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You have to be honest and demanding. Why did Sii get the title of Great Place to Work? – Gregoire Nitot

On March 27th, Sii received the Great Place to Work award for the fourth time – the company was ranked 5th among the awardees. Additionally, Sii is one among three companies who got the Great Place to Work for Millenials award, and the title of The Spokesman of the Ethical Standards, awarded by Global Compact Network Poland. As much as 87% of the respondees thinks that, taking all circumstances into account, Sii is a wonderful workplace. About the reasons behind such great results and investment in the satisfaction of employees, talks Gregoire Nitot, founder and CEO of Sii.

Katarzyna Domańska, CSR Manager at Sii: Going back 12 years, did you think of such a perspective: employing more than 3,400 persons, Sii receives a title in an internationally recognized contest for the 4th time?

Gregoire Nitot, CEO at Sii: Back then I didn’t even know such award existed! When I was starting, my goal was not to go bankrupt after 3 years. I haven’t dreamt that once we would count more than 3,000 people and we would be receiving international awards for the best workplace.

K.D.: My congratulations, because it is in part thanks to your passion for work, your dreams and ambition!

G.N.: It’s not only thanks to me. The development of a company is hard work of many people. The title of Great Place to Work is also the work of 3,400 persons. All of them should be proud – Great Place to Work is our joint merit!

K.D.: What, in your opinion, determines this success?

G.N.: First of all, our great financial results. We generate a good profit, which allows us to constantly grow and invest and this in turn provides the opportunity of fulfilling the mission of Sii (that is promoting the best) and serve the satisfaction of our employees: trainings, applications such as the Job Changer, Passions Sponsorship Program, Sii Power Volunteer and many more. Thanks to our results we gain new clients and interesting projects, we employ new persons.

The second factor is our 15 values, which we truly apply every day at work and which are exercised among managers: trust, transparency, respect. People like working at a company which respects the same values that guide them in their personal life. Sometimes we hear from our employees that they have joined Sii inspired by our values.

The third thing, it is important to look at the company from a global, long-term perspective. We often make decisions that are unpopular and strongly criticised, but after a longer time they often bring good effects. We try to look at the good of the majority and not from a short-term perspective. Because of course, we can decide that starting from May we will give everybody a 50% raise. Everybody will love Sii, but in a year we will face mass dismissals and the bankruptcy of the company. As the CEO I cannot be a populist. I have to know how to say “no” and sometimes decide about letting go of an employee, who negatively affects the atmosphere in the company, doesn’t care about the results and discourages others. It’s not enough to be nice to win the title of Great Place to Work. You have to be honest and demanding.

Apart from these three, there is a whole list of other factors: we have efficient processes, well managed Back-Office, Office Management, Service Desk, professional leaders who manage the teams well. We could go on and on.

K.D.: The employees – respondees of the questioner have named many positive aspects. They have also mentioned things that they would like to change in Sii. Do negative comments hurt you or do you put on a strictly business-like and analytical approach?  

G.N.: I love critique. I always listen to it carefully – to identify what we are doing wrong at Sii and to know what others do better. Sometimes it’s difficult, because the criticism can really hurt, but it allows to develop in the right direction and become better. This is why we value sincerity and transparency and require it from all the managers, even if it hurts.

Of course not all critique is wise. The good one is the constructive one – not the negative, aggressive one without any idea for change. It also happens that the advice is misguided: too expensive, impossible to implement or… illegal. To give an example: I keep hearing about the form of employment of managers. They would all like to be freelancers – to receive a higher take-home pay and pay less taxes (ZUS & PIT – social security & income tax respectively ). Because „others offer their managers some solutions in this area”. I would like to do the same but it is very difficult to do it legally and responsibly, in accordance with Polish law.

Sometimes from the critique coming from employees I get this image, that they would like to have at Sii what Google has: work one day a week, and preferably on an interesting R&D project. But we are not Google, a monopolist of Internet advertising and we don’t generate billions of dollars of profit every year: we can’t afford it. We could work like this for a year and then we would have to shut the company down.

Despite such opinions, I listen to all the critical remarks. Usually it is in connection with the yearly evaluations: to me the most important is the SWOT analysis, the weaknesses and the question about what don’t you like in Sii: in the company, the structure, in your relations with colleagues or superior. I prefer to ask 3400 employees about what isn’t working, than hire an expensive consulting company. Because the people from Sii know their workplace and now best what can be improved.

K.D.: Which activities targeting the employees, are to you the most interesting and have the biggest influence on their satisfaction?

G.N.: First of all we have to remember that there is no such thing as a perfect workplace, just like there is no such thing as a perfect wife or husband. You can’t have 3,400 happy employees at the same time. Sometimes you get a less interesting project, less integrated team, a more difficult boss. You also can’t give huge raises, to make everybody happy. But 87% of persons who think Sii is a Great Place to Work is a very good result. People praise Sii for many things.

For sure the Passions Sponsorship Program and Sii Power Volunteers are very important – we want to develop these projects, so next year their budget will be increased. HR programs are also important, for example Worker Rating or the Job Changer application, which allows persons who are not satisfied with their current work at Sii, to change their project.

We are working on a big change, which will consist of separating the HR Department from the Recruitment Department. Until now these two departments were separated at the central level, now we want to separate them also at the branch level. It’s a big transformation and – I hope, a good move, from the point of view of the employees. In each branch there will be a HR Department, which will take care of the onboarding, training, promoting the Job Changer, supporting the realization of the Sii mission, that is promotions, retention. It’s a big investment in the satisfaction of employees.

K.D.: We keep talking about the satisfaction of employees. It’s one of Sii’s 5 goals. Do you think it’s the most important one?

G.N.: Great Place To Work is an award which I’m very happy with. It’s of key importance to me. Yet, for the organization, the satisfaction of its employees is not the main goal. The main one is profit. It is profit that gives the possibility of investing, increasing the budget, etc. Also the clients are more important than the employees: without them there is no employment. Sometimes an employee will be more important than a client, because the client will be unfair or strongly unprofitable – such clients are unimportant to me and I prefer not to cooperate with them. From a global perspective the client is less important than profit and the employee comes in third. Yet, all these elements are strongly connected, because, for example, it is difficult to generate profit and have satisfied clients when the employees are unhappy.

Nevertheless, what brings me the most satisfaction at work are happy people. If we generated a huge profit and yet I could see that the people are unhappy – I wouldn’t like to work at such company. Right behind it are constant development and good fun, which require investments. All this has to be balanced well.

K.D.: Precisely, there are those at Sii who, instead of company investments, would prefer the employees to have a bigger share in the profit.

G.N.: Let’s compare our profit to this of our clients and competitors. There are many companies that generate a much higher profit than we do: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, or in our sector, global players such as: Accenture, Capgemini, Infosys or Wipro. It’s true that in the case of staffing companies, they operate on a smaller margin than Sii. But Sii generates higher costs, because we don’t only carry out staffing projects. Staffing amounts for 1/3 of our income. The rest is Managed Services, System Integration, end-to-end projects – this business has a higher risk factor, it requires much higher investments in marketing, partnerships, the Legal Department, Pre-sales, specialists that are without a project at the moment. This is why we have much higher structural costs compared to staffing-only companies, at the level of 22% of income. Because we are not only a body leasing company. Many of our employees understand this and and approve of such model, because it comes along with a much higher service quality, is safer and gives a more stable employment. At the same time, the profit is reinvested – we create new Competency Centers ( e.g. SAP, BPO) and open new offices (e.g. in Rzeszów).

K.D.: And will there ever come a time for slowing down these investments? Can you imagine a moment like this: “This is it, we don’t want more?

G.N.: There are CEOs who think this way. A big company – big problems, enough! To me growth is fun. Not how much we earn, but the fact that we are thinking how to enter a new market, in which direction to expand. This adrenaline and battle is what I personally love in business. I’m hungry for it all the time.

There are two things that can slow us down: the decisions of the government (higher taxes and social security costs) and a big international crisis. If in a moment of an economical crash our clients will be cutting costs, we will also be forced to do the same. This will happen eventually to some extent, because it’s impossible for Poland to develop so intensively without an end. The most important thing is that the crisis is not brutal and sudden – then we will prepare for it in stages.

What brings me peace is our financial solidity. We don’t have debts, because we have a strongly diversified portfolio of clients around the world, in all sectors, because we have various cooperation models. There is no other IT company on the Polish market that would be as strong. A solid ship with a courageous and decisive captain and a great crew. Because managing is like sailing the seas. A good business – good wind – we set the sails! But the captain has to notice when the wind changes, when the storm is coming and when it is time to reef the right sales.

So far we have a very good wind and the best crew! Receiving the Great Place to Work title confirms it. As I said, this is our joint success, so I hope that everyone will find a moment to celebrate together.

K.D.: Thank you very much for this conversation.

The article prepared by: Katarzyna Domańska

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