Posts Tagged 'Slculture'

April 2, 2012

On Cloud Nine: My First Two Months at SoftLayer

I'm on cloud nine at Softlayer. I know "cloud" is probably the most confusing term I can use about how happy I am to be a SLayer because I'm not talking about public cloud, private cloud, or bare metal cloud, but it seemed like the expression that best fit my mood. Beyond the "cloud" products we make available to our customers, there's a less obvious "cloud" at SoftLayer: What I've come to call "The Employee Cloud Nine."

I joined SoftLayer in January of this year, having worked for my previous employer for around ten years. In my 2+ month tenure, the treatment I've received has been astounding, and I don't need to look beyond my workspace to notice some immediate differences. At my previous job, I had three computers running 2007-version software, one Mac-bell scanner and a printer. At SoftLayer, I feel like I'm in a different world: Two widescreen monitors connected to a super-powerful computer running (gasp) current software. It's like I can say "goodbye" to the old days and hello to the twenty-first century!

Beyond the my immediate workplace surroundings, one of the most important distinctions between SoftLayer and every other place I've worked before is how accepting and friendly the team has been. On my first day, my team (and HR) welcomed me with open arms, and I didn't once feel like "the new employee." It reinforced how joining the team mirrors becoming a part of a family, and I think a lot of that culture has to come from the top of the company. It's clear that SoftLayer values us as employees, and because we feel valued, we're excited to come to work. Employees that are excited to come to work are happier, and happy people interact a lot differently than unhappy people that just go to a job because they have to. It also doesn't hurt that SoftLayer literally invests in every employee when it comes to benefits and insurance.

In this economy, it's hard to find companies that are still dedicated to their employees, so it's even crazier to see how SoftLayer takes "dedicated to their employees" to the extreme: Break areas with all your daily needs such as tea, water, juice, snacks and Sonic Ice. On my second day of employment, the company catered a lunch for the office. Recently, there was a tank/helicopter war ... Where else does that kind of thing happen?

I work in the Accounts Payable department. When I started, the team was beginning a pretty massive system conversion. It ended up going live without a hitch (after a few weeks of long hours). Our entire team (led by our fearless manager, Amanda Bell) celebrated the success of the project, and as a little bonus, our VP of accounting, Robert Burns, gave us a big surprise for all of our hard work (and while I know mentioning that begs the question, "What was it?" I was sworn to secrecy). Upon receiving my surprise, I saw a few of the folks from our executive management team in the hallway, and they mentioned that the smile I had on my face was the one they like seeing on every employee's face. :-)

By that point, I knew I wanted to share my initial experience as a SLayer in the form of a blog, but little did I know I'd have one more piece I'd need to include to paint an even fuller picture of my first two months at SoftLayer. I attended a training session where I learned about the company's history, got a better understanding of our products and services, and heard about even more of the benefits I get for being a SoftLayer employee. And I took a data center tour.

As an AP Administrator, I'm not well versed in the technical side of what SoftLayer does, but when I walked through the data center, I immediately recognized many of the products from vendors I pay on a daily basis. It was nice to be able to match up the name of the products I see on an invoice to an actual device to better understand what the checks are paying for ... That context really reinforced to me how I contribute to SoftLayer's growth and success, so it was a fantastic realization.

What I didn't expect from the training session was a chance to participate in the Server Challenge. While I didn't set any records, I was proud of my 2:42 finishing time, and I gained a whole new level of respect for all the effort that goes into racking and maintaining our servers ... And I'm even more impressed with all of the conference attendees that are able to finish the challenge twice as fast as I did.

I'm two months into my tenure at SoftLayer, and I'm still on cloud nine. If my experience is typical (which I'm sure it is), you'll see SoftLayer at the top of every "Best Places to Work" list for years to come!

-Fabrienne

March 30, 2012

Very Casual Fridays

One of the best things about working at SoftLayer is that we get awesome freebies. In the last year, I have seen a servers given away to authors of the best SoftLayer-themed Haikus, employees have won Apple iPads, solid state drives, extra vacation days, Napa Valley wine tasting trips and finely aged booze in fundraisers for the American Heart Association. On any given day, you'll see people handing out swag, snacks, beverages and catered meals. SLayers can get tickets to Rangers and Cowboys games, we have some great Happy Hour events, and our company parties are legendary. I thought I'd seen it all, but I was given something I never would have expected:

Chris (co-worker): "They gave you a tank?"
Me: "It's not a tank, it's a 1/24th scale REMOTE CONTROLLED BATTLE TANK TYPE 90, and it fires real missiles! I also got a coffee mug with a submerged octopus inside"
Chris: "But why would they gave you a tank?"
Me: "..."

Chris's incredulous tone was not surprising. I'm fairly certain the answer to his last question was not supposed to be, "So I'd bring it into corporate headquarters the next day, break it out around 5:00pm, and explore the (quite impressive) range of the 6mm missiles and their (again, quite impressive) ability to welt my colleagues."

Fast forward a few days, and in the midst of a celebration for the SoftLayer Engineering Team's completion of a recent project roll-out, a 1/24th scale battle erupted. As 20-30 members of the development team looked on (alongside our CTO and a few vice presidents who supplied "refreshments"), a convoy of RC Helicopters and my tank are in an all-out war. The battle tank misfires into a swarm of developers who scatter in chaos, and Chris peers over my cube wall ... "I can't believe they gave you a tank."

In light of those "unanticipated team-building exercises," I decided to jot down a few optimistic suggestions for Lance and the management that came to mind for how we could continue building SoftLayer's culture. Being comfortable and having a fun work environment improves employee productivity and reinforces the investment SoftLayer is making in its people, so we should totally be able to justify these! Here are a few ideas that came to mind (that probably won't cause anyone to loose an eye):

  • Omelet Chef and Bacon Buffet

    It's not just an old wives tale; numerous sources say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. What better breakfast than all-you-can-eat crisp bacon and a Denver omelet cooked to order by a professional wearing a toque blanche and masterfully flipping frying pans?

  • Bring your Dog to Work Day Mandatory Policy

    Running home at lunch and/or after work to let out "Diesel" or "Delilah" cuts into employee availability. What's more, dogs in the office raise employee morale, subsequently improving productivity.

  • 3 Bars Logo Bow Ties

    Classier swag ... for the discerning gentleman.

  • Air Hockey, Table Tennis and Foosball Tournaments

    We have a lot of nerds 'round here, and exercise intended to prevent carpal tunnel syndrome can easily look like playing Foosball in slow motion. I propose we re-purpose the SLacker conference room and retrofit it with an arcade in the interest of improving employee health.

  • More Cake

    Forget Wheaties. Cake for breakfast a few days a week would provide a suitable alternative to the aforementioned bacon + omelet combo, and it would help soak up the all the free Frappacinos we drink.

  • Preemptively Remove Brown M&M's from DAL05

    "Welcome to SoftLayer. You're here because you're a rock star." - Lance Crosby, Employee Handbook, Page 1.

    When Van Halen added a blurb about brown M&M's to their tour rider, it wasn't (entirely) to show how awesome they knew they were; it was to quickly ascertain if a venue had read through the contract details ... If there were brown M&M's in the bowl, who knew whether their equipment would have been treated the way it was explained in the contract. Selectively banning certain colors of M&M's would be a great way to show visiting customers and vendors the attention to detail that goes on behind the scenes.

  • SoftLayer-Branded Shirts that Read, "I am a battle tank shooting survivor."

    I'm going to need about three of these ... stat.

If you want to join our team, we're hiring a ton of people right now: SoftLayer Careers ... Given the fact that there are 18 open positions for new SLayers in Dallas, it might be good to stock up on a few extra "Survivor" shirts.

-Nalin

March 22, 2012

Building. Business. SoftLayer.

"If you build it, he will come."

I hope I'm not alone as I find myself whispering those words in my head as I read them. If you've seen Field of Dreams*, you know that Kevin Costner mysteriously hears and sees things no one else can see, and he seems like a lunatic when he follows the instructions of his invisible guide. He builds a baseball diamond on his farm land, and famous baseball players like Shoeless Joe Jackson come to play from the afterlife. He took a risk to build something with faith that it would yield results.

It's a lot like the way most visionaries and entrepreneurs take risks to make their marks on the world.

Taking an idea from inception to market is much like building a baseball field in the middle of your farmland. You can factor in all the "knowns" (size, shape, materials, etc.), but in the end, you have to trust that consumers will come. Faith in a product or service drives the concept forward, and second-guessing it or working at it halfheartedly can destroy its slim chance of success. As a company so keenly focused on innovation ourselves, we find that other innovators are drawn to us, and because I've had the unique opportunity to work with many of our extremely successful companies, I thought I'd put together a few simple questions you might ask yourself as you transition from inspiration to action:

  1. Is your idea possible to execute? Will it be easy for the market to understand and adopt?
  2. Are there technologies available to deliver the idea or will you need to build your own?
  3. Are the resources you're using to build the product the best you can leverage?

If you answered, "No," to the first question, you might want to hit the drawing board to come up with a new strategy or approach as you aim to meet the unmet needs of the market. Don't get discouraged at this point ... By spending more time simplifying and clarifying your idea, you're saving an exponentially greater amount of time that you'd waste having to redefine or reposition your product down the road. If you answered, "Yes," move on to Question 2.

Question 2 will start setting a baseline of the amount of effort required to get your idea to a functional state. You might hang on Question 2 for a while as you learn more about available technologies or lay the groundwork for your project, but by doing so, you'll have a more concrete estimate of the timeline you can expect. Once you feel confident and comfortable with the answers to Question 1 and Question 2, the last step you need to take is to Question 3.

Question 3 can be pretty far-reaching — people, technologies and even hardware/software. These are some of the "knowns" that I referenced earlier. Note that "the best you can leverage" is not necessarily going to be "the best available." Startup ideas generally are equipped with startup resources. Cost, expertise and comfort are going to play a huge role in the adoption of resources.

One of the big roadblocks many budding entrepreneurs run into is that they have trouble preparing for success. Build your product with the expectation that it will be successful. Know what you can do to accommodate the spike in demand you'll see when Oprah and Bono give you a shout-out.

SoftLayer has been successful because we did our best to answer with those three questions, and as we continue to grow and succeed, we live and breathe innovation. We'd like to think that we're some of "the crazy ones" Apple referenced in its epic "Think Different" campaign, and we want to empower our customers to be a little crazy themselves.

-Clayton

*If you haven't seen Field of Dreams yet, you should find a way to watch it immediately, if not sooner.

March 14, 2012

Game On: SoftLayer + Game Developers + GDC

Last week, I spent a few days at GDC in San Francisco, getting a glimpse into the latest games hitting the market. Game developers are a unique bunch, and that uniqueness goes beyond the unbelievable volume of NOS Energy Drinks they consume ... They like to test and push the IT envelope, making games more diverse, interactive and social.

The new crop of games showcased at GDC is more resource-intensive — it's almost like watching an IT arms race; they're upping the ante for all online gaming companies. The appetite from the public remains relentless, and the pay-off can be huge. Consider that gaming industry research firm DFC Intelligence predicts that worldwide market revenue generated solely from online games is set to reach $26.4 billion in 2015, more than double the $11.9 achieved in 2009.

That's where SoftLayer comes in. We understand the high stakes in the gaming world and have tailored our IaaS offerings for an optimal end-user experience that stretches from initial release to everyday play. Take a look at what game developer OMGPOP (a SoftLayer customer) achieved with Draw Something: Almost overnight it became the #1 application in Apple's App Store, tallying more than 26 million downloads in just a few weeks. To put the volume of gameplay into perspective, the game itself is generating more than 30 hours of drawings per second. That's what what we refer to as "Internet Scale." When YouTube hit one hour of video uploads per second, they came up with a pretty impressive presentation to talk about that scale ... and that's only one hour per second.

Draw Something

Gamers require a high-performance, always on, graphically attractive and quick-responding experience. If they don't get that experience, they move on to the next game that can give it to them. With our core strengths of automation and extensive network reach, game developers come to us to easily enable that experience, and in return, they get a platform where they can develop, test, deploy and yes, play their latest games. True "Internet Scale" with easy consumptive billing ... Get in and out quickly, and use only what you need.

Some of the most interesting and innovative use cases of how customers take advantage of our platform come from the gaming industry. Because we make it easy to rapidly provision resources (deploy dedicated servers in less than two hours and cloud servers in as few as five minutes) in an automated way (our API), many developers have started incorporating cloud-like functions into their games and applications that add dedicated resources to their infrastructure on-demand as you'd only expect to see in a virtual environment. Now that Flex Images are available, we're expecting to see a lot more of that.

As I was speaking with a few customers on the show floor, I was amazed to hear how passionate they were about what one called the "secret ingredient" at SoftLayer: Our network. He talked about his trials and tribulations in delivering global reach and performance before he transitioned his infrastructure to SoftLayer, and hearing what our high-bandwidth and low-latency architecture has meant for his games was an affirmation for all of the work we've put into creating (and continuing to build) the network.

The rapid pace of innovation and change that keeps the gaming industry going is almost electric ... When you walk into a room filled with game developers, their energy is contagious. We ended GDC with an opportunity to do just that. We were proud to sponsor a launch party for our friends at East Side Game Studios as the celebrated the release of two new games — Zombinis and Ruby Skies. Since their NomNom Combo puzzle game is one of the most addicting games on my iPhone, it was a no-brainer to hook up with them at GDC. If you want a peek into the party, check out our GDC photo album on Facebook.

Draw Something

To give you an idea of how much the gaming culture permeates the SoftLayer offices, I need only point out a graffiti mural on one of the walls in our HQ office in Dallas. Because we sometimes get nostalgic for the days of misspent youth in video arcades playing Pac Man, Donkey Kong and Super Mario, we incorporated those iconic games in a piece of artwork in our office:

Retro Gaming Mural

If you are an aspiring game developer, we'd like to hear from you and help enable the next Internet gaming sensation ... Having a good amount of experience with our existing customer base should assure you that we know what we're talking about. For now, though, it's my turn to go "Draw Something."

-@gkdog

March 12, 2012

Quantifying Culture: From Intern to Full-Time SLayer

I've worked two months as a full-time employee at SoftLayer, but if you were to ask anyone here, they'd say I've been a SLayer for much longer. They're half right. I've been around, but not as a full-time employee. I started my SoftLayer journey as an intern in the summer before what was supposed to be my last full year of college. After that brief glimpse at what working at SoftLayer was like, I made the decision to condense my senior year into one semester (packed with 33 course credits and countless nights spent in the library) to get back to Dallas to sign on as an official SoftLayer employee. You might wonder why someone would give up her senior year of college to get into the working world ... To me it wasn't about "giving something up" as much as it was about "gaining an opportunity" to work for a company that fosters a culture I genuinely love! I literally could not wait to be back.

There are so many stories I could divulge about my time at SoftLayer — from company events with amusing endings to very thoughtful nicknames to a boss who has transformed into a friend and mentor. I'm not sure how many of these stories would be appreciated to a non-SLayer, and even if I tried to share them, I know they wouldn't do SoftLayer's culture justice. Honestly, I cannot make you understand what makes SoftLayer "SoftLayer." It's not just a name on a building ... It's the experience of getting a group of passionate people in a room to create and innovate. When you're surrounded by that atmosphere, you challenge yourself to be better ... And this blog is a testament to that atmosphere.

I would not consider myself a writer, and I was very hesitant to write this blog. This will be my first contribution to The Innerlayer, and writing the first words on a blank canvas is always intimidating. As I sat at my desk, wracking my brain for where to begin, it took all of five minutes for a fellow employee to recognize my struggles, pick up her laptop and come over to my desk with her work to help me turn my thoughts into words. I don't know of many other companies where it would be normal (or even allowed) to literally bring your work station to another person's desk to share time so generously.

An opportunity to join a culture like that is worth a lot more than a lighter course load and a longer senior year. And it's only one of many examples I can think of that happen on a regular basis that make working at SoftLayer so enjoyable.

Immediately after having finished this blog, I realized I wasn't stumped on the idea of writing a blog ... I was trying to decide how to adequately convey what SoftLayer's culture feels like to someone who doesn't get to experience it. I realize it's a matter of comprehending the incomprehensible. All I can tell you is that I don't regret giving up anything by accelerating my senior year. Truth be told, I am learning more here than any classroom, professor or project could have taught me.

Want to join us? There are more than forty available positions at SoftLayer in all of our worldwide locations. What are you waiting for?

-Katie (aka "KornFed" aka "Kansas" aka "Pippa")*

*I told you there were thoughtful nicknames.

February 9, 2012

Choose Your Own Adventure

I was unbelievably busy last week, and surprisingly, the busyness I'm referencing did not even involve my official responsibilities in compliance. I was planning on writing a blog to share some of the fun/insane/ridiculous things that happened, and I thought of a way to mix it up a little and make a challenge out of it for our readers.

Have you ever seen those image-based logic puzzles where you're given a series of images and challenged to put them in order to create a story? Here's an example:

Logic Puzzle Example

What story are those pictures trying to tell? A boy [6] grabs a fishing pole [4], and finds a fishing hole [5]. He baits his hook [3] and waits for the catfish to quit posing [2] and bite the hook! He takes his catch home, and his mom fries it up [1]. MMMM Good [7]!

You could probably interpret it a different way and "choose your own adventure" where the anthropomorphized fish deep fried the boy ... Depends on how far outside the box you think. The answer the question was meant to have is the one above. Now that you see how it works, I have a logic puzzle for you to try and figure out about what happened during my week last week.

All ten of the pictures below were taken in the span of 56 hours ... If you can come up with the correct story, I'll send you a prize (detailed below). If you can come up with a creative story that isn't correct, I can probably find something to send you as well. Without further ado, here are the pieces of the story [Click for Larger Version]:

Logic Puzzle Example

If you've been to the SoftLayer Blog this week, you know that we have a "Kids Meal" kind of special going right now where for the next few months if you buy a server and email us, you can get an official SoftLayer Bobblehead! To piggyback on that giveaway, the first person who posts a comment with the correct order of the photos to answer the puzzle (or the funniest answer if no correct answers are posted), will get my personal FULL SET of official SLobbleheads. Yes, the full set! You won't have to wait to place your server orders in the next month to complete your bobblehead collection (though I hope you still keep ordering servers).

So what are you waiting for? Tell me the story!

-@SKinman454

February 7, 2012

Social Media Exclusive: Bobblehead Bonus

SoftLayer has a unique culture. As SLayers, we get company-inspired tattoos, we outfit ourselves (and our families) in SoftLayer gear, we take part in goofy videos, and every now and then, someone gets a shower of 10,000 bouncy balls.

Our company culture is no accident; it has grown organically from the day SoftLayer was born, and the executive management team has been instrumental in showing that it's okay to have fun when you're at work ... and the company's phenomenal growth speaks to that philosophy's success. The latest example of tomfoolery came in the form of customized bobbleheads of many of members on the SoftLayer management team:

SoftLayer BobbleheadSoftLayer BobbleheadSoftLayer BobbleheadSoftLayer BobbleheadSoftLayer Bobblehead
 

Because we happened to have ten extra sets of these bobbleheads, we thought some of our customers might enjoy building a collection of their very own. If you places a new order in the next few months and you're one of the first ten SoftLayer customers to email your order information to the social media team at twitter@softlayer.com, we'll send you that month's "Bobblehead Bonus":

  • February 2012 - Lance Crosby, Chief Executive Officer
  • March 2012 - Tom Blair, Senior Vice President Global Sales
  • April 2012 - Nathan Day, Chief Scientist
  • May 2012 - Duke Skarda, Chief Technology Officer
  • June 2012 - Sam Flietman, Chief Operating Officer
  • July 2012 - George Karidis, Chief Strategy Offcier

To keep everyone on the same page, here are the "official rules":

  1. One Bobblehead Bonus per SoftLayer account per month.
  2. Order must be placed in the same month the bobblehead is requested.
  3. Bobblehead Bonus request email must be sent to twitter@softlayer.com and it must include your SoftLayer account number, order number and the shipping address you'd like us to use.
  4. The bobbleheads will be awarded on a first-emailed, first served basis.
  5. Only 10 bobbleheads are available each month.

If the set I have in my office window is any indication, having a complete SoftLayer bobblehead collection will make you the envy of all of your friends and coworkers. The idea behind this fun little giveaway is to reward you for being an engaged, loyal SoftLayer customer.

Let's be honest ... You've probably been on the fence about ordering a new cloud instance or dedicated server, so what more do you need to hear than "Free SoftLayer Bobblehead" to get you to pull the trigger?

-@khazard

P.S. We've also got a few bobbleheads earmarked for employees who contribute to the SoftLayer Blog. If you're a SLayer and you want your own set of bobbleheads, you better start writing!

January 30, 2012

Three Bars for Life

Working at SoftLayer has its perks, and one of my favorite perks to enjoy over the last three years is the ability to use a week and a half of my vacation time to travel over to Hawaii. I normally visit the Lahaina area on Maui, as I have family over there that operate Lahaina Family Farms. This year, I was able to help them plant hundreds of vetevir plants for irrigation control ... And I also found myself getting a new tattoo.

Before I go any further, I should probably back up and talk about how unique the SoftLayer culture is. In 2010, a few of the SLayers in Dallas got SoftLayer-sponsored tattoos from an artist that visited our headquarters. We have a Facebook album of SoftLayer tattoos that features some of that ink.

I work in SoftLayer's Seattle facility, so I wasn't able to join in on the fun in the Dallas office, but Lance extended the offer to anyone in the company that wanted to get a tattoo. As one of the few guys in Washington that has any ink on my body, I said that if the unofficial SoftLayer tattoo artist would come to Seattle for us, I'd get it done. There wasn't enough demand to justify a trip from Texas, but Lance said I could expense it if I wanted to join the club ... The only requirement was that the tattoo had to incorporate SoftLayer in some way.

I had a few ideas, but nothing struck me as a perfect design for SoftLayer Seattle. When I was in Lahaina, I stopped by and visited Tony, a tattoo artist at Skin Deep Tattoo who did a cover up for me a few years ago. He asked me how work was going, and I started telling him about how much I loved SoftLayer's culture and how the company has grown so substantially in just a few short years ... And he was impressed that we've added eleven more data centers on three different continents in the four years since we expanded from Dallas into Seattle.

I told him about Lance's tattoo offer, and we came up with this amazing SoftLayer Seattle design:

Sehmel Tattoo

I know it's a little crazy to get a work-inspired tattoo, but there aren't many places where you hear people saying things like "Three Bars for Life!" as you walk through the office ... I've just taken "Three Bars for Life" a little more literally in the form of a permanent tattoo. I've had a wonderful last four years, and can't wait for the many more to come.

3BFL!

-Bill

P.S. If you don't love the company you work for this much, you can always join the SoftLayer team. We're growing like crazy, and we're looking to add a lot of SLayers to the crew.

Categories: 
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 13, 2012

The Challenge of Conveying Culture

Last week, Cracked.com ran an article about "9 Quirky Things Every 'Cool' Workplace Is Required to Have." The post points out several seemingly trite characteristics of "trendy" and "fun" companies, and SoftLayer was one of the companies the author used to illustrate her point about quirky conference room names. The "obscure inside jokes" we chose as the naming convention for our conference rooms in our Dallas headquarters inspired this fantastic analogy:

I'm sure visiting vendors and consultants enjoy as much as adults enjoy hearing a gaggle of teenage girls joke about which one of them is the craaaziest.

The post's mock homage to "fun company culture" as seen by outsiders got me thinking ... Why do I think SoftLayer is such a cool place to work, and how could I talk about that in a way that didn't seem hokey or insincere? Given the cynicism of the Internet in general, it may be impossible to execute, so I realize that all I can do is give my honest take on why I enjoy coming to work every day:

SoftLayer's culture is defined authentically and organically by our people, traditions and stories.

I agree that red walls, orange couches and scooters in an office do not create a cool workplace, and I don't think our "obscure inside joke" conference room names make us cool either. When we moved to our new headquarters in Dallas, every employee at the company was encouraged to submit ideas for what we should name the rooms, and after voting on dozens of great ideas, the "inside joke" submission from SoftLayer General Council Suzy Fulton ended up winning (and Suzy was awarded an iPad for submitting the winning idea). The reason her naming convention won is what makes SoftLayer a great place to work: Each name gives a different piece of the overall story that explains, "This is who we are, what we do and where we come from."

Take our conference room named Muenster for example. Muenster is a small town in Texas where the annual GermanFest is held. The 3 Bars BBQ team breaks out their secret recipes to compete with other BBQ teams from around the state, and the coworkers that don't don aprons get to kick back and eat some awesome BBQ, enjoy a drink (or two... or three...) and have a great time. The event has been such a fun tradition that we wanted to incorporate it into our new office for the days we're not eating brisket fresh off the grill. It means something to SoftLayer as a company, and if vendors/consultants coming into the office don't appreciate it in the same way, we're pretty sure we'll survive. Naming conference rooms to the least common denominator would sure be functional, but in practice, it would be (ironically) "outside the box" for SoftLayer.

We're just group of people (with a few inside jokes) working together to create the best hosting experience in the business. We value both customers and employees. We like startups (because we were a startup a few short years ago), innovation, automation and BBQ. We have fun together, and as a result, we have plenty of stories to tell (and more obscure inside jokes to use for our next conference rooms).

Oh, and we're also "guilty" of having a few red accent walls, employees riding around on scooters (and Segways), Nerf guns, foam rockets, and foosball tables in our offices. If that means getting mentioned in the same (mocking) breath as Facebook, Yahoo!, Zappos and Twitter, we're in a pretty good spot.

-Summer

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