. You should never surprise an employee. I’ve had experiences in my career where you’re building something, you think everything’s great and all of a sudden there’s a layoff. That should never happen. The team should know. We have meetings every other week in the company, and we use a system of red light, yellow light, green light on the key attributes of the business, like financials, customers and team.

From my experience at bigger companies, I think there’s a tendency to overanalyze, with too many metrics. It can be confusing, so you have to boil it down to simple, crisp goals that you hammer and repeat. That’s part of transparency, too.

Bryant: Tell me more about the culture of your company.

Barbin: We have three values that we hire against and three that we run it against. The three that we hire against are trust, professionalism and gray matter — as in, how smart are you? The three we run it against are customers, team and fun. That last one is really core — if you’re not having fun 8 out of 10 days on a consistent basis, you’ve got to say something. You can’t just expect that your manager always knows if you’re not having fun.

I reach out to a lot of employees. It’s one of the first questions I ask: “Are you having fun?” I can see it in their eyes, hear it in their voice. I’ll just ask, “What’s your ratio of fun days right now? Are you 6, 8, 9, are you 4 out of 10? If you’re 4, why?” It helps me get to root causes, since it’s a pretty easy thing for people to think about.

*     *     *

Adam Bryant, deputy national editor of The New York Times, oversees coverage of education issues, military affairs, law, and works with reporters in many of the Times‘ domestic bureaus. He also conducts interviews with CEOs and other leaders for Corner Office, a weekly feature in the SundayBusiness section and on nytimes.com that he started in March 2009. In his book, The Corner Office: Indispensable and Unexpected Lessons from CEOs on How to Lead and Succeed, (Times Books), he analyzes the broader lessons that emerge from his interviews with more than 70 leaders. To read an excerpt, please click here. To contact him, please click here.

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