Posts Tagged 'Communication'

January 8, 2008

Are Your Leaders Scalable?

Over the last two years, SoftLayer has grown from nothing to over 10,000 servers and by the end of this year could surpass 30,000 servers if growth continues on its current track. A key component in managing this growth is finding leaders with the ability to scale as the company grows. More often than not, entrepreneurs are good at starting businesses but not good at growing them. In that vein, if you are the leader of a startup, what traits does your management team needs to have if one is to build the biggest, baddest and most valuable company in an industry?

Battle wounds: We all have read the stories about Bill Gates quitting Harvard to start Microsoft, Michael Dell selling servers out of his dorm room, and Larry and Sergey leaving Stanford to start Google. It is very rare that someone can come out of college and start something that becomes the dominant player in an industry. The majority are an amalgamation of our experiences of years of operating any one of a number of businesses. Look for the managers with some scars. Even the aforementioned entrepreneurs are pretty much battle tested by now.

Visionary: As fast as SoftLayer is growing, we better have a pretty good vision of where we are going so we don't run this Porsche off a cliff and into an abyss. We have seen many potential customer IT managers come to us in a panic upon their sudden realization that no more servers can be added to their datacenter because of inadequate planning for power and cooling. And I am not just picking on IT; this applies to the finance function as well. As the CFO, I have to have a vision for what my organization is going to look like all along the way, from the startup phase to an IPO, merger or acquisition or whatever other path this journey takes us.

Communication skills: Today's CFO must be more technically proficient than his predecessors; however, this does not negate for the financial or any other executive to be able to communicate not only with company staff, but customers, vendors, bankers and shareholders as well. As discussed in other blogs, the internet has given all of us the ability to communicate in so many different ways than in the past. The challenge of any manager is to figure out which method of communication is the most effective in a given situation to get the job done and keep the organization moving forward.

Je ne sais quoi: It's a French phrase we as Americans have used over the years to refer to a certain quality someone has that cannot be explained. A good manager has to have this “Presence”. While the internet and email and all forms electronic communication have made the world smaller, to have an impact a leader still needs to be out communicating, listening and understanding to keep the team on the right track. The leader who sits in his office all day can review a lot of data but needs to get out to find what is really going on inside a company. The “Ivory Tower” manager is doomed to failure in today's fast paced business environment.

Rock in times of adversity: For all of us who have participated in startups (and I have done four now), there are going to be tough times. You can count on that. How you react in those situations sends a message about your ability to lead to your staff. As a leader, you have to be the go-to person in tough times. Are you prepared to handle the adversity?

The team: Much like a professional hockey team (I would use football but my son plays hockey and this is my blog), you can't do it all alone. From the general manager on down, the owner/president of a team has to have the ability to attract top notch staff to who he can delegate the work of moving the organization toward the ultimate prize in hockey, The Stanley Cup. If he can't and tries to keeps all the work for himself, he will find himself on the outside looking in.

Do we have the team to scale? So far it appears that we do. Are we going to have to add additional leadership along the way for us to achieve our goals? Absolutely. We have just added a Chief Strategy Officer to the executive management team.

We continue to be confident our management team can provide the leadership needed to grow SoftLayer into an industry leader.

Are you as confident in your team?

- Mike Jones (Who?)

November 19, 2007

A Feature Too Far

I just finished the best Software Project Management book I have ever read. It covered proper planning, requirements gathering, resource management, inter-organizational communication, and even discussed the immeasurable factor of individual effort. The book's title is 'A Bridge too Far' by Cornelius Ryan. The book is actually a historical account of "Operation Market-Garden" which was an attack by the Allied forces against Nazi Germany in World War II.

First let me say that I am not comparing Software Development to War. I do appreciate the difference between losing one's job and losing one's life. But as I was reading the book, the parallels between the job of a project manager preparing for, managing, and executing a large project are not unlike that of the job of a General's planning staff preparing for a major offensive.

Operation Market-Garden was a combined ground and paratrooper attack into The Netherlands by the Allies a few months after the invasion of Normandy. Things seemed to be going well for the Allies in the months after D-Day and the Allied Generals became confident that they could launch a lightening strike that would end the war sooner rather than later. The operation seemed simple, Airborne paratroopers would be dropped deep in Nazi territory and would capture key bridges along a route into The Netherlands. A ground offensive would quickly follow using the bridges that were captured by the paratroopers to get almost all the way to Germany's borders. The short version of the story is that the ground offensive never caught up to the paratroopers and the offensive didn't succeed.

Reading the historical account, with the benefit of hindsight, it became obvious that the Allied Generals underestimated the difficulty of the task. The offensive scope was too big for the resources on hand and perfect execution of all the individual engagements was required. The schedule the Generals developed was impossible to keep and schedule slips meant death for many of the soldiers. Communications between elements of the units involved was critical but did not occur. However, because of heroic actions of some individuals and personal sacrifice of many, the offensive almost succeeded.

In the early stages of a project, setting realistic goals, and not putting on blinders as to the quantity and quality of your resources are key to a projects success. Going on the assumptions that the 'development weather' will always be perfect, communications will always work, and that all tasks will be completed on schedule is a recipe for disaster. And you can't always plan on individual heroics to save a project.

I usually try to inject some levity into my posts, but not this one. 17,000 Allied soldiers, 13,000 German soldiers, and 10,000 civilians were killed, missing, or wounded as a result of this failed offensive.

-@nday91

June 18, 2007

Has the Sales Process Changed?

When I first ventured out into the real world beyond the shelter of reality I refer to as college, my professional career started far away from the hosting industry. My first position was with a financial services firm with two clear goals:

  1. Pass the Series 7 exam in 5 weeks
  2. Learn how to “work the phones”

I soon found out that "working the phones" basically meant cold calling prospects, sometimes as many as 500 dials a day. We referred to this process as "dialing for dollars". In the financial services world your phone was your lifeline, all the top guys would tell you that if you mastered the art of a phone call, you where golden. After hearing the word "NO" millions of times and developing a really thick skin, I eventually got comfortable on the phone soliciting new customers. The appointments soon followed and I began to build my book of clients. I spent my career as a financial adviser communicating through tools such as telephone, meetings, and seminars which served as the foundation for building my business.

After living through both sides of the dot-com bubble in the stock market and seeing a lot of devastated stock portfolios, I was surprised to learn about a few thriving hosting companies. Much of what I was hearing about these companies was in stark contrast to the feeling on Wall Street, but after a lot of arm twisting from Lance I took a leap of faith and went to work as an enterprise sales representative.

It didn’t take long for me to realize my trustworthy tools for building clients from my previous career were archaic in this new environment. I was introduced to a world where the methods of communication were foreign to me. Email, IM, text messages, sales chat, forums, blogs, ticketing systems were all new to me and never used in my previous career because of compliance and regulatory issues. I realized I needed to embrace these new methods because it was the method my customers and prospects preferred to use. As I became more comfortable using these new channels, my career progressed into management where my responsibilities were expanded to help others.

I find it impossible to explain to my old financial adviser buddies how SoftLayer is building its client base. When I tell them our sales process involves posting in forums and spending hours on sales chat, they look at me like I am from a different world. I’ve learned to explain it like this:

The sales process really hasn’t changed; it is the same stuff that has been taught for a hundred years. What has changed is the method in which we communicate. Instead of forcing people to communicate in uncomfortable old school methods, we focus on communicating with customers and prospects on their terms in a way they prefer to do business.

-Steven

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