Episode 05: Nadav Shem-Tov's journey from Management Consulting to People
Welcome to Flux's Mobility Spotlight where we share stories of people who have made successful job transitions and the companies with cultures that encouraged them to do so. Our goal is to highlight these transitions and understand what drove them, experience and working-style overlaps that might not be obvious, and to share advice for others considering a similar move.
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In this episode we're speaking with Nadav Shem-Tov who is a Senior Director of Teammate Success at Gainsight. In this episode he shares his journey from Management Consulting at Bain, transitioning to run Customer Success at Gainsight, and then helping establish the Teammate Success role within the People Org for Customer Success. We'll cover skills and experiences that were helpful in his transitions, and advice to others wanting to make a similar move. In this discussion we cover:
🙌 The up and coming role of "teammate success"
🚀 How Customer Success can act as a launchpad to many other areas of the business
🧐 The unique lens operators can bring to People/HR functions
Nick (Flux): Welcome to Flux's #MobilitySpotlight, where we share stories of people who have made successful job transitions and the companies with cultures that encourage them to do so. My guest today is Nadav from Gainsight, and I'm really excited about our conversation because it covers a few things.
One is the general arc of moving from management consulting at Bain into running a customer success team at a high growth startup. I think CS is something that you're generally passionate about and I want to get into some of the amazing work you're doing around it, but then also, I just love people that have made moves into people, HR functions from other operating functions.
So we want to talk a little bit about that as well, becauseI think that's always brings such a unique perspective to those roles andreally the programs and things you do for the company. So welcome Nadav, thanks for joining.
Nadav (GainSight): Thanks for having me.
Nick (Flux): So just to start when I first met you, what really kind of struck me immediately was, you know, you're working on a team called teammate success.
So, can you talk a little bit about what that is? And then what is your role within teammate's success?
Nadav (GainSight): Absolutely. So Gainsight being a company that's so focused on customer success as a concept, both through our product and thought leadership. One of our core values is actually called success for all. And that talks about how, as a company, we want to drive success for our customers, success for our teammates and success for our investors. Of course success for our teammates, families, and other things in the community as well. But these kind of three key pillars. So, you know, taking the same mindset that we put in customer success and kind of being proactive and thinking strategically about how to make customers successful. We have kind of created this teammate success team, which, you know, honestly, it's not just teammate, it's teammate and team, I would say. And our mandate is really out to make sure all the teammates at Gainsight are successful and thriving, and all the teams at Gainsight are productive, efficient, and successful in achieving their goals.
So this is what the teammate's success team does. You know,Carol, our chief people officer oversees it and we have different functions underneath that are all focused on making sure that teammate's success angle is, is covered. And that's really the high level .
In terms of my specific role, if you want me to add a bit more. Or maybe as you kind of said in the beginning, I did start in customer success at Gainsight. Doing customer success for a customer success company isa very meta thing. And I've done that for a few years. I really enjoyed that, kind of spent my entire day thinking and talking about customer success.
Both with our internal teams, but then with our clients, we're all customer success professionals as well. So really kind of double clicking and going pretty deep on this topic, customer success, which has been amazing. But through my time doing that and kind of overseeing a few teams and in larger organizations, I really, while I'm very passionate about customers uccess, I felt like maybe some of where I'm actually really passionate and where my differentiation is, is on the teammate success piece. So, you know, I felt that as a manager and kind of making individuals thrive and making individuals achieve their outcomes and making sure they have great experiences, just like we say about the customers is really where my passion is. And in that customer success role, obviously my time was split between that, but also worrying a lot about customer success and a lot of customer interactions and financial metrics. So when I felt like I was ready to move on and, and kind of achieve what I wanted in the customer success leadership position after a couple of years, I took some time off and Gainsight supported that. And when I came back kind of looked around the company against that was gracious enough to kind of offer me different roles that were really diverse, like from product leadership positions to kind of GM positions to this position on Carol's team to really be doing teammate's success for our customer success organization.
And the idea we have a pretty large customer success organization, which includes professional services, support, CSMs, and operations, more than a hundred people globally. And the idea to continue to work with some of these people, I've enjoyed working with it specifically Ashwin our chief customer officer, who was my boss before and kind of split and focus my a hundred percent of my time on this teammate's success and the people angle versus the customers. Was really appealing and that's how I ended up int his teammate success for customers success.
Nick (Flux): I love that. I mean it's this awesome application. I hate the term eating your own dog food, but given what you guys focus on, doing that well for your customers, I have seen a lot of amazing transitions operators have made, particularly at startups, into people operations things, and stuff like that. And I think some of that's such a reflection of the culture where you build this amazing company. And so much of that is the people and the culture that's there. And then seeking opportunity to actually, as you're growing, making sure that sustains and people have the experience that you had, uh, and getting to do that as a job has got to be incredibly fulfilling.
Nadav (GainSight): Oh, absolutely. And I think it's knowing that people are a priority at Gainsight. Given our overall purpose is to be a living proof that you can win in business while being human first. So this goes with everything we do from how we treat our employees, to how we treat our customers and our vendors and whatever it is. So the idea, you know, knowing that we're really right from the top of the leadership leader at Gainsight, people are a priority and Gainsight is willing to invest in people and invest in roles such as myself to make sure our people are. Are thriving and fulfilling their, their desired outcomes was really what made me want to make this move because it's a big move.
You know, I was in management consulting before, always on the more strategy operational side of the business. People or HR is something that's always been on my mind, but I've never really found my way to it and kind of doing this jump. And I won't say late in my career, it's still early in my career, but still, you know, 10 years in I don't know if I would have done that in any company, but at Gainsight it felt like it would be the right move and, you know, judging by the last two years in terms of the impact I feel I've been able to make and how fulfilled and satisfied I am with the role it was definitely the right call.
Nick (Flux): I love it. So on that let's talk about the transitions a little bit and the tactical pieces. You did management consulting, post MBA, and then moved into running a customer success team at a startup. What led to that transition and what were the skills and experiences you needed to make that transition?
Nadav (GainSight): Yeah, absolutely. Kind of taking a step back, I guess, must be seven years ago or so where I was applying for MBA programs, that's when I kind of did my research.You know, you have to write an essay that says what's your longterm goal, and what's your short term goal. That's kind of a requirement to get into an MBA program.
So that's when I kind of set my eyes on management consulting to begin with. I didn't know much about it before, I was in Israel where I am originally from. Management consulting is not a huge industry. I actually didn't know anyone in management consulting. And I came across as well, really deliberately researching career paths for myself in the context of applying for an MBA.
And I knew it was a very challenging career. I knew it's hard to get into and I knew it's okay. A fulfilling and interesting and high piece and kind of helps propel people. So these were kind of the same reasons of the main reasons I chose to do management consulting or to try. I didn't know that I was going to get it, you know, honestly, even when I think in retrospect, what attracted me to management consulting, it was actually more of the org type projects. So I didn't think about strategy. I was thinking more about org structure and people and that was what really attracted me initially. So it was that part of the work, you know, did my MBA at Berkeley did through the, went through the management consulting recruiting, which is pretty rigorous for the summer internships worked really hard, prepared really well and ended up with a few offers from McKinsey and Bain and other companies. Chose Bain because of the culture and the people, honestly, I felt like it would be a really good fit here in the Bay area and specifically the focus on tech. And then ended up doing my summer internship at Bain and then my full time for a couple of years, didn't work at all on org type projects. Mostly were actually did a variety of projects, mostly for tech companies around strategy, new product development, some operational issues. Really loved it.Met some of my best friends and the best people and mentors and learn so much over these two years, but really didn't feel like I wanted to stay for the longterm. And for me, it was really more of the, the core of the job and how general it is in effect. You get to specialize much later in my comfort level, specifically with switching domains and teams really often kind of the implications that had on my work life balance and just kind of my level of stress.
So leaving Bain, you know, I knew I wanted to kind of specialize in something and I was lucky enough that some of my friends fromBain were already at Gainsight at that point. Then they said, you know, you should look into customer success. We think that's a good fit for you. And whenI looked into customer success, I kind of saw things in it that were the thingsI loved about consulting, without the things I didn't like. So then the idea of not just doing customer success, but doing it at Gainsight, which is the company, that's all about customer success, really ticked that box on the specializing point of view. Right. So I get to consult other clients, but I get to consult them on. Something that I actually do myself customer success and do all day long. So I can really become an expert there versus kind of being an expert on, on a project in management consulting, which meansI've read some papers and did some research for a month. Right. So, that was really the motivation there.
Nick (Flux): That's great. I think at least from what I've seen, customer success teams in a way also become such a great launchpad into other parts of the company, because you just have this very diverse group of people who have such empathy and understanding of the product or service that the rest of the company really doesn't have, despite obviously seeking it. So I think like it's an incredible proving ground, I think, for people to step in other things. And even to the point I mean I've been at companies where we've rotated people from other words into CS, just to make sure that they're getting that experience, even if it isn't their full time job.
Nadav (GainSight): Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I didn't fully appreciate that back in the day when I took the position, but I pretty quickly saw that because I joined the team at Gainsight that already had that tradition of rotating people in and rotating people out. And some of the best leaders across Gainsight spend sometime in the customer success teams. So when I joined it, it was culturally, I could already see that that was encouraged in that people. You know, first of all, of course the customer success team was highly regarded internally, giving what we do and the caliber of the people that we're on. So I knew that the skills that you develop there could serve you in many other functions and never had the pleasure of supporting my own team members as they were moving to other parts of the companies from product to marketing to professional services, education really all across the company.
So that point you mentioned is something I've thought a lot about. And I think a lot about today, actually, we recently published two of my colleagues published the customer success professional handbook, and I got to write the list chapter on that handbook, which is all about customer success careers, and specifically how to think about. Feeder pools into your customer success teams and then opportunities for your CSMs elsewhere. So it's a topic that I spent a lot of time thinking about.
Nick (Flux): I'm going to link to that in the middle post of this that's sounds like a fantastic resource. Tell me for customer success specifically, obviously there's a range of roles there if you look outside skills and experiences, from what you've seen, is there an attribute that you think is really important to roles withinCS that people don't always think about? You know, that might not be a bullet point on a job description, but help make people successful.
Nadav (GainSight): Yeah it's hard for me not to think about, we developed what we define as the five critical skills for CSM at Gainsight or a client outcomes manager, which is what we currently call our CSMs. We change every few years. Yeah, but I'm trying to think which of the maybe are less obvious. I have a set of maybe a few things, I think empathy, being able to understand the customer really deeply hear your customer and put yourself in their position is really the number one thing. It's a hard skill to really understand, for some people. And it takes a while to develop it as well. So I would say empathy is definitely there.
I think the ability to problem solve, but at a more fundamental level, actually some of the consulting skills, so ability to kind of be 80/20 and how you do things because you always have to prioritize as aCSM. You're never going to have enough to give whatever you need for all of your customers trimmers, and being able to really recognize what are these things that you're doing that are really pushing the needle. I think is a really key thing. And then the ability to pivot and deal with ambiguity, in many companies, CS is still an early thing and the job definition keeps on evolving. The job keeps on evolving and the ability to really kind of recognize and see where it's going and pivot boringly is critical.
Nick (Flux): Yeah.My background's been in product and one of the things I always told product managers and teams I've run has been, you know, your ability to lead indirectly and get things where you have no authority. Or there may not be an answer, but I've spent so much time with customer success teams where it's the exact same thing, right? Like it's not always gonna be an answer through the product or something that's going to be on the roadmap and needing to be resourceful and finding other ways to figure something out, but then also convey it to the other people who may be able to help you with that is such a critical skill and, you know, serving the customer ultimately, but obviously doing the job well,
Nadav (GainSight): Absolutely. Influencing without authority is key because the kind of sphere of influence that the customer success manager can have on a customer is really broad. And many of the things they need to deliver are not under their direct authority or they don't, they're accountable for the customer and their retention and their growth, but obviously there's so many moving pieces and things that need to work together for that to happen to your point from product through the sales process. So the ability to influence internally and externally, because challenging your customer, you know, it's something you have to do pretty often. It takes time to people join customer success, that it's not about customer satisfaction, being nice and sending cupcakes to your customers, although that's great. But being able to recognize where they are going off path and being prescriptive in challenging them is more important if not, you know, at least as important.
Nick (Flux): Yeah, totally. So let's talk about your shift to the people side of things. I think that's a beautiful story about being able to take the time and, and think about this. And now you're helping really serve a team you've helped build and be a part of in a totally different capacity. If you were hiring somebody in teammate success, as that's exists at Gainsight, what would you look for?
Nadav (GainSight): Yeah, it's a great question. I think it's. I was so surprised by so many things whenI moved over. I had these perceptions about what a role on a people team would look like and how mentally stimulating it was going to be versus standard. How[00:16:00] easy and kind of check the box it is versus completely open. At least the role as I've experienced it, here is A) amazing, but B) challenging, very challenging kind of judgment that you need. The judgment calls that you need to make on a daily basis are much higher than anything I've experienced in the past. And the impact that your decisions have, and obviously you don't make decisions in a silo and it's usually along with your executive partner and team, but a lot of times you have to consult people. And by the way, that influencing without authority in a way is there, because there's many areas where it's not necessarily my decisions, but I'm consulted and I need to kind of how help people see the path to what I think is the right action.
It's honestly hard for me to imagine someone doing the role that I'm doing without actually managing a team of people before and ideally a team of people in part of the business that they're helping consult.It's not a requirement for the job. It's actually not super common for business partners on the HR side to have necessarily come from the business. But it's something that I think is very valuable. And I think is where I see the future of people functions. If you really want to be strategic partner, it's not a requirement, but I think it helps if you've operated part of the business and you understand your metrics, understand what they're doing.
So for me that's really been a blessing. And I think what helped me kind of hit the ground running really quickly when I switched over. There's a ton of learning, which I'm still learning every day on the HR side and just in general leadership development and processes, there's always more to do. But I feel like the operational experience has been really invaluable.
Nick (Flux): And that makes a ton of sense. I mean, even when we started flux and we're looking at this challenge around career development and movement within companies and retention. We didn't have this role of"People" at Comcast where we were post acquisition, it was still kind of more classic HR, but we started seeing this people title and at first I was like, "what does this mean?" And we started digging into it. And you start looking at people operations as a function. It's that whole idea of kind of moving from, you know, compliance and administration, which are still important things, but really focusing on kind of the main mandate being, you know, retaining training, developing, utilizing, and acquiring talent. And to do that, those are a number of different things that sometimes I think in more like older forms of HR sometimes it's almost like the left and right hand. You know, here's the plan, go out and get these people and then develop these others, where it really needs to be much more, "what does the business need?" Some of this is going to be developing people. Some of this is going out getting what we need and there's some blend of that. If you don't understand that, then that's really hard to help those business owners prescribe the right thing to go do. It just becomes this planning exercise where we're filling needs and that doesn't serve anybody that well.
Nadav (GainSight): Yeah.And, you know, I think just to build on that, the other thing that you get as part of a centralized people team is I do have visibility to lot of other things have happened in the company, which I definitely did not have in my old role, you know, while I was leading a 30 people organization, I was really focused on one thing and I wasn't as close to kind of what's happening in other parts. And I think that's really kind of the power of having a functionally aligned. So I'm aligned to a business unit, but I sit this part of the central people team and I have really good relationship with my colleagues and we all operate as a people team together. And we kind of are able to see trends and see things and see where the business is going. And then really help guide the business unit. And in sometimes just like I said earlier, with the customer's challenge, the business units are not just understand what they need, but almost at times point out to things that are changing, that might change what they need and to help together come up with that plan.
Nick (Flux): Yeah, that's right. And I mean, look in high growth environments, a lot of the business units aren't growing and the departments aren't growing at the same rate. So being able to also look at this holistically, I've just found that's process, that incentives, that's how you're doing resourcing in general.I think this is an amazing function and as I've been getting to know you, I think this is so forefront on what we've been seeing with people ops and the evolution of the people function in HR. It's great.
I want to be conscious of time. You've stood up this amazing initiative, CSU for customer success, you know, moving people into that role. I want to give you some time to talk about it because I think this is fantastic.This goes well beyond Gainsight. Can you share a little of what that is?
Nadav (GainSight): Yes ,absolutely. This has been really what kept me busy, extra busy over the last 12weeks or so. It's, it's really a vision that was born, you know, and in the minds of, you know, our CEO, Nick Mehta, and our chief people officer . It's something I've been thinking about for a really long time, really this intersection of customer success and teammate success. How do we create and continue to develop the customer success career path and community.
Yeah, in a way that's actually inclusive and diverse and capitalizes on all the talent that is out there. And that has an early career.Talent perspective, not just people. Yeah. Join after an MBA or Bain & Company to be a CSM, but, you know, be given. And it's one of the most exciting professions fast-growing professions in the world right now. Now how do we make sure, you know, there are opportunities to get involved and know about it, many people out there, I don't even know what customer success is and might be the best customer success managers ever, but they would never even have access to that. So, you know, it's something that's been done brewing in our minds for a while and we take, you know, our position in the community of customer success seriously. And we feel that we are accountable to make customer success as a profession and a career path successful. And by that also diverse and fast forward, you know, last few months in the United States, obviously so much going on in terms of racial injustice and civil rights movement and kind of we put our heads together and thinking, what can we do?
You know, we were, I think really careful and intentional about not just checking a box and putting some statement out there about how we're reacting to the event and really trying to build something that's longterm and impactful and comprehensive. And that's where CSU was born. It's something that Robin, our head of philanthropy and chief of staff to our CEO and me have really been working on for the last three months. We decided to set this program, not just at an internal GainSight, point of view, but customer success wide, partner with an organization called SV Academy, which is an online mission driven school, basically that has the mission of democratizing tech careers and they've been operating and doing something like this for three years on the sales development representative side.
So bringing diverse talent, training them and then placing them in tech companies. People would otherwise probably lack the resources and access to get to these jobs. So we decided to develop something similar in partnerships, specifically for the customer success career track and early and early customer success role, which we are calling customer success associates.
So we've had awesome momentum over the last 12 months, we've capitalized on Gainsight's position in the market to find partners, partnering employers who want to help sponsor this program and take on the graduates of the program as paid interns with the hope that then they turn into full time positions.
We have set up a really lofty goal of driving one hundred million dollars in wage expansion for these underrepresented communities and individuals through customer success, careers, and we have fundraised. We fundraised already $700,000 from partners. Whether it's other employers or investors, actually Insight Ventures has put a big investment. And now we are launching getting ready to launch the first quarter of learners, which will launch in November, with internships in these employers starting inJanuary. So working really hard in developing the program, the curriculum, the mentorship models, the internships between now and then.
And we're still looking to find more companies that want to be on board of this really important mission to level the playing field in customer success. So we are looking to get 15, we've funded 35 associates already. We're looking to fund another 15 by the end of the year as part of a second cohort that will launch in February.
So anyone listening to this and kind of having the goal of bringing more diverse customer success, talent into early career positions in their companies and, you know, kind of relatively low commitment upfront, because all you need to do fund an eight week internship, but hope that it will turn into a full time position then . I'm more than happy to have conversations with anyone who wants to hear more.
Nick (Flux): I love it. It's an incredible initiative and you've already made such amazing progress on it. Congrats on all of that. I think just for having so much passion in everything you're doing. I think just for how its translated to the people function, which you're doing here, it's fantastic. I'm going to link to that on the post. And I know we've got some people we're hoping to connect as well. We're at the end here. Thanks again for the time. It's super insightful, really appreciate you joining and we'll talk soon.
Nadav (GainSight): Thank you. And thanks for all the work you're doing. I've been really excited about being part of the forums you've put together and kind of exchange ideas with other individuals thinking about these same things. So thank you for everything you're doing.