Posted tagged ‘linkedin’

Why are we still talking about the Cloud?

October 27, 2010

With a nod and a wink to my marketing colleagues in Silicon Valley, and their seemingly endless inclination to re-package the Old as New, I’m compelled (after one too many questions from investors and coaching clients in the past few weeks) to state the obvious: 

The “Cloud” is neither a new advance in technology nor an architectural transformation.  Rather, it is another way of marketing an infrastructure and application paradigm that’s been with us for more than a decade and can no longer be considered “cutting edge.”  In fact, it is standard fare, something that everyone does, with minimal risk, a library of “best practices” and little that is truly “new” besides the term itself.

Before we moved “to the cloud,” we heralded a new generation of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS, think Salesforce.com) and before SaaS, we applauded the ingenuity of Application Service Providers (ASP) which, from my point-of-view*, was just another way of describing a “hosted” application, which was really little more than a new way of talking about distributed computing.  Yes, ten years ago, as Jamcracker’s CIO, I was traveling the country as a champion of the “next generation” of software provisioning, but even then, was it dramatically different than dialtone telephones with local devices connected to “someone else’s infrastructure?” Not really.

Yes, there have been improvements in the architecture, the protocols, and certainly in the adoption of user-centric design (i.e., a good UI) but the real change in the past ten years has not been in the technology, but in the general population’s willing adoption of the model. 

So, the next time an entrepreneur (with all the energetic sincerity that such courageous souls bring to any conversation) asks how to “sell” a cloud-based platform or product, give them the answers that have been true for as long as “Silicon Valley” has been in our geographic vocabulary:  Does the product solve a problem? Is it easy to use?  Is it modestly priced for the features it delivers? Is there exceptional Customer Support for problem resolution

Living in the Cloud does not preclude these important considerations, it’s just another way of saying that the physical location of the software is not the same as our access to that software, something that’s been true (for most of us) as long as our use of email or http.  Even when the next wave of marketing terminology (post-Cloud names in lieu of actual innovation) appears early next year, look past the fancy words and you’ll see the same architecture we’ve been selling since the early 90’s. 

The key selling point, as always, should be about value.  ( The old adage “Location, location, location” is just that, an old adage from the time when having an actual storefront with steady foot traffic was actually a business imperative.)  As for me, I’ve adjusted my internal taxonomy, and moved “the Cloud” terminology to my Who Cares? repository.

Tech from the U.K.?

September 16, 2010

I’m always humbled by such opportunities, sitting beside the Best and the Brightest (in this case, Paul from GoGrid, Darren from Informatica, Chris from the Milestone Group) and answering questions from entrepreneurs (good and sincere, each one) but yesterday’s event was notable for one unusual attribute – the audience was composed of 10-12 early stage CEOs from the United Kingdom.

Technology innovation from the U.K.?

Trade missions aren’t unique, and yet, yesterday’s discussion (part of the UKTI Cloud Mission, see http://ukinusa.fco.gov.uk/en/about-us/other-locations/sf/news/events-san-francisco/ukti-cloud-mission-event) was most interesting, above and beyond the truly engaging dialogue, for their most daunting challenge – we, in Silicon Valley, don’t think about the U.K. w/regard to innovative technologies.

In fact, in a time when so many are looking for work or holding on tightly to the job they might lose at any moment, we may also be losing our ability to notice innovation anywhere.  A side effect of our current anxiety about jobs (lost or soon-to-be) is a kind of tunnel vision, a blindness to that quintessential element of success: new ideas, new ways of doing things, whether they are more efficient processes or the seeds of a breakthrough product.

My sense is that those ideas are still there (not only “across the pond” but in the next cubicle), we’ve just stopped looking for them. And the only cure?  If your co-workers or strategic partners don’t seem to be doing anything new, remove the blinders that come with job insecurity and take a second look, you might just notice something interesting.

I Heard Something Remarkable the Other Day…

August 26, 2010

I’ll admit, at the outset, that I have very high standards.  During the past 20 years, I’ve worked with more than 100 CIO’s, including some of the best in the business, and I’ve read more than my share of management books.

Imagine my surprise (delight) to hear a new word, one that I have not ever heard from a CIO when describing what makes his/her organization unique: empathy.

Empathy.

This is beyond “partnership,” deeper than good “customer service,” much more meaningful than “alignment with the business,” all of which are good, but not sufficient.  By driving his organization toward an empathetic response to each and every person they serve, Todd Pierce at Genentech Informatics asks for the deepest kind of connection between IT and the world it serves: true understanding of needs, sincere interest in problem resolution, a genuine bond.

While his department helps fight cancer, and is perhaps a higher order of social good than merely improving shareholder return or simply selling more widgets, we can all borrow from the sentiment; whether it is a desktop upgrade, a custom BI report, or yet another new logo for the website, we need to aspire to that higher standard of an empathetic IT.

Why Don’t We Train our Managers to be Managers? Part Three: Listening

August 13, 2010

Easy advice to give others, not so easy to actually follow yourself.

I had a harsh lesson in this topic when, after years of executive-level consulting in which I taught managers how to listen to their teams (even purchased stethoscopes for one group to be prominently displayed in their offices, provoking their employees to ask Why The Stethoscope, and inviting a conversation about listening skills) one of my dearest colleagues stopped a meeting and told me to get my stethoscope.  I wasn’t listening.

Metaphors abound, all telling the same story.

I once met a truck driver in Pennsylvania who always rolled his window down when his rig entered one of the Fort Pitt tunnels.  They were an echo chamber, he said, for how well the truck’s engine is doing.  He claimed that he could hear an emergent transmission problem weeks before a mechanic could find it.

Good listening skills are more than important tools in your organizational relationships.  They help us hear the emergent problems in the mechanism of our departments.  As any first year Mechanical Engineering student knows, it is critical to recognize (and compensate for) the smallest vibrations in the construction of (for example) a suspension bridge, rather than waiting until the entire bridge fails from increasingly strong resonant vibrations.

Executives are so accustomed to fire-fighting (shifts in the market, unhappy customers, competitive risk) that they can lose sight of the too-small-to-be-noticed-until-there-are-flames problems.  They presume that their employees will attend to them, but the absence of listening skills (no one wants to hear bad news) replicates itself through the hierarchy.  Have you been surprised by the sudden departure of a key staff member?  Missed project milestones?

Here are a few (of the many) things you can do to encourage the information flow in your organization:

  • Town Hall meetings:  Bring everyone together with the sole purpose of answering anyone’s questions, and do this regularly.
  • Skip-level Lunches:  Invite 4-5 randomly selected individuals to lunch and listen to the conversation rather than dominating it.
  • Cross-attendance of Team Meetings:  Encourage (or even insist upon) “outsiders” in each departmental meeting where the visitors are tasked with taking news back to their teams.
  • Walk the Halls:  Don’t wait in your office for people to come to you with an issue (classic open door policy) but take the time to roam, and engage.
  • Check-in with your colleagues, visit your remote offices, launch an employee satisfaction survey, give an award for the Best Question of the Week.

We know how to monitor the health of our servers and can respond to email notifications alerting administrators when a server is a 95% capacity and on the verge of failure, but what methods do you use to learn that an employee is at 95% capacity?

Why Don’t We Train Our Managers, part two: Decision-making models

July 2, 2010

Over 20 years of management experience (and countless books, several well-written), this is the most concise-yet-useful definition of decisions, and how they are made in organizational settings, that I have found.  While the broader issues of Governance can be complex, there are three basic decision-making models appropriate to this discussion:

  • Direct decisions (executive declaration, appealed only to the Board of Directors)
  • Delegated decisions (management declaration, by the accountable parties designated by the executive)
  • Consensus decisions (consultative decision by identified team of experts)

Some of the myths about these models that should be addressed in one-on-one or group management training sessions are:

  1. Every decision is ultimately a direct decision of the CEO as the ultimate party accountable to the Board.  In dysfunctional organizations, large and small, every issue is brought to the CEO (like kids who run to daddy or mommy because they can’t agree).  Not true.
  2. Delegated decisions are rarely effective because someone always runs to daddy when they disagree with the intermediate manager’s call (leading to countless “appeals”) Not true.
  3. Consensus decisions are time-consuming and can slow down any progress (one juror prevents the verdict)  Not true.
  4. No model works in a) companies that are in rapid growth mode where “Just do it…” reigns, b) large institutions with political fiefdoms, c) teams in which passive resistance is prevalent, or d) during major transitions such as merger/acquisition initiatives involving two different corporate cultures. Not true.

There is a corollary to these models, and herein lies “the trick:”

Few companies/organizations use only one model.  The key is to utilize the correct approach for each issue, and to do so, there must be a “framework discussion” among all stakeholders in advance of any specific issue.  This framework discussion occurs before any debate, and agreement is reached before anyone’s vested interest emerges.

By agreeing in advance upon how the decision will be made, the members of the team commit to an approach.  The framework discussion might only require a one-hour meeting, while the absence of any framework often leads to delays, detours, disputes that may add weeks* of unplanned confusion.

* I have recently observed a single technology decision (estimated for three weeks to review/decide) that ultimately consumed nine months of counter-point , arguments that cost thousands of hours of lost productivity, all of which could have been avoided by holding a single, one-hour framework meeting at the outset of the review period.

Yes, politics and urgency and new leadership and corporate culture all play mitigating roles, and few significant business decisions meet unanimous approval.

However, if all managers/directors/VP’s in a company were offered an initial training course in these models (with vocabulary appropriate to the company), the leaders would have a shared constitutional process, a basic mechanism that can be optimized for 80-90% of the issues they will face in their teams and departments.

Where models are defined and framework agreements occur with regularity, organizations operate effectively.  Without any constitutional discussions, and lacking any similarity of approach at the executive level, projects fail.  Schedules slip.  Initiatives drift off course, and most importantly, our finest employees (the ones who should be spending their time building and fixing things) are left waiting in the hallways while their managers argue endlessly.

Why Don’t We Train Our Managers to be Managers?

June 29, 2010

Of the many ills impacting the Tech Industry, this is one of the most common questions asked by my clients. As a business coach, it quickly becomes the key complaint of executives who were once very successful individuals, only to be promoted to management with little (or no) training to help them bridge the obvious gap between excellence at the individual level and excellence as a manager.

The reasons are many: budget and time constraints, understaffed HR departments, a focus upon execution (as if team leadership is only a minor contributor to operational success). More often than not, however, it is a common blind spot on the part of executive teams composed of individuals who, in their careers, learned management techniques by observing others and not from any specific training sessions.

Some of us have been fortunate to work, at some point in our careers, for a superb manager who served as our role model. Mine was at Cadence Design Systems in the 90’s, and I still recall his lessons as I coach others. And the more fortunate are those of us who have actually worked for companies with formal management training: the 3-day offsite for new managers that I completed at Synopsys in the late 90’s included a curriculum that continues to serve me well. I mention these personal experiences, not to applaud my own background but as evidence that solid management training is not “black magic” but can and should be provided to new leaders in every company.

The components of a “best practice” curriculum?

  • Decision-making models
  • Prioritization techniques
  • Conflict resolution
  • Interviewing skills
  • Active listening
  • Teambuilding practices
  • Communication strategies

In the days ahead, in response to a request from one of my current coaching clients, I’ll comment on each of these and offer some “tricks” for those who know, in their hearts, that they could serve their employees better but don’t know where to begin.