Sandra Crous – pioneer CEO who gives employees limitless leave

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Sandra Crous – pioneer CEO who gives employees limitless leave

Feb 25, 2024 | Strategy & Leadership

PaySpace Managing Director Sandra Crous constantly thinks about how to attract new talent to the company and build a space where colleagues can reach their full potential. She also believes a leader has to set the example of what you expect of colleagues, which for her is high performance.

Leaders should not preach water and drink wine, she says. Indeed, those who have worked with her describe her as inspirational and passionate, as someone who is able to demand results simply because she herself is constantly concerned about doing the right thing.

‘Whether you have an audience of a thousand or an audience of none, you should carry on with integrity. If you walk into the reception of your office and see the flowers on the counter are in disarray, do you fix them or do you walk by thinking it is not your job? The culture I strive to build is one where everybody understands individual progress is bred in collective success.’

At PaySpace employees work completely remotely. With that, Sandra expects every colleague to have their camera switched on for every meeting and she sets the example regardless of whether she has put her make-up on or not. She also requires colleagues to be engaged in the meeting and to not continue working. ‘I don’t mind if someone says, “Sandra, I will be right back, I’ve to take an urgent call.” But that would be an exception.’

Limitless leave

Working remotely means that everyone has to keep an up-to-date diary. They don’t have to ask permission to visit the doctor, but it must be shown on their calendars. Furthermore, PaySpace has a rare human resources concept called ‘limitless leave’, which allows employees to go away for lengthy periods as long as the affected colleagues approve. Sandra explains that if an employee is passionate about their work and delivers consistently, others will have no problem with them taking leave and will also be respectful of their time away.

Since the company introduced the policy, people have started taking more leave than the 18 days they were previously offered. However, employees are much more engaged than before, says Sandra. According to their wellness survey in 2021, employees generally enjoy their jobs and love working for the company. The leave policy and remote working have helped build a culture of trust where colleagues believe no one reports to work to do nothing.

The company doesn’t have annual performance appraisals but employees do have frequent discussions with management where they track their goals set in the previous meeting. As CEO, Sandra also asks employees how she can help them achieve their goals.

‘We measure everything we do because we’ve got a culture of high performance and we see ourselves as a disruptor in the industry. We challenge ourselves every day and everyone is well aware of what we’re building. When I do my monthly general meeting, I talk about what we have done and always try to link it to our vision, mission and values. For instance, if I thank someone for creating something. I’d highlight that it aligns to our value of innovation.’ 

Conquering the market

PaySpace sales are growing by over 30% annually, which is an amazing feat in difficult economic times. The reason the company is doing so well is that they’re solving customers’ problems by curing the inefficiencies in the software industry.

Sandra aims to grow three times faster than her competitors because she wants PaySpace to become a market leader. ‘How we’ll do that is very simple: we need excellent customer service, an extremely stable software product and an operationally efficient organisation.’

To scale the business, PaySpace measures customer service by keeping a close eye on their ‘net promoter score’ rating, which is a measure of how likely a customer is to recommend the business to a friend. And they’re doing well: over 80% of their revenue is recurring, which has made the business very attractive for prospective investors. Sandra says if no one is looking to acquire your company, it’s a sign that you’ve not built long-term value. These are some of the ideas she has gleaned from her two favourite business books, The New Market Leaders and The Discipline of Market Leaders, both by Fred Wiersema.

‘When I started my career at VIP Payroll, the company founder made all of us read these two books,’ Sandra reminisces. ‘They offer valuable insights on entrepreneurial leadership, which has been proven in how VIP Payroll panned out. When I started at the company, we only had 30 customers. A few years later we had thousands. What the books teach you is that you must choose your customers and narrow your focus to dominate the market they’re in.’

Market domination arises from ideals such as striving to be a product leader, as can be seen from the likes of Apple and Nike, companies that invest huge sums of money in world-class products. It can also be achieved by operational efficiency, meaning that delivery to the customer keeps them coming back even when the product is not that great. A good example is McDonald’s: burgers are served within minutes of being ordered and taste the same whether you’re in Bangkok or in Sandra’s recently adopted hometown of George.

Common goal

‘A good business also has a common goal that everyone can chase regardless of their role. I even want Maria the cleaner to understand that her cleaning the office is part of building a world-class organisation.’

In the post-pandemic era, a lot of people are working remotely and ‘dialling out’, and it is getting increasingly difficult to keep people engaged, says Sandra. ‘This is why you need the right people on the right bus: employ suitable staff, place them in the appropriate roles and inspire them with the company’s mission.’

PaySpace is the kind of company for which the COVID-19 pandemic had some positive impact, because it is a single-instance, multi-tenanted software company. This means a company’s payroll can be processed from anywhere. The pandemic accelerated the transition to cloud software and PaySpace has taken full advantage of it, introducing such rarities as leave applications via WhatsApp.

‘In service of our customers, we have also abandoned the idea of them paying huge, fixed fees up front. This has really helped in hard-hit industries. For instance, we have many clients in the entertainment space who had to retrench many of their employees during and after the pandemic. Our flexible billing allows them to pay only for what they use, meaning they save money during difficult times and can increase spending once business picks up.’

This article is a brief extract from the book THE CEO X FACTOR – Secrets for Success from South Africa’s Top Money Makers – available here

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