Posts Tagged 'Organization'

December 21, 2007

It Takes All Kinds...Well, Four Kinds Anyway

Over the years I've had a chance to see a number of different organizations in operation – churches, non-profits, clubs, public companies, and private companies. I've found that in all these organizations, four types of people are needed in order for them to thrive.

I made this observation of four types of people about 20 years ago. I honestly don't remember reading this from a business book or hearing it at a seminar so I don't have a source to cite. But since there's "nothing new under the sun" according to Ecclesiastes, I apologize in advance if you're reading this and this list originated with you over 20 years ago.

Some may think that comfortable new buildings, plush surroundings, or artistic furnishings can help an organization thrive. I'm reminded of the IBM "Innovation Station" commercial. I couldn't find it on their site and the best I could do elsewhere is this Italian version. The surroundings of the people are merely surface cosmetics. The people are the soul of an organization, and each one has a different mix of gifts and talents. It is this mix of gifts and talents that I sort into four groups and the people of the organization must draw from their fundamental gifts and talents for an organization to thrive, regardless of the environmental cosmetics – especially if this is your environment.

Innovators
The first group of folks is the smallest in number. They're the innovators. They can approach a blank whiteboard, pick up a marker and brilliance flows through them onto the board. They're so in touch with markets that they don't just sense the needs felt by the market that need to be filled – they know the needs of the market before the market even feels these needs. The innovators cast the vision for what can be. However, if you ask them to make the vision better, deliver the vision, or maintain it after delivery, more often than not the vision will not be realized because making the vision reality is not a part of their gifts and talents. Making the vision a reality depends on folks from the other groups.

Refiners
These are some of the folks who approach a blank whiteboard and they pick up a marker, but the board remains white. It isn't within them to come up with new and innovative solutions to market needs. But if there's a new and innovative idea on the board, they'll grab a marker and make it better. Maybe the original idea has a logistical problem that keeps it from being viable. They'll solve that logistical problem. Maybe a proposed process is inefficient – they eliminate the bottlenecks. They perhaps can put together a great project plan and GANTT chart. But if you ask them to deliver the project or maintain it in a production environment, you may see failure and frustration. This is where the next groups come to the rescue.

Deliverers
Hail to the Project Managers here. These are the folks that can take a new idea that's been boiled down into a viable plan, marshal the troops, juggle dependencies, assign resources, balance budgets, tackle key tasks personally, hit deadlines, and declare victory when the idea is a reality. Project Managers also need some deliverers to work for them. These are the folks that gobble up a chunk of work on the project plan, put their nose to the grindstone, complete the task, and then return for more. But after the victory party to celebrate successful delivery, asking them to go to the whiteboard and think of something new or asking them to keep what they delivered up and running may be unproductive.

Maintainers
These are the folks that hate to see things break down. Their greatest joy is to do things over and over to keep production up and running and on pace. They love checklists, routine tests, and a predictable work day. I once worked as an automobile insurance underwriter, which is a fancy way to say that I sat at a desk and processed one application after another all day long, day after day, entering data and rating risks. I lasted about a year. This isn't part of my gifts or talents, and I gained a whole new level of respect for this group of people. Without them, the organization breaks down and ceases to function. And as anyone in hosting knows, keeping systems up and running is a key fundamental of the business. The coolest new features don't matter a bit if there's no electricity in the data center.

Dangers of "Pigeonholing"
An organization needs to know which category their folks are fulfilling in their current roles. But in reality, people often have gifts and talents that lend themselves to more than one of these groups. A smart organization will recognize this and allow people to grow and develop rather than sticking them in one spot forever. For example, I'm about equal parts Refiner and Deliverer, and don't ask me to innovate or maintain – you'll be sorry. I'll do best in a role that requires both refining and delivering. When an organization pigeonholes its people, they'll only keep the people so long. They have a way of leaving to find organizations with more fulfilling opportunities.

I can find all four of these groups here at SoftLayer. We also allow some crossover into the functions of other groups. We've found that a good number of our Deliverers are also good Innovators for example. Consequently, as a company, we've lost a grand total of three employees since our beginning.

-Gary

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July 23, 2007

The User Experience – SoftLayer 101

One of the broadest and most challenging topics in any company is capturing a customer's full attention at all times. In its simplest form, this seems pretty easy. First, you address the market that you are vertically aligned with, such as finance, technology, manufacturing, etc. and then you establish what you want your user experience to be leveraging your knowledge of these markets and dedicated your full resources to marketing to that niche. As the internet changes the traditional marketing principles into this new "never never land" of instant feedback through forums, blogs, RSS feeds, etc. the landscape of the user experience is definitely changing.

So what happens when your markets cross all boundaries, have no verticals and can range from an individual to a fortune 10 company? How do you create an environment that captures a unique experience for the single man consulting shop, while maintaining a completely different, yet equally impressive, environment for a company outsourcing their internal IT infrastructure needs completely to you? Obviously, this is extremely challenging and it’s the position that we sit in daily here at SoftLayer.

The user experience really seems to be a philosophy that has to be adopted from top down in any organization. I found an older article that really seems to capture the essence of the user experience. In the article it talks about companies such as Dell, Amazon, Nordstrom’s, Jet Blue, etc. and it breaks down the user experience into 4 simple categories:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Intuitive
  3. Consistent
  4. Trustworthy

With these 4 categories in mind it has me thinking and challenging the entire SoftLayer team internally to think about how we fit into these. SoftLayer is largely comprised of engineering talent and, to no fault of theirs, they often keep there heads down for hrs/days/weeks at a time and look up time of project completion and forget that there is anything else going. It’s the nature of the business and our engineers and developers are world class, so I tread lightly on my ‘rock the boat’ comments, but it’s definitely a topic of conversation internally as we are constantly focused on enhancing the experience of SoftLayer for our customers.

The SoftLayer team has many stated goals when it comes to cutting edge technologies, changing the landscape of the dedicated hosting market, and really adapting and evolving our products and services to ensure that we meet the needs of all of our customers. Our customers are the driving force for enhancement here and we listen very clearly. We have been fortunate to have built such a tight knit community here which is something that we believe drives a difference between us and others in the marketplace.

As a continuous exercise I would like to reach out to you, the customer, and ask for feedback on items that you think could enhance the 'user experience' here. Much like the cliché about the CEO having an open door policy at work, I want to let everyone know that our doors are open and we want to hear what you have to say. Are we doing a good job in the four characteristics listed above? Do you have ideas/thoughts that you think can be globally impacting to us?

As always, bizdev@softlayer.com is an open line to share thoughts with me directly and the great part about my job is I am cross functional throughout the organization, so my lines goes from the top (Lance) through all of the groups be-it development, operations, sales, finance/accounting, etc. We are here to listen, so speak up!

-Sean

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