Google, True Leadership and The Who of a Contegian

Leadership_artLast month, the New York Times published an op-ed by Thomas Friedman titled “How to Get a Job at Google“. The premise of the article is that Google has reduced its dependency for candidate evaluation around traditional measurements of academic success and traditional leadership.

It’s interesting to see Google change their interview approach over time. Originally, you had to attend the best university. You had to have the best grades. The interviews were notoriously grilling. You had to be the best of the best. (Note, there was never any definition of what “the best” was.) According to the article, their core areas of focus are now around general cognitive/learning abilities, emergent leadership, humility, and ownership.

This shift is the difference between “what you know” vs. “who you are” as a candidate. At Contegix, we have spent the last 5 years placing more emphasis on the “who” than the “what”. We learned a few lessons along the way that experientially highlight and predict the long-term success of a team member based around who they were. An example I often give is our support engineers.

We have absolutely brilliant engineers as part of our team. They manage, monitor, and maintain our customers’ infrastructure everyday. They ensure systems are performing and respond to technical challenges. This work is based upon what they know. The “who” aspect of our engineers is around their ability to deliver passionate customer service while performing this work. We cannot lose sight that this infrastructure can and does have an impact on customers’ livelihoods. Being the best engineer, but then being insensitive to the customer, leads to failure.

Furthermore, in the world of evolving technology, the “who” of an engineer will guide how she/he will be able to grow, adapt, and rethink. We need people who are excited by and able to build the technology. They should be able to deliver technology to our customers while not being overwhelmed by it.

Of all the candidate attributes, I would take this a step further and state that (true) leadership is the core attribute. It is the critical, all-inclusive “who” trait for which every company must evaluate candidates. This is regardless of the position or role in the company. True leadership shows itself in every place, from small team settings to times of challenge.

It takes true leaders to take ownership of challenges. It takes true leaders to be humble and allow a more qualified or experienced team member to temporarily lead a team. This is the truly open minded approach. Can one truly lead if they ignore new facts and drive their team off the cliff due to ego?

Leadership has been the trait most critical to growing Contegix. Building and adding great leaders has had a profound positive impact on the culture. Having folks who are willing to be humble leaders, who are open minded, and are willing to take ownership, significantly increases our capacity for progress, innovation, and, most important, customer service.

Posted in contegian, Culture, hiring, leadership, who | 3 Comments

Customer Complaints Are Healthy

Complaint BoxHaving a successful business hopefully means having customer accolades and cheers. It also means customer complaints. Thanks to our amazing staff, we have very few complaints. Our internal scores and feedback mechanisms reiterate the happiness of our customer base. Yet, no company can escape customer concerns nor should they even try. I advocate that companies should embrace and hug each and every customer communication, especially those where we did not perform perfectly.

For Contegix, the most critical reason why customer complaints are healthy related back to our core values. Nearly every complaint touches upon at 3 of our core valuesRespect People, Time & Data, Foster Communication Through Transparency, and Rapid Accelerated Growth.

  • Respect People, Time & Data – When a person communicates, it means she cares enough to complain which means she is giving up her time. Time is the currency of our lives. Even when this is pure venting or frustration, it is still an individual’s currency and she has chosen to spend it in a manner that allows us to improve the relationship. We owe it to her and ourselves to honor the core value of respecting her time. This is done by actively listening and working to improve on a misstep.
  • Foster Communication Through Transparency – Every communication from a customer is a gift to communicate with them in a transparent manner. A complaint is an invitation to open a dialogue. We hear how we performed and where we stand in the customer’s mind and heart. We get to learn what actions missed and hopefully what actions can be taken to make the situation better.
  • Rapid Accelerated Growth – This core value is not about growth of the company. It is about growth of our two most important stakeholders – our customers and our talent. As someone who loves what I do, I need to know when I am not as successful as I could be. I need to know when I do not hit the mark. This is why I embrace my annual 360 Review and any event where our staff openly communicates. My natural inclination may be to defend my position. I have come to appreciate the missteps more than any accolades. It gives me an amazing gift to help me personally grow. Complaints from customers are the same. It gives us a chance to grow in our technical and communication skills. Perhaps, we were technically perfect in our performance. Yet, if we failed to communicate well to the customer, it is an opportunity to get better. Everything is training. Everything helps us grow, as individuals. It helps our talented people improve.

It is impossible to have zero customer complaints. The only way to achieve this would be to have zero customers. We are blessed to have very few complaints. It’s how we deal with the few we do get that defines us and our relationship with our amazing customers.

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CIO Survey : Cloud Is Top Priority & Costs In Focus

Compuware recently commissioned a survey of 468 CIOs. The report, published by Research In Action, showed that nearly 2/3 of respondents named cloud as their top priority. The most interesting and hopeful aspect of this report is that we are finally starting to see real analysis of the topic. It is being applied to determine the true ROI of cloud computing. This is reflected in the focus on cost where cost is more than subscription fees and staff training.

Here are some of the key CIO concerns from the Forbes survey:

  • Poor end user experience due to performance bottlenecks (64 percent). This goes right to the customer end-user experience as well, since e-commerce is the leading cloud application area, the survey finds – 78 percent of respondents are already using cloud resources to support e-commerce.
  • The impact of poor performance on brand perception and customer loyalty (51 percent).
  • Loss of revenue due to poor availability, performance, or troubleshooting cloud services (44 percent).
  • Increased costs of resolving problems in a more complex environment (35 percent).
  • Increased effort required to manage vendors and service level agreements (23 percent).

CIOs are thinking about cloud and expressing challenges about its associated, impacting costs, such as user performance.  It is evident that total costs are heavily (and rightfully) focused on the results. For cloud to continue to drive IT forward, this is what should be in focus for any IT decision, especially cloud. If a shopper leaves due to website performance or if internal resources are unable to rapidly help the prospect due to internal system availability, that potential customer may be lost to a competitor forever. That represents a real long term cost for the company.

There is no single approach to solving these concerns. Viewing the points, there is a common theme that sticks out – the cloud service provider. The right cloud service provider is aligned with the customer’s goals, including performance and availability. SLAs should match the customer’s needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. (The exception should be services such as network and power where 100% uptime can be expected.) Complexity of the environment should not even exist. Cloud service providers need to be focused on the “service” if we truly want to be involved in and share responsibility for aspects of business that impact livelihood.

The focus on costs and ROI are a good thing for the industry. More important, it’s good for the cloud consumer, specifically the businesses utilizing cloud to create greater agility and flexibility.

Download the full survey report here.

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Shall We Play A Game?

wargames-for-sale-13apr10I am surprised that there are still companies that employ “the enterprise sales process” . We often see this employed when we evaluate new hardware vendors.

Here is how I recently described the process to a potential vendor (who thankfully promised to not do this):

  1. Vendor send quote.
  2. I gasp.
  3. I reply that I received the quote and that we will be evaluating it.
  4. Vendor calls and emails numerous times – to the point of excessive.
  5. I pretend to go on vacation or be “crazy busy”.
  6. Vendor eventually leaves a message and sends an email regarding how they value us a  partner (which actually means customer). Also, the message states that prices have temporarily dropped due to some random, arbitrary reason such as unicorns are currently in mating season. (This translates to it’s end of quarter.)
  7. Our team evaluates the product but worries about future pricing.

Sales is the first point in what could be a long term relationship for both parties. Setting the tempo and tone around this type of process seems to defeat this potential. It breaks down the trust and adds worry to us as a customer. For me, this defeats the purpose of a good vendor – make the customer’s life better. Period.

FWIW, I have to say that I am very grateful our vendors, such as Dell/EqualLogic, CDW, and many others, do not play these games. It allows us to get the best pricing and service, commit to them long term, and make our customers lives better.

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Focus on the Five Percent

For most companies, 95 percent of what they do is what EVERY company has to do – build and service a customer base, human resources, accounts payables, etc. Instead of focusing on that, businesses should be focusing on the five percent that makes them unique.

The products and services a business has, how they deliver those products and services to customers, and the company culture built around them – those three things are what a business needs to focus on. It’s their “five percent,” if they want to leverage their company’s uniqueness, and innovate in the business and technology space.

A business will win in the business and technology space by having people engaged in its unique company culture. Company culture is possibly the biggest part of the five percent that makes one unique, and dictates where a company heads and how it heads there. It’s easy when there are only three to five employees, when everyone knows everyone. But as the company grows, there are problems sourcing and selecting the right people. Companies need to know what they want in employees, to build the right culture.

People are hired for what they know, but are fired for who they are. Too many companies hire for the what, not the who. Companies need to know what they want. For Contegix, we need people who are brilliant, agile, but more importantly, they have to know how to TALK to the customer. We need people who understand Linux, and also understand how it impacts the customers. When stuff breaks, because tech always breaks, our people need to understand how that impacts the customer.

Aside from our company culture, Contegix’s five percent is the products and services we have, and how we deliver them. We can supplement what IT departments need. Businesses say things like, ‘I don’t want to maintain a server room. I just want to take my equipment, and put it somewhere I know will be safe and secure.’ We help people get the innovation gap back by helping companies cope with increasing IT needs with managed services, with colocation, with cloud computing. And once they have the innovation gap back, they can focus on their own five percent.

At Contegix, we don’t just want to sell you ‘computing.’ We also want to be there to help you understand what the right thing is for you, and to help you understand how technology makes your company better.

So what’s your company’s five percent? Talk to us, we’re happy to listen.

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Five Questions for Family Dinner.

When it was time for dinner, Courtney and I sit with our kids and want to know how each of their days was. Sometimes, a child would just utter “Fine”, “ok”, etc. and want to move on. Other times, a child would be so excited that others wouldn’t have a chance to share their day. This was completely non-conversational and awkward!

A few months ago, we started structuring the conversation and came down to five (kinda, six) questions.

These are the questions:

  1. How was your day?
  2. What was your favorite thing that happened today? What was your least favorite?
  3. Who did you have lunch with today?
  4. Who did you play with at recess today?
  5. What is one thing you learned today?

Everyone participates, including Courtney, me, and any guest. Each person must answer every question and then gets to pick who goes next. By having the current person randomly pick the next, it helps ensure everyone is paying attention and not mentally preparing for his/her turn if he/she already knew they were next.

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Video: How Linux is Built

Many people often don’t know how much technology impacts our everyday lives. Even those considered tech savvy are often tech dependent for pieces of technology outside their core expertise.

For many people, Linux is one such technology. It powers a large portion of the world’s hosting and cloud computing, including our public and private clouds. It is at the heart of most virtualization stacks, including XenServer, KVM, and even VMware ESXi.

So, it’s great to see the Linux Foundation put together this video on how Linux is built and the impact it has on our daily lives – from web servers to search engines to phones.

Watch the video

 

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Children As Truth and Inspiration

A number of family and friends know this story already. It’s time to write it down for posterity’s sake and because I hope Avery will read it one day.

As many people know and talked about in a previous post, I have lost a bit of weight the past 2 years (from 199 lb to 148-150 lb on a 5’9″ medium frame), started running (A LOT!), and maintained a healthy lifestyle, which does include partaking in craft beer. The story is how I got here, why I love children’s honesty truth and view of the world, and how my children inspire me almost every day.

Two years ago, Courtney shared a story with Avery about the days before Courtney and I took our nuptials. She probably even shared the chaos regarding transportation cancellations at the last minute and my flustered commander style in the church during rehearsal dinner. The part that stuck in Avery’s mind was about Courtney spending the night before our wedding back in her old bed in her parents’ house and how grandpa picked up donuts for breakfast with the entire family.

This story warmed Avery’s heart. She loved hearing about this bond between her mom and her grandpa. Even at a young age, she recognized this as special and could see herself in the future as (I have learned) girls imagine their weddings.

As I was tucking Avery into bed that night, she asked me a simple question. “Can I come home and stay with you like mommy did with papaw?” I smiled enthusiastically and replied, “Of course you can. You are always welcome to stay with us and to come home. We are your family and will always be here for you!” Avery then smiled in the way that little girls do that leave a father’s heart no choice but to melt.

Her next statement is where the practical, logical, and goal driven attributes of her shine.  She now had agreement on her future to realize her vision. She instantly saw a challenge to her plan – my health. Her next and final statement was “Are you sure you are going to make it? You have a lot of squishy.” as she poked my belly and smiled.

The next morning, I got up for my first run. I only made in a quarter mile. In my heart, I began a commitment to her and her brothers that I am still honoring.

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The Cloud and the Balance Between CFO and CIO/CTO

One of the most interesting aspects of the rise of cloud the past few years is the balance between the CFO and CIO (or CTO). Over the past few decades, companies have seen the cost of IT grow. This has sometimes occurred out of control for some companies with ever demanding IT budgets and loosely defined returns. IT departments often request more resources to maintain what is often seen as the status quo or unknown risks. Depreciation charts for IT assets never seem to follow the norms. This makes budgeting, especially in small and mid-sized companies, difficult for the CFO/controller/finance department.

On the other side, the CIO and IT department receive the constant flow of user needs (technical and educational), hardware/software patches and updates, and the changing needs of the overall business. There are always changing variables of the IT department. For example, the iPhone has placed additional needs on corporate IT and came out of nowhere in the past 5 years. A survey in November 2011 showed that 45% of workers now used iPhones with Blackberry accounting for only 32.2%. This is a device that was unknown 6 years ago. Yet, IT departments have had to adapt from a security, support, and risk perspective – often without any formal corporate initiative or budget. This provides minimal time for the constructive innovation and makes deliverables difficult.

Cloud computing and the outsourcing of IT infrastructure have been catalysts in opening the discussion between CIO and CFO.  The open discussion between the CIO and CFO is needed and well past its time. CFO.com features three articles on the front page around the topic, all of which are part of their sub-topic on “The Cloud”. CFOs are being educated on the opportunities and risks associated with IT. CIOs are being provided options with controllable and scalable costs – from pay-per-hour to managed services to reduce risk and increase IT departments innovation.

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Ad Redux

There was once a small, innovative company who was first in their field. They had built a product out of an idea, a spark of something that would change the world. Before beginning, they offered it to other companies, who rebuked and called them “crazy”. They go on to build the product and sell millions of it despite originally being told their was no market for it.

The competitors were wrong and quickly began to see the error of their ways. They rushed to enter the market. And what did the small, innovative company do? They ran an ad welcoming the competitor(s).

For those who know the history of computers and advertisement around it, you might be thinking the small, innovative company is Apple, known at the time of their ad as Apple Computer. In August 1981, Apple ran a full-page newspaper ad titled “Welcome IBM. Seriously.” when IBM entered the marketplace with a personal computer. The ad was tongue-in-cheek and probably meant to scoff IBM’s lack of vision for completely missing this revolution coming.

If you thought it was Apple, you are correct. But only partially correct. It appears another company has decided to take this same approach. If you have read a running or fitness magazine or website, you have probably probably already seen this ad. A small, innovative company is once again welcoming their competitors to the market.

More than 30 years since the original ad, Vibram has decided to embrace nostalgia and run a very similar ad. (Either that or their agency has just ran out of ideas.) For those that don’t know, Vibram introduced the running world to its FiveFingers shoes in 2005. In doing so, Vibram was part of the revolution that started the minimalist running movement. Minimalist shoes have removed (or significantly reduced) the thick, cushioned sole and designed a shoe this returns runners, like me, to being as close to barefoot as possible. The heel lift is nearly non-existent.

The similarities of the Apple and Vibram ads are striking to me. When I first saw the Vibram ad, I was instantly reminded of the Apple one. Some quick similarities on first glance:

  • “Welcome” of the competitor(s)
  • Pointing out millions of users
  • Noting the benefits of their product as perceived by the user

I truly wonder if Vibram considers itself the Apple of the shoe world. One look at the FiveFingers website and the words “It [Vibram FiveFingers] bucks tradition and makes people think differently.” pop out.

As a consumer of both Apple and Vibram, this ad has never spoken to me. Perhaps it does others.

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