- Tableau, a data-visualization platform, was acquired by Salesforce in 2019.
- Francois Ajenstat, Tableau’s chief product officer, has been with the company for over 12 years.
- When faced with economic uncertainties, Ajenstat leans on the organization’s value propositions.
- This article is part of “Fueling Transformation,” a series exploring how leaders are meeting digital-transformation goals without sacrificing the bottom line.
When Francois Ajenstat joined Tableau in 2010, the data-visualization platform was still an early-stage startup. Fast forward 12 years, and Ajenstat has managed the product side of the company through its initial public offering, Salesforce acquisition, a few economic downturns, and a pandemic.
Adaptability seems to be carved into Ajenstat’s personal mission statement — informing how he, as a leader, empowers his team, and himself, through bouts of uncertainty.
“Change management is hard for people, so you always have to connect people to the why,” he told Insider. “Not only describe what you’re doing but why you’re doing it so that everybody’s on board to do the outcome you’re trying to drive.”
As economic predictions began to sour at the beginning of this year, Ajenstat snapped into action, leaning on Salesforce’s core values, as well as strategies he’d learned throughout his decadeslong career.
Ajenstat told Insider how fellow tech leaders can stay out of the red, while meeting their goals.
Lean on your business’ value proposition
A company’s value proposition is a statement of the kind of deliverables it promises its consumers — in good times and bad. It’s usually the first thing a company develops, even before starting on a product.
According to Ajenstat, Salesforce promises its clients three principles: speed, insight, and empowerment. Those standards also guide the company’s employees.
“I think that the first thing, whether you’re in an economically difficult situation or not, is that at every point, you have to be clear as to what your value proposition is and what your differentiator is,” Ajenstat said. “Because that’s the thing that you’re focused on, because that’s what guides you forward.”
Instead of thinking about how to drive efficiencies for less cost, Ajenstat thinks about how he can focus his internal teams to meet growth goals through individual empowerment, he said: “How do I enable my people to be self-reliant and answer their own questions?”
Don’t just leverage technology — leverage skill
The term “leverage” is used a lot by business-minded folks, and for good reason: It’s an efficient strategy leaders can count on whether resources are abundant or scarce. Before diving right into consolidation mode, leaders should take stock of their assets, Ajenstat said.
“So the first is a cultural question: Do you believe that your people should be empowered to make decisions?” he said. “The second element is around the skills, Are they enabled? How are they skilled? Does the technology you want enable that?”
Times of economic uncertainty provide leaders with the opportunity to evaluate operations, Ajenstat told Insider. Focus on simplification, not necessarily on what’s new.
“There are opportunities to look at your technology infrastructure and say, Why do we have five, six different overlapping technologies? Can we consolidate or simplify?” he said.
Leveraging technology can also look like bringing on applications that let customers use their own devices or automating time-consuming, manual tasks like the procurement process whenever inventory of certain stock is low.
“Prioritization then becomes much more important,” Ajenstat said. “We always say that you can’t improve what you don’t measure. So you really have to understand who your customers are and how they’re interacting with your product, and to be able to pivot to the trends and the behaviors that you see.”
One of Salesforce’s many internal proverbs is: “Maintain a beginner’s mindset.” For Ajenstat, that means remaining curious even in times of industrywide ambiguity.
“Sometimes people feel paralyzed, that they’re afraid to try because they’re afraid of the outcomes,” he said. “I think kind of flip it around. Try, move fast, and learn from that experiment — it could have been good or bad — and then apply that to the next one, and the next one.”
Not being afraid to fail also goes back to the organization’s core values. Ajenstat said he believed any company could have cutting-edge technology with the hope it’ll drive change but that it wouldn’t mean much without a solid organizational foundation.
“If you don’t have a belief, a culture, if you don’t have the skills, and you don’t have the mechanisms for governance, the technology won’t really overcome that,” he said.