We recently spoke with Siddhartha (Sid) Chowdhary, founder and CEO of Credence Management Solutions, LLC located in Vienna, Virginia. Now in its 10th year, Credence is experiencing growth not only in its Northern Virginia main office but also in their increasing presence across the U.S. and globally.
Early in the interview, Mr. Chowdhary made it clear that at Credence, they are reluctant to refer to the Vienna, Virginia office as “headquarters” because the term fails to reflect their corporate culture, which values each employee and location as an integral part of the larger whole. The ensuing report of our conversation paints a picture of the unique culture that Credence embodies.
Bob Fox: What is the story of Credence Management Solutions? Please tell us about the company and the work that you do.
Sid Chowdhary: Our business model is intentionally built to disrupt what is traditionally a bureaucratic industry (i.e., government and defense contracting); we are not your typical “Beltway Bandit.” We are a leading provider of innovative management, technology, and engineering solutions to U.S. government clients, with a focus on defense and national security—delivering results quickly and cost-effectively. With an extensive footprint of customers in more than 30 States and 11 overseas locations, our areas of expertise span from program management, management consulting, engineering, scientific, logistics, financial, and human capital domain areas.
Tell us a bit about how many employees you have and what kind of space you occupy.
Currently, we occupy approximately 20,000 SF in two adjacent buildings on Westwood Center Drive in Vienna, Virginia, which houses our 50-person corporate staff and off-site government customer support team. Our overall headcount across all locations, including subcontractors, is in the 800 range, and we continue to experience exponential growth as we increase our presence in additional locations. Although most of our staff is co-located with our government clients, we have realized significant benefits from maintaining office space in areas with our largest mass of employees. Typically, that threshold is 25-30 employees. In addition to the DC, Maryland, and Virginia area offices, we have office facilities in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, Colorado, and Alabama. We foresee adding space in several other locations in the coming year to support our domestic and international growth.
How did you arrive at the selection of your Northern Virginia location?
Core values of our business model and our corporate culture are transparency, collaboration, and accessibility. Because our physical space should reflect our culture, we selected and designed our facility to encourage our employees to treat each other and our customers with these core values. I realized that our facility needed to be readily available to our employees and customers, and lend itself to our open and collaborative work culture. Being near mass transit and accessible from different areas across DMV was vital, as was the ability to accommodate future growth. Our current space is within a short walk to the Metro, adjacent to the Toll Road and the Beltway, and is within walking distance to multiple restaurants and shops.
Did that concept of accessibility also direct how you chose to design and furnish your workspace?
Absolutely. Inside our space, we wanted to aesthetically echo our guiding principle: “One Measure of Success – Yours.” We tried to convey this message not only to our customers but also to each valued Credence employee. We collaborate in a fast-paced atmosphere and have senior employees sit along with junior ones for ample accessibility and to enable both structured or spontaneous on-the-job mentorship. Given that a picture paints a thousand words, we wanted everyone entering our space to experience our open, accessible, and transparent culture.
Can you give us a few examples of what you have done in your space that captures your value statement?
What makes Credence successful is our “Inverted Triangle” philosophy, which places the senior company leaders at the small, bottom tip of the triangle, and elevates most of our staff to roles of greatest influence and responsibility. We all work on the same premise that if you see something that needs to be done, be empowered to tackle it, rather than asking for permission or waiting to be asked. Our corporate culture embodies that philosophy and encourages employee initiative, empowerment, motivation, and engagement. We understood that our Vienna, Virginia, office needed to project who we are as a company and set an example for the rest of the firm. To be consistent, we planned our offices to resemble the environment where most of our employees work: on-site at government or military facilities. Those workplaces are typically designed for simplicity, durability, and functionality, and with an atmosphere that promotes a focus on the mission. So, for our office space in Vienna, we wanted to lead by example and mirror the aesthetic in which our teams work; we specifically did not want our offices to be “cushy,” but instead we wanted to reflect professionalism, collaboration, and accessibility.
Our space is all open-plan shared workstations; we have no individual offices. We have ample support spaces like huddle rooms, meeting rooms of various sizes, and private areas for telephone conversations. The enclosed meeting spaces have teleconference capability, visual displays, and whiteboards to enable all modes of communication and support to facilitate our work among various locations and with our customers.
There are no partitions between the workstations, and all the teams are mixed. Although people do have their specific desks, we are flexible and move people around depending on a work assignment or project team. In our first office, I sat at the first workstation, which had traditionally been a reception desk, and currently, both our president, Prashant Gaur and I sit near the front and most accessible part of the office. I want people to see where we work, and we wanted that atmosphere of openness and transparency throughout our space. We want our employees to feel excited to come to the office. Our belief is that work is more than just a paycheck and should have a higher sense of mission.
I am surprised you chose to sit at the reception (first) desk!
It was a very practical decision; our structure is flat and based on open communication. My title is not how I choose to define my role. I consider myself employee number one who works for Credence, and that flat organization is supported by how we operate in our physical space. Accessibility is a priority not only for our President or me but all our senior staff. Sitting in an openly accessible desk was the best spot to have that visibility. I feel that anyone should be able to approach us with any concern and that any discussion can take place in our open environment. We think that this is a compelling message, primarily because of the fast pace at which we work.
Prashant and I make time to talk whenever anyone approaches us to ask a question. As people hear what we say, and how we communicate, this becomes a key ingredient in reinforcing and building our culture. Many of our employees have served in the military or the government, and appreciate the high standard of excellence we set for ourselves, and our ability to provide a supportive environment so that people are not afraid to fail.
What was the primary goal for the design of your space?
Our organizational structure is an inverted triangle. Prashant and I are at the bottom. Visually and structurally, we are here to support everyone else. Our customers are at the top of the structure. Our corporate office exists as a resource for everyone out in the field, at client facilities, or our satellite offices. We are organized this way because we want our employees to take the initiative and be comfortable making decisions. We take our motto “One Measure of Success – Yours” seriously, both literally and figuratively, and how we operate in our space centers on that premise. The company culture is best illustrated by following graphic:
Can you share an example of how that works?
When we moved into our new office space, our accounting team was assigned to a large enclosed office. In their role of ensuring compliance and audibility, which is a crucial element of government contracting, we observed that they were taking on a part that dictated what people should or should not do. We found that this was counter to our operating philosophy. Accounting is a support function like the rest of our corporate organization and should have the same customer-service mentality as the rest of the corporate team. We decided to move the team out into the open plan space and convert the enclosed area into a “war room,” where we can work on proposals or use it as a flex-space. This move changed behaviors from an inward-looking to an outward-looking perspective. Housed in the enclosed space, they served as monitors and compliance officers; sitting in the open space, they have become compliance facilitators providing highly-valued support to our employees and customer.
How does your workplace help your company achieve your business goals?
We want to provide exceptional service. To do that, we need to give the space and the tools for our staff to do their job to the best of their ability. One way we achieve that is to make sure that prospective employees see us as hard working as we would expect them to be. Our open space facilitates those interactions. We want everyone who walks into the office to feel our fast-paced, supportive and collaborative energy. We encourage interviewees to walk around and talk to our employees or plan to meet them outside the office. We understand that our atypical chain of command and organization, where everyone is equal, may not work for some people. By genuinely welcoming them into our office to meet our valued family, we help them decide whether our organization and environment will be compatible with their work style. Once they make that decision, we want every new hire to have a great experience not only on their first day but also to continue to have a positive feeling that carries over to the rest of their work life at Credence.
What does your staff value most about your workplace?
We think it is in their ability to find fulfillment and happiness when they come to work. Our space is open and welcoming, which is vital in expressing our work philosophy. When we hire younger people, we try to provide an environment that encourages them to move up within the organization. We are exponentially growing in a stagnant market. The more exposure they have to all the facets of work that we do, the more they can progress and succeed in their careers. The more significant goal is to help our employees see beyond their assigned work and to learn from each other.
The common theme I hear from our senior staff is that our intent and how we work—striving for excellence and keen focus on the customer mission—is what gives them the most job satisfaction. Our mid- and junior-level staff tell us that they appreciate the exposure opportunities to all facets of our work. They can participate in conversations with members of multiple teams, and we encourage them to do so not only by our actions but subliminally, throughout the space in which we work. Allowing them to migrate to other fields and try different roles increases our chances of retaining great employees who can contribute to the success of the company. The conclusion is that the open environment works well for us on multiple levels.
Do you have any performance metrics to evaluate your space?
We do track our costs and try and make sure we have the right balance of space to support our work. We seem to be outgrowing our space every 12-18 months, and continuously review if the workspace we have is supporting our current needs. Scaling our workspace to how we use it is the challenge. We do allow people to pick their location in the office, and although about 50 percent of our space is flex-space, we find that people gravitate to the same spot on a continuing basis. They may move around to work with other team members as projects change, so we try to keep 10-15 percent of our space readily available to manage growth and stay flexible.
Where are you willing to spend money?
We are willing to supply whatever tools, furniture, and technology will support efficiency. Communication infrastructure and technical gear are essential. We also are eager to provide items that increase employee comfort, such as sit-to-stand desks, and we are willing to stock our pantry with healthy food options.
It sounds like your goal is to support your staff and give them what they need, although you do not explicitly budget those expenses.
My goal is to build a great company that exceeds customer expectations and not just meet revenue numbers. We do that by taking care of our employees and our customers. Everyone has a mission, and keeping our space supportive yet straightforward of our work, helps us to reach our goals. If you take care of the important things, everything else falls into place.
How do you communicate with your staff?
In the office, it is face-to-face communication. Our space promotes casual, ad-hoc conversations with our standing “conversation bars” and our variety of meeting spaces. For our distributed workforce, we have built leading-edge conference rooms. Our meeting types range from weekly senior leadership meetings to a monthly global all-hands meeting, which is led by our President Prashant Gaur. We schedule our all-hands meetings at two times to accommodate the multiple time zones in which we operate. At those meetings, anyone is invited to speak or ask questions. Voice communication is key. We try not to rely too much on e-mail or social media.
What are the most significant challenges about your workspace?
Currently, it is how to best anticipate how much space we are going to need to manage our employee growth. Deciding where and when to add square footage or re-evaluate space needs is an ongoing task. Focusing on taking care of our customers and our own needs, and balancing them against the availability of space that meets our unique requirements and costs, is the challenge.
Anything else you would like to add or that we did discuss?
I believe that our workplace expresses our core values of trust, partnership, and success. Our work environment supports that for employees and carries over to the relationships we foster with our customers. It has contributed to our growth in a very competitive market.