Walking The Talk On Leadership Management With Vikas Khorana

Feb 1, 2023

Walking your talk on leadership management inspire others. Vikas Khorana, president of Ntooitive Digital, shares what led him to become a good leader and how he’s still learning to be better every day.




I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a CEO or leader that doesn’t say that they want to grow their leaders. We all want that. It’s easy to say a statement like that, but it’s a lot harder to do. It’s like getting in shape or eating healthy. We know we need to do it, but do we do it and how do we do it? How do we sustain it? Vikas Khorana, the President, Cofounder and CTO of Ntooitive Digital based out of Las Vegas is growing his leaders for real.

He’s our guest in this episode and walks the talk around leadership development. He’s the kind of leader that sees that his job is to grow people, help his company, and help his employees. When you’ve turned the corner and done this well, your employees will eventually leave and go on to bigger and better jobs because you helped them get there and that’s a good thing. He has incredible stories about people he’s grown with and still in community with, even though they don’t even work for him anymore. Vikas Khorana, welcome to the show.

Thank you for the invite. I think we share mutual stories and aspirations as growing leaders. I’m very happy to be here.

Thank you so much. I would love to start off by having you retell me the story of Laura from LA, the gal that you brought in. Tell us about that journey, what this was like and how you grew her.

Laura is one of them. What we have done at Ntooitive is as we started on this journey, our goal was to give newcomers a break in terms of wanting to be part of the workflow field and looking at these people in terms of a growth standpoint and looking at them saying, “If you come in, what kind of a management style are you looking for?”

In the old days, you were told what to do. What we are looking for is people who will take the initiative. Our interview process is less about what the person knows, it’s more about the personality of the person and wanting to be a leader, wanting to take the initiative, and wanting to belong to something bigger than what they have done so far. Laura is that kind of person. That’s what she was looking for.

She never worked in any other job. Straight out of college, we brought her in as an intern position. She took it upon herself to start learning things. We’re in the media industry. Part of our job profile is we do a lot of media buying for clients. She got entrusted with that and came forward and said, “Not only I want to learn. I want to do a class. I found this program at UCLA. It’s a two-month program that allows me to learn about media buying.”

We paid for her to go attend that class and she came after that class. She’s been more productive. She’s happy for herself. I always talk about a few other things that relate to Laura. One is work-life balance. The goal is to work smarter and not harder. It’s not trying to burn the midnight oil. It’s more about, “We have eight hours. How do we effectively use it?” Those eight hours don’t need to be continuous. If you have something personal, do it.

It’s because that’s where Laura’s journey was. It was more about wanting to own something and we made her the owner of that task. She’s taken that task not just to the finish line, but even above and beyond. The way she’s growing, I can tell you in a few years, when she’s ready to fly from Ntooitive, I think she’ll find herself in a massive situation where she can go knock on any door and every door will welcome her.

I love that you have that perspective. Many leaders think that people are going to stay with them forever and they’re not. I’d so much rather grow somebody and have them move on to a bigger and better job than hang on to them forever and ever to the point where they’re burning out or they’re bored or their work is not the kind of work they want to do anymore. That’s not a good employee, either. It’s such a better perspective that you take to grow folks and expect that they’re going to move on.

Things that related in that way is that when these people grow and move on and they have learned something from you, in the back of their minds, they know what we represent. It’s free marketing for us because they have moved on to other places. When they go to other places, they contact us and say, “We still want to remain in touch. We want to do business together.” It becomes an amazing referral program too. It’s not a negative that the employee left you and you worked on them and taught them. I think that mentality has to change.

We’ve experienced that with my business as well, where we’ve had employees leave and move on to bigger and better jobs and then they hire us to come in and do their training or come in to still help them with projects. I love that. I think it communicates so much. It means that they cared for you. They like what you’re doing. They like you as a leader and they appreciate what you did for them. I think it’s one of those proof points that you’ve done a good job building somebody.

We have stories like Laura and Laura is one of the latest stories, I would say in ’22 post-pandemic, but even pre-pandemic, one of our greatest CMs came to us from the manufacturing industry and he had never touched a computer from the standpoint of operating his life. One person who knocked on our doors was a person who was doing pesticide spray but had the education but never got the opportunity.

We laid out the opportunity and I can tell you, that person took off. He was a project manager for some large companies after spending three years with us. That’s what we can hope for. The growth is the biggest job satisfaction that we get out of it. I can tell you that growth has now transpired into something very different.

We started in ’21. I want to talk about it for a few seconds. We have now engaged ourselves with high schools. We’re no longer working with colleges, the University of Las Vegas and UCLA. We have now engaged with a local school as well, in which we are looking at seniors. We had a program in which we took an intern from a high school and also we got an intern from a high school for them. It’s a whole different world.

The six months of shaping them into a professional environment have changed their outlook on how they dress, how they talk, and what professionalism they bring. I’m too happy to report that one of them is now studying at ASU and still an intern with us because he’s like, “I don’t want to leave this environment. This has been an amazing journey.”

The other person who joined us this year is having an unbelievable time understanding a professional environment because he’ll never get exposed to that for another 4 or 5 years or how much longer his education is going to be. That has brought some new perspective to us that we can go to high school levels too and not only in colleges.

We have some programs here in my area. They’re called P-TECH schools. It’s where a company like yours possibly sponsors a program that’s also delivered through the community colleges. The high school kids end up with a diploma, an associate’s degree, and work experience through this program. It’s taken off here. That’s amazing. I’d love to get you in touch with some of the folks here that have done that because that’s a unique model.

I think that is giving me more fulfillment from two angles. One, I have two young kids. Eventually, they’re going to reach this place in a few years. Setting this program up, I’m walking them through as well saying, “This is what it is.” It’s changing their outlook and their friends’ outlook as we talk about this program in the community more and more. It’s all about communities and making sure these words get out because exposure is one thing people don’t have.

When they go into a traditional work environment and they’re subjected to traditional job interviews, traditional things, I think in 2022, we cannot talk about that way of doing business. You said it right when you opened in terms of people being no longer slaves of employers. They need to have ownership and stake in those areas where they work. I think you will see a better response from employees if they own something versus if them being told what to do. That’s what our Ntooitive culture is and I think we will never give that up.

People are no longer slaves of employers. They need to have ownership and stake in those areas where they work. Click To Tweet

There is one thing to be said about bigger companies, and we should say that out loud. I always say to some of the employees that we deal with, “Ntooitive is a startup. We are 52 people strong, but it’s still a startup. We are a few years with a very startup mentality.” For us, every employee is a name. As you grow and a bigger company, from the name, when you go into big companies like Google and Twitter and all these big companies, you become a badge number. The cultures, as the organizations go bigger and bigger, becomes a more departmental culture. It’s not the company culture.

That’s where I think we are seeing some of these loose balls in which hiring and firing are happening. Even though the Facebook founder said very clearly, “It’s my responsibility. The buck stops at me.” The buck didn’t stop with him when he fired 10% of his employees. When those people have to go figure out how to feed their kids and how to figure out how to buy Christmas presents, the buck doesn’t stop with him.

He does not understand the consequences of hiring without figuring out where the business is. That’s where I think the biggest challenge is in this day’s hiring process. When we hire a person, we look at the future, how we are putting a business together and how our sales are becoming effective. Obviously, things can change, but you have to keep those things in mind. When companies hire and they are only employee numbers instead of actual people, we’re seeing that hiring is happening and they’re not letting sometimes go because of the fair work environment or there are less people to hire. “Let’s keep them on the staff.”

Now, everybody’s letting go of the additional staff they hired because of government programs that were there or whatever the situation might be. These people did not resize the business at the right time and instead of shedding the bulk of people, it affects the communities around them and affects people who are graduating next year.

The consequences of somebody coming on a video chat with his employee saying, “The buck stops with me. I’m responsible,” do not understand the consequences they’re causing. Not only in the local community but college students who are passing out and are looking for opportunities the following year and the years to come from that. We need to consider all those things together when hiring people.

Another point that you bring up that I want to highlight is that by coming back to your high schoolers and bringing those folks in, you’re not only exposing them to a work environment and teaching them about what it means to be a professional. You’re also giving future employers a gift because they have now been taught how to have a job. Also, with the point you just made, you’ve also set a whole new expectation and I commend you for that because you’ve now set an environment where they had this great environment with you.

If they do move on to another organization that’s bigger and they’re more a badge number as opposed to a person, they’re going to always reflect back on this time that you gave them and want that and demand that. Keep pushing for that even if they move into those bigger companies because I think it will eventually drag through the big companies too. I hope, at least.

I think it will and what we also see is the newer generation. We never give a chance to the older generation, but you will see recognition is everything. People thrive on recognition. Recognition for everybody is different, but the word is recognition. Somebody likes to be bought a gift of lunch, somebody likes to be recognized with money or somebody would like to be recognized just by giving them kudos in front of the entire staff.

I think these people are also learning that motivation is available. It’s not a constant sorrow. It’s not a constant downward angle or you didn’t do this. Will they make mistakes? Absolutely. We will always make mistakes but understanding the mistakes that can be made and putting systems from them to learn from their mistakes is what the culture needs to be.

Leadership Management: We will always make mistakes but understanding the mistakes that can be made and putting systems from them to learn from their mistakes is what the culture needs to be.


Instead of beating them down always and saying, “You did this wrong,” which is what I think if we talk about a few years back, I think the culture was very different. We still hear from organizations that the culture is very cutthroat and very different. Giving them this environment hopefully will create the future for other employees not to do that.

You mentioned when we talked before about having a very flexible culture. Can you talk a little bit more about that and how that’s supported, especially your younger employees and maybe even your older employees?

Absolutely and I think it works even for older employees. I’ll give you an example. After COVID, we’ve all learned. One of the things we have done immediately is as they have come back. It’s a day of choice to work from home if they want to. Not everybody takes it, which is the surprising part. Some people like getting together.

A lot of these people are coming together even on the days they want to take off, but now, they have the flexibility. Somebody has to take their kids to a doctor’s appointment. You got a plumber coming in to do some work at your home or whatever that might be, it gives them that flexibility. The other thing is we always believe in one thing, which is very real. If you are asking for time off and we say, “No,” the corresponding answer is, “Your mind is not in the job. Your mind is where you are supposed to be at that time.”

My productivity level has already gone down. I’m not trying to tell leaders, “You should wash it off and go. Let everybody be off all the time.” There are deadlines. There are things that need to be achieved. They’re communicated and as long as employees are able to commit and make those things happen, I don’t think we should have any issues being flexible enough to give them those times that they think they need to be with their family, friends or whatever profile of job that they need to do.

Leadership Management: There are deadlines. There are things that need to be achieved. They’re communicated, and as long as employees are able to commit and make those things happen, there shouldn’t be any issues.


It’s because I think that creates a culture in which they think they can trust somebody and they can rely on somebody when time is needed for them to be off but make sure you also communicate deadlines and the needs of the business. That’s why I talk about being owners because if they’re owners, they know what needs to get done. You’ll be surprised they’ll work on a Saturday and a Sunday because they need to go somewhere on a Monday and the productivity level is higher instead of lower.

That’s been my experience too. We have a very, very flexible environment at my business. I don’t know where anybody is right now. In some cases, I don’t even know where they’re located because they go wherever they feel like but get the results. They get the work done. Have you always been like this as a leader or did you have to go through some work to get to this point?

I would say a lot of work. I think leadership for me has been a constant learning battle. I’ve made my own mistakes. I have to admit those. I came from a traditional media background so you got to understand, I was in the middle of the downturn of the newspaper industry and had to go through a lot of different ways to cut jobs. Maybe that’s the right way to put it or figure out ways to do things slightly more efficiently.

The leadership style that is required for some of those areas was different, which is what made me realize over the years that my style has changed. The reason it has changed is that I went through some of those things, like understanding what it means to be a leader. There is a massive amount of transformation. In no form or fashion can I say I was like this on day one. Looking at people and understanding them has made a big impact on how I look at things now versus many years ago.

What were some of the things that you did to help transform yourself? Was it books? Did you get a coach? What did you do?

I think it was multiple things. I would say trying to figure out a mentor who I can talk to in terms of this. I selected an industry-level mentor in terms of being able to approach them and see how they would have solved these problems and how I was looking at them made a big impact. My biggest connection, even early on, even when early on, was always a connection with the employees themselves. I would say that always stayed with me. I think that connection was always there. It’s just I never utilized it in a different way until later on in my life.

What I mean by that is I would always sit with them at lunch. I would always sit with them and understand their difficulties, but before I could figure out how to solve their difficulties, my focus was on how to solve them for the business. A few things led to me making changes so that I could solve their difficulties which automatically led to business resolutions. I started thinking that if I focused on fixing them and helping them, I think business would take care of itself, and it did. There were multiple touchpoints in that journey on how that happened, but that’s how I saw the changes happen for me.

You would get together with them and listen to what their problems were and help them solve them. They probably built a lot of loyalty too.

Yeah, and I think initially, it was not the case because they saw me as a threat because my understanding could have led to weakness and just trying to get the job done. As it changed for me, and I can attest to multiple people now, I had to pick myself up, walk to their office and apologize to them in their face and say, “It was a learning curve for me if I had done it this way.”

Being a leader means picking yourself up, walking to your office and apologizing to your people when you’ve made a mistake. Click To Tweet

I can tell you some of them are still with us and some of them left me because of the reason, I wish I could apologize to them. I think that was a learning curve for me internally and changing my leadership, which I’m very proud of. Working with university students now for the last few years, working with a lot of interns, and giving a lot of new people a chance has opened that door for me.

I have this sign behind me that says, “I am not the leader I need to be a year from now, but I will grow.” You never know what you’re going to hit and what mindset challenges you’re going to have. I find a lot of leaders who don’t feel comfortable with that flexibility and don’t feel like they can do that and have a lot of issues around trust. When they can start trusting their employees more, it creates this safety for everybody and work does still get done. It then enhances trust.

I think there are cliche terms in our society these days. Some of them are open-door policies. Every organization uses that word. What does it mean? It means that you and I are having an interview on a show and my door is open right now. The door has never closed. I could be discussing company financials and if somebody wants to walk in, they can walk in. It is what it is.

Leadership Management: Open-door policies mean that you and I are having an interview on a show, and my door is open right now. The door has never closed.

In a true sense, what does the open-door policy mean? What does it mean to be open, honest, and direct? Sometimes people hear me talk about something negative. They’re like, “You need to close the door.” I’m like, “No. What I’m saying, I will say in front of that person. I would say behind that person.” That is the reality of what I’m discussing and if that person wants to sit at the table, they’re welcome because we are discussing how to solve that problem. We’re always not negatively discussing how to take somebody out of the picture. We are discussing how to solve that problem and how we look at the future.

Are there any final things you’d like to share with our audience about this journey you’ve been on and how you’re designing things differently?

One of the big things I would say from an Ntooitive standpoint, and even for anything that I’ll most likely do in the future to make sure we can create a work-life balance is number one. Not only to make a statement out of it but create an environment in which stress is something that we don’t bring into the picture. The way that is done is by clearly communicating expectations to the employees as well as to clients.

It’s because what happens is when you over-commit to clients, you will put pressure on your employees to over-deliver and that’s where it stresses you. Creating an environment in which clear expectations are communicated and give recognition where it is deserved all the time, every day. We have calls that we do, for example.

It’s important to create an environment in which clear expectations are communicated and give recognition that is deserved all the time, every day. Click To Tweet

We have all-hands calls every week and the call is to give kudos and thanks to people within teams who worked and interoperated. Initially, it was hard. People would not speak and it was us giving kudos to people. Once people started interacting, we clearly saw so many kudos coming out that sometimes we have to say, “It’s a one-hour call guy. You all did an amazing and great job,” but that I would say is something that other companies, if they follow will be very successful.

We have that same thing. The first half hour of our team meeting every week is shout-outs. They keep getting longer and longer, but it’s the most beautiful thing to watch. I have a very hard time saying, “Okay, and moving on now to the agenda items.”

A weekly call is only for kudos and shout-outs. We do once a monthly employee call and we talk about actual specific agendas. It is birthdays. It’s shout-outs. You’ll be surprised that by the end, shoutouts and kudos are done. They’ve covered the entire agenda. They’ve talked about every single project, whether it’s internal or with clients that we are doing. They don’t understand, but they are giving updates without giving updates.

On that note, I think we should end the interview there. That’s a great way to end it. Vikas, thank you so much for your time and sharing your insight. We appreciate it and I know this is going to be helpful. I hope it opens some minds up around continuing to have that more flexible culture as well as thinking a little bit more about truly growing leaders and walking that talk.

Thank you for having me.

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About Vikas Khorana

As president, chief technology officer and co-founder, Vikas Khorana fuses innovative technology solutions with clients’ business objectives to deliver meaningful value and lasting impact. Before co-founding Ntooitive Digital, a marketing technology company and three-time Inc. 5000 honoree, he held senior engineering positions with Stephens Media, Cyberworld Inc., Satyam Infoway, and others.

Vikas is recognized for his track record of successfully impacting business growth metrics and guiding client’s business and operating models, which has earned him high regard from industry peers. He is a President’s Club member of the Vegas Chamber, and a member of the Forbes Technology Council where he shares new ideas and technologies transforming business.

He also has been featured in industry trade publications such as Inc., SUCCESS, MediaPost, TechTarget, and MarTech Series. Vikas received his Bachelor of Engineering degree in Computer Science from Savitribai Phule Pune University in India.