Workato CIO Carter Busse on How Technology Simplifies Work and the Soft Skill He Looks for in Every Hire

Workato CIO and IT industry veteran Carter Busse is passionate about using technology to create an impactful employee and customer experience. He is a dedicated leader who is intentional about building relationships across his organization and advocating for his team.

Prior to his role at Workato—whose platform helps companies across industries automate their processes—Carter held IT executive roles at Cohesity, 8x8 and MobileIron. He also served as Salesforce’s first IT leader.

 

Carter recently shared his thoughts on what workplace challenges technology has yet to solve, the soft skill he looks for in every candidate and why he’s committed to amplifying his team’s work to internal stakeholders. What follows is an edited version of our discussion:

What new workplace technology are you most excited about, and why? How does it positively change the way people work?

First, I’m excited about improving the employee experience through automation and AI. At Workato, before the pandemic, we followed Apple’s example and had a Genius Bar in our office. We wanted to recreate that experience with AI and automation in a chat function. All you’d need to type is ‘I want to install software A.’ The AI-powered chatbot will then walk you through the process and the automation would kick in to procure the right license. 

Second, I’m thinking about the reports and dashboards that every executive has. What actions can be taken from those insights? When something good happens, like a successful sales call, imagine an automatic notification going out to their sales manager. This data trigger automation can be done using the Natural Language Processing (NLP) in Gong to kick off the automated alert. Data-triggered automation can bring people together—with kudos, lessons learned or opportunities for coaching. This automated feedback is powerful for this remote world we all live in. 

<split-lines>"Data-triggered automation can bring people together—with kudos, lessons learned or opportunities for coaching."<split-lines>

If you could wave a magic wand and create any technology for the workplace, what would it be, and why?

I’d get teams back together somehow, virtually. I go to the office about twice a week now, and I’ve had such great ad-hoc conversations in the hallway and the kitchen. How do we recreate that?

Yes, people were productive at home during the pandemic. But I believe that, especially younger generations, are missing out on company culture, ad-hoc coaching meetings, impromptu status updates—all those kinds of personal relationships. How do we recreate that in this new world?

I think that, as executives, we need to do more of that connection-building. Whenever I fly to different cities to meet with customers, I always go a day early, reach out to employees in the area and invite them to have dinner with me. 

What are some of the most interesting or surprising discoveries you’ve made during your Confessions of a CIO interviews with your peers?

I can think of three interviews that particularly stick with me. I had an awesome conversation with Ajay Sabhlok, CIO at Rubrik, who is hyper focused on architecture and he’s so right. Architecture is where we as CIOs need to focus. There is so much software coming in from the business side over which we have little or no control, but which we're going to have to adopt and stitch together somehow. Ajay is passionate about having an architecture where the business can bring in software and plug it into the whole IT system.

Then, there’s Rohit Jain, who was the CIO at Upwork at the time of our discussion. With the approval of his boss and company, he’d taken three to four months off work to help people in  India during COVID. He’d used his skill set and network to help get ventilation units from all over the world to India. It was a humbling conversation.

Finally, I talked with Nadia Hansen, when she was the CIO at Clark County, Nevada, which includes Las Vegas. On purpose, I compared her job with my own as CIO of a software company. It was hilarious how easy my job was versus her role. When something breaks there in IT, it’s public-facing and where she will receive hundreds of nasty emails each time. That was an eye-opener. She had a job that is 10 times tougher than my own and she did it with a smile. She’s now a digital transformation executive at Salesforce.

Speaking of Salesforce, as the first IT leader in the early years of the company, could you have imagined it would grow into the multi-cloud powerhouse it is today?

Yes, I knew it. It was 1999, and I was installing client-server applications. It took six months to get applications up and running. When I heard about Salesforce putting apps in the cloud, I was thrilled. I’ve been through three IPOs in my career, and every time it’s because I’ve gone to companies that solved my own IT problems. 

One huge learning from my time at Salesforce is that I didn’t sell myself or my team internally enough. I worked my tail off for ten years. My small team and I kept the lights on. But I learned that I need to sell what my team does, sell myself and ask for resources.

<split-lines>"I’ve been through three IPOs in my career, and every time it’s because I’ve gone to companies that solved my own IT problems."<split-lines>

What advice do you have for leaders and managers to sell their teams’ work?

At Workato, every minute that I get in front of a leader, I talk about what my team is doing. I’ve instituted QBRs (quarterly business reviews), and I invite all my peers in the business and ask for their feedback. It’s important that I get in front of my peers regularly.

In hiring your team, which soft skills do you prioritize?

One thing I always look for, even at the individual contributor level, is leadership. In interviews, I try to find specific projects that the candidate initiated, led and closed.

I was recently in an interview that felt a little tense and static, so I asked the candidate what she was passionate about. It turned out she was a baker who had started a small business. She then totally relaxed and told me about how she drove her business, and why she failed and wants to try it again. I hired her because she showed that leadership and initiative.

I’ve always looked for leadership skills, but I also ask candidates more about what technologies  they use in a project. I’m looking for something creative they’ve done or maybe a new tool they tried. The question isn’t just can they lead, but how are they leading?

<split-lines>"One thing I always look for, even at the individual contributor level, is leadership. In interviews, I try to find specific projects that the candidate initiated, led and closed."<split-lines>

Especially during the Great Resignation, business leaders were hyper-focused on hiring and retaining the right talent. What did they leave behind or not prepare for?

Business leaders worked hard to hire the right people over the last two years. Now, we are all under pressure to do more with less.

It’s easy to forget about your top performers, but it’s so important to keep an eye on them. You may ignore them because they’re doing such a great job all the time. But they may be overworked, and you’ve got to sit down and ask them how they are doing on a personal level. You may be surprised by the number of projects that they’re working on and how much stress they’re carrying.

You have to stay in tune with your people and understand if you're pushing them the right way or too hard. I want to reassure top performers about the value they bring to the company. Instead of just giving them bonuses every quarter, it’s important to have those personal conversations.

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