Posts Tagged 'Goals'

May 18, 2012

The Weekly Breakdown - Behind the Scenes at SoftLayer

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a renowned scholar in the field of psychology, said, "In large organizations the dilution of information as it passes up and down the hierarchy, and horizontally across departments, can undermine the effort to focus on common goals." That's one of the biggest reasons SoftLayer shares a weekly internal newsletter with SLayers in all departments and in all locations. Keeping coworkers informed of corporate activities (and "common goals") may not be very high on everyone's to-do list, but it's certainly at the top of mine ... literally. As Marketing Coordinator, I'm responsible for sending out a weekly update to ALL SoftLayer staff.

If you have a growing or geographically diverse team, rallying the troops around a shared message is a great way to keep everyone on the same page. If you're not sure where to start with your own internal newsletter, I'd be happy to dissect what goes into our "Weekly Breakdown" as an example you might build from.

SoftLayer Weekly Breakdown

The Weekly Breakdown kicks off with employee birthdays. We want to make sure all 700+ SLayers know when one of their coworkers is getting a year "better," and every month, huge birthday cakes are brought to every office to recognize the SLayers celebrating their birthdays. We haven't written a SoftLayer version of a cheesy-restaurant rendition of the classic "Happy Birthday" song, but I'm sure it's just a matter of time.

BIRTHDAYS THIS WEEK

John Doe 05/17
Jane Smith 05/17
Bill Scurvy 05/18
Kermit the Frog 05/18
Miss Piggy 05/19

In addition to employee birthdays, we'll also call out important days (like SoftLayer's birthday: May 5!) in the birthday section.

The next section in the Breakdown is similar to the "Birthdays" section, but it's a little more relevant to our business: "Anniversaries This Month." When you're hired at SoftLayer, you basically get a SoftLayer birthday, and we want to recognize how long you've been a SLayer:

ANNIVERSARIES THIS MONTH

10 Years!!!!!!!!!!

  • John Doe

8 Years!!!!!!!!

  • Jane Smith
  • Bill Scurvy

5 Years!!!!!

  • Kermit the Frog

1 Year!

  • Miss Piggy

After we recognize the SoftLayer anniversaries, we have a section devoted to keeping employees informed of various activities going on at SoftLayer. That might be a recent press release, an update on holidays or an upcoming company event. This section is the go-to place for employees to know what's new with SoftLayer.

SL SPOTLIGHT

Did you know that SoftLayer employees can get a discount on dedicated servers and CCIs? Talk to any of our sales reps to get started. You will receive a [secret] discount off any dedicated server or a [secret] discount off any CCI!

The next few sections list available SL Job Openings, New Hires from the previous week, and Organizational Changes. Given that SoftLayer is still growing like crazy, we want to make sure all of our employees see the available positions in the organization so they can share with their network of friends or so they can see any opportunities they feel might better suit their talents and passions. It's always nice to know who is helping SoftLayer grow (new employees) and how they are growing with SoftLayer, whether vertically or horizontally (organizational changes).

The next two sections are dedicated to employees "personal" lives: Classifieds and Fundraising Events. These sections let employees list anything they are selling or giving away along with any fundraising activities or events that they, their kids, their neighbor or their dog are involved in. We've had classified items like car wheels, stereos and animal adoptions, and you can bet that employees were voraciously reading the "Fundraising" section when Girl Scout Cookie orders were being taken.

We wrap up the Weekly Breakdown with my favorite section: SoftLayer Praise. There are so many reasons why the section gives me joy. It's amazing how many wonderful comments our customers have about SoftLayer on a weekly basis, and it's a "pat on the back" for teams that may not interact directly with customers on a daily basis. Sharing all of the praise is great for morale, and those little compliments here and there go a long way to making our team continue working hard ... even if just to hear those comments again and again! Here are some of my favorite comments from the past few weeks:

SL Praise

As our business expands we look forward to working with SoftLayer on our projects for many years to come.

My server was down and did not want to come back online without an FSCK. Called support and got a real person on the phone within seconds who was knowledgeable - excellent! He was unable to get the FSCK to run so escalated it. Server Was back online within 10-15 minutes of calling. Thank you. Keep up the great service.

We have been a Customer since 2004 (since the days of servermatrix) and would like to thank you for the wonderful support that we have received over the years. Thank you for an outstanding customer experience!

Great customer services. On numerous occasions was pleasantly surprised.

You people are great!!! I am very Happy with your service. Since 1 year I never face a single server down issue.

Softlayer is the best hosting company I know of, which is why we are hosting with you. You are doing a great job.

I Love SL!

I definitely refer all my colleagues to SoftLayer. Service and quality are amazing!

@SoftLayer always has the coolest stuff at trade shows. I have a shirt from them that is cool enough for me to wear in public!!

SoftLayer it's been wonderful. We been having softlayer rocket battles ... #SENDREINFORCEMENTS

Those kinds of comments can put a smile on any SLayers face! :-)

If you have any wonderful comments to say about SoftLayer or an individual employee, don't be scared to tell us ... Your comment might just be featured in our next "Weekly Breakdown." Comment on this blog, use SoftLayer's "Get Satisfaction" page, tweet @SoftLayer or post to our Facebook page. We love to hearing from you and working hard to remain the "best hosting company [you] know of!"

As you can see, the Weekly Breakdown covers a lot of SoftLayer goodness in a given week. It takes a little work to keep a 700-SLayer organization on the same page, but that work pays off exponentially when the team is able to share accomplishments, praise and goals. I'd highly recommend you trying your own weekly internal newsletter ... Now leave us some SL praise!

-Natalie

January 16, 2012

What I've Learned About Leading

What does it take to be a good leader? What kind of leader do you want to follow? Throughout my life, I've gravitated toward leadership positions. Even when I was young, I tended to take charge of a group to achieve a goal or accomplish a mission ... though most of the "missions" in my younger days happened to be some sort of mischief. Having participated in the Boy Scouts and JROTC, I joined the Marine Corps where I served for seven years, and throughout my life, I've been fortunate to have more than my fair share of incredible mentors.

When my service in the Marine Corps concluded, I "enlisted" at SoftLayer as a data center technician. My primary responsibilities included building severs to order and installing software for our customers in four hours or less, and it was all pretty foreign to me. I had a lot to learn about the technical side of operating a data center, but based on my impression of the company, I was confident that I'd be in good hands.

Because I always find myself asking for more challenges and additional responsibility, I transitioned into a Customer Systems Administrator role. The CSA position required a lot more learning (at a breakneck pace), and in addition to the technical aspect of the job, I found myself learning just as much about the 'soft skills' required to provide the great customer service. Equipped with that knowledge (and a bit more experience), I pursued a leadership role on the team, and I made it my goal to use what I'd learned in the data center and in support to lead my team. I'd be lying if I said it wasn't a challenge, but I've never backed down from one before.

I don't mean to make this post all about me ... my goal in sharing a little of my background is to give a little context for what I've learned about leadership. It goes without saying that I've been fortunate, both in the Marine Corps as well as with SoftLayer, to have some of the most intelligent, talented and sometimes downright enigmatic leaders. I've managed to pick up advice, tips and tricks for handling all of the curveballs that are thrown on a daily basis, and over my years as a leader, I've developed a few philosophies (an amalgam of some of the key points I absorbed from all of those who have led me in the past) that I try to abide by daily:

Lead by Example.

I make it a point to never ask someone to do something that I've never done or something that I'd never be willing to do. This is the keen avoidance of the "do as I say, not as I do" mentality. Failing to do this hands-down one of the easiest ways to lose your team.

Employ Your Team to Their Abilities. Empower Them to do Their Best Work.

It's very important to know your team's strengths and weaknesses and use those to make everyone better. Using the strengths of one team member, I can push another outside of his or her comfort zone to improve his or her overall skill set. I've also seen amazing results from providing freedom for my teams to make decisions. Not only does that freedom build trust, it also gives some real "ownership" to every person, and with that sense of ownership, each team member does better work. I've been a little surprised to notice this empowerment coming from the coffee juggernaut Starbucks: Starbucks baristas and store employees are encouraged to make real-time decisions in the interest of taking care of their customers.1

Keep Learning.

Leading a team requires that you stay on top of what they're doing. Always ask questions. Continue to research so you can be a resource for your team. Find opportunities to learn and take advantage of every one of them.

Most Importantly: Learn how to Have Fun.
I see this cliché often, so when you see, "Have Fun," I wouldn't be surprised if you just rolled your eyes. I'd be lying if I said that things were great all of the time ... Realistically in any business, there's going to be a time or two when the *&#@ is going to hit the fan. It's important to find opportunities to cut loose and relax a bit. Cooking steaks for the group during a long overnight shift, grabbing a bite after work or a providing a happy hour once in a while builds a great deal of cohesion outside the office walls. Providing a relaxed environment does not prevent your team from doing stressful work ... It actually builds camaraderie, and it will help the team get through those tough times. The brutal honesty is that if people aren't enjoying where they're at, they'll look elsewhere – leaders have to help foster an environment that enables success.

At the end of the day, these tips may not work for everyone. There are a plethora of studies out there pertaining to the different leadership styles, the different types of leaders and how they influence teams. What's important is that leaders need to be intentional about bettering their teams (and ultimately bettering their businesses).

Along the lines of continuous education, I'd love to hear the leadership philosophies you've learned in your experience as a leader. Leave a comment on this article to share what you think has made you successful.

-Matthew

1This comes from both observation and talking to current and past employees. I've never worked for Starbucks, so I can't cite a specific company policy to back this up, but that evident organic culture is probably worth more than a million company policies that would try to create that culture.

January 3, 2012

Hosting Resolutions for the New Year

It's a new year, and though only real change between on January 1 is the last digit in the year, that change presents a blank canvas for the year. In the past, I haven't really made New Year's resolutions, but because some old Mayan calendar says this is my last chance, I thought I'd take advantage of it. In reality, being inspired to do anything that promotes positive change is great, so in the spirit of New Year's improvements, I thought I'd take a look at what hosting customers might want to make resolutions to do in 2012.

What in your work/hosting life would you like to change? It's easy to ignore or look past small goals and improvements we can make on a daily basis, so let's take advantage of the "clean slate" 2012 provides us to be intentional about making life easier. A few small changes can mean the difference between a great day in the office or a frantic overnight coffee binge (which we all know is so great for your health). Because these changes are relatively insignificant, you might not recognize anything in particular that needs to change right off the bat. You might want to answer a daunting question like, "What should you do to improve your work flow or reduce work related stress?" Luckily, any large goals like that can be broken down into smaller pieces that are much easier to manage.

Enough with the theoretical ... let's talk practical. In 2012, your hosting-related New Year's resolutions should revolve around innovation, conservation, security and redundancy.

Innovation

When it comes to hosting, a customer's experience and satisfaction is the most important focus of a successful business. There's an old cliche that says, "If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you've always gotten," and that's absolutely correct when it comes to building your business in the new year. What can you change or automate to make your business better? Are you intentionally "thinking outside the box?"

Conservation

The idea of "conservation" and "green hosting" has been written off as a marketing gimmick in the world of hosting, but there's something to be said for looking at your utilization from that perspective. We could talk about the environmental impact of hosting, and finding a host that is intentional about finding greener ways to do business, but if you're renting a server, you might feel a little disconnected from that process. When you're looking at your infrastructure in the New Year, determine whether your infrastructure is being used efficiently by your workload. Are there tools you can take advantage of to track your infrastructure's performance? Are you able to make changes quickly if/when you find inefficiencies?

Security

Another huge IT-related resolution you should make would be around security. Keeping your system tight and locked up can get forgotten when you're pushing development changes or optimizing your networking, so the beginning of the year is a great time to address any possible flaws in your security. Try to start with simple changes in your normal security practices ... Make sure your operating systems and software packages are regularly patched. Keep a strict password policy that requires regular password updates. Run system log checks regularly. Reevaluate your system firewall or ACL lists.

All of these safety nets may be set up, but they may not be functioning at their best. Even precautions as simple as locking your client or workstation when not in use can help stop attacks from local risks and prying eyes ... And this practice is very important if you keep system backups on the same workstations that you use. Imagine if someone local to your workstation or client was able to retrieve your backup file and restore it ... Your security measures would effectively be completely nullified.

Redundancy

Speaking of backups, when was your most recent backup? When is your next backup? How long would it take you to restore your site and/or data if your current server(s) were to disappear from the face of the Earth? These questions are easy to shrug off when you don't need to answer them, but by the time you do need to answer them, it's already too late. Create a backup and disaster recovery plan. Today. And automate it so you won't have the ability to forget to execute on it.

Make your objectives clear, and set calendar reminders throughout the year to confirm that you're executing on your goals. If some of these tasks are very daunting or difficult to implement in your current setup, don't get discouraged ... Set small goals and chip away at the bigger objective. Progress over time will speak for itself. Doing nothing won't get you anywhere

Happy New Year!

-Jonathan

Subscribe to goals