the ceo magazine, employee engagement,
Piyush Patel, Author, Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work: An Enterpreneur’s Guide to Creating a Culture That Matters

After almost a year of hard work and plenty of late nights, my team at Digital-Tutors launched a greatly overhauled version 2.0 of our online training platform in early 2010—about a year before Netflix made online video a web standard with their new online streaming platform.

Almost immediately after the launch, we saw a massive increase in subscribers. My executive team and I were exhausted after completing the behemoth project so I decided it was time to celebrate a little. We went on a retreat to Napa Valley for a weekend of rest, relaxation and wine.

During our first dinner as a team, Dana surprised everyone: “I can’t work for you anymore.”

Understanding the Role of a CEO

Once the initial shock wore off, I had an eye-opening chat with Dana that led to a stunning realization: I’d lost my way. I was so focused on building a new platform to increase our subscribers, and our profits, that I’d completely forgotten what mattered most—my people. Here I thought everything was going great, but my company was crumbling from the inside.

Up until that conversation with Dana, if you had asked me what my role was as CEO of the company, I would’ve replied with something along the lines of a “customer first” mentality. As CEO, I needed to take care of the customer and so they could take care of me. After my conversation with Dana, I realized I’d completely cut out my employees from that equation.

My role as CEO is to take care of my core tribe first so that they, in turn, could take care of our larger tribe. I took care of the team. The team cook care of the customer. The customer took care of me.

What’s the ‘Why’ Behind Your Business?

In a 2015 study by IBM, making a positive impact in their company and helping to solve social and/or environmental challenges ranked as two of the top career goals for Millennials, Gen X, and Baby Boomers. It’s clear employees today are looking for more than a job and a paycheck. They’re looking for something more meaningful.

To this day, I consider myself lucky that Dana spoke out. She could’ve quit without saying a word and I would’ve been oblivious to the reality of what was happening on around me. Everyone at Digital-Tutors knew the how and the what behind the business. It became painfully obvious after my conversation with Dana that I needed to clarify the why.

I set about identifying my own core values, which became the company’s values, our mission statement and a vision focused on improving the lives of our people first. Using these as the foundation for tools I detailed in my book, our culture underwent a massive improvement. Fast forward a few years and Digital-Tutors had a culture envied by anyone who encountered it, almost no turnover, a solid base of fanatic customers, and was more profitable than ever.

Traditional business teaches us that we need to focus on making the customer happy. What it fails to mention, though, is that as CEO, it’s not our role to focus on the customer first. You’ve hired great people, so let them do what they do best. Start by putting the tools in place to take care of your people first so they won’t be looking for greener pastures elsewhere and instead can focus on taking care of your customers.

About the Author

Piyush Patel is an entrepreneur and an innovator in corporate culture with more than 20 years of experience, and author of the new book Lead Your Tribe, Love Your Work: An Entrepreneur’s Guide To Creating a Culture That Matters. As the founder of Digital-Tutors, a world-leading online training company, he has helped educate more than one million students in digital animation, with clients including Pixar, Apple and NASA. A former Northern Oklahoma College professor, Patel grew frustrated with outdated training materials, and launched a multi-million-dollar company from his living room. Patel has since given a TedX, won numerous awards acknowledging his trend-setting entrepreneurship, and continues to advise and speak around the world. Learn more about Patel on his website,


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