Proof of Concepts – Good or Bad?

If you were to chart the activities of an SE, the Proof of Concepts (POC) or Proof of Value (POV)  would be at the top of the list (or the big piece of the pie in a pie chart for those of you who are visual).  It is a high effort and high reward activity that can drive a deal to closure.  However, it is also one of the activities that is abused and if not properly implemented can absolutely crush a team.

In order to properly operationalize POCs you must first be clear on the Why you are doing them in the first place and What they are meant to accomplish.  We will review the typical challenges we encounter with them.  Finally, I will provide a framework for implementing a POC program within your company.

Do these Stories Sound Familiar?

We all have horror stories about proof of concepts gone wrong, so lets start out by sharing a few typical scenarios.

Throw crap against the wall and see what sticks

5671542As an SE you have just completed your second or third meeting with the customer.  The Account Exec (AE) gave your corporate overview pitch, asked them their buying time frame and then brought you in to give a demo or two.  At the end of the meeting there is silence until the customer speaks up:

  • The Customer “So what should next steps be”?
  • The always helpful and action oriented AE jumps in and says:
    • “Well why don’t you give us some of your data and we can go ahead and whip up a great dashboard and some reports for you”
    • “Why don’t we go ahead and get you some of our new video conferencing gear from the Demo Depot and we can show it to you in your lab”

So far the meetings have all been one way, you pitching to them.  You haven’t had a chance to ask the customer any questions, you are not entirely clear on what their requirements are, you haven’t had a chance to build a relationship with their technical owner.  After the meeting you try to raise these concerns, but the AE responds “Awww come on, you can do this in your sleep, from the last sales enablement call they said this stuff is super easy!  It is a fast moving deal we have to do it! Our XYZ competitor is doing it we need to play ball!”  You try to push back and say No.  Unfortunately AE’s are trained to overcome objections and they escalate up to sales management who over rule you because “we need this deal and SEs are supposed to do POCs, thats your job!”

Sure, I can whip that up over the weekend!

As SE’s we can get excited about implementing technology too.  A few years ago we had implemented a POC qualification process.  However, SE’s tend not to like process and prefer to just get sh*t done (GSD).  So when faced with the need to prove out our VoIP gear at a Fortune 50 consumer goods company the SE proclaimed they they just needed a few servers and they could whip up the POC over the weekend and be done with it.  They didn’t want to do all the ‘process stuff’, it just gets in the way for easy stuff like this.  Plus, they were willing to go above and beyond and invest their weekend in doing it.

disassembled-vw

… about 4 weeks later the POC was still not complete.  The customer environment and requirements were more complex than expected.  Our technology was more complicated then expected.  Then we got hit with a curveball.  Our CEO, John Chambers was being scheduled to visit with the customer and the POC had to be up and running flawlessly before he arrived.  Yikes!  We ended up having to pull in SE resources from other regions as well as services resources from paid engagements to finish it in time.

Kicking the Tires, kick it some more, kick it a different way

In 2007 we undertook a POC for a large grocery chain based in New England where we would be proposing wireless IP phones for their stores.  Our primary contact was a technical buyer and we had limited contact with the economic buyer.  Our SE did a great job in implementing the POC and installing the devices at a test store.  Then the customer changed their requirements slightly and wanted more time to re-test and validate. Then the customer changed their requirements slightly and wanted more time to re-test and validate. Then the customer changed their requirements slightly and wanted more time to re-test and validate. Then the…. on and on for 3 years!  The customer themselves were actually bought by another grocery conglomerate before they made a decision to purchase our solution.

 

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What is a POC?

A POC is a realization of a certain method or idea to demonstrate its feasibility, or a demonstration in principle, whose purpose is to verify that some concept or theory has the potential of being used. A proof of concept is usually small and may or may not be complete.

Why do a POC?

The typical reasons for doing a POC are:

  • Show Art of the Possible: seeing is believing.  When you are buying a new car, what sells you more – visiting Toyota.com and looking at pictures and specs or visiting the dealership and taking the car for a test drive?
  • De-Risk Purchase: by proving that the solution will meet their requirements (Scale, Functionality, Use Case).  If you are going to be spending 6 or 7 figures the customer needs to show they did more investigation than reading a data sheet.
  • Internal Selling: provides your customer champion with a concrete product example to use when doing internal selling to their economic buyer, business owner, or other stakeholders.These are important to refer back to as it will guide all

 

POC Challenges

So why do POC’s go wrong?  The primary reasons I have observed are:

  1. good-and-bad-quotes-5Urgency: AE’s are incentivized to be the advocate for their customer and deal and they are under pressure to deliver revenue to the company and shareholders every quarter.  This is not a bad thing.  However, it does result in the AE viewing every opportunity they have as “fast moving deal” and “everyone else can follow the process but my ear is special, it is an exception, we just got to get this done ASAP – we don’t have time to do the process stuff!”.  In this situation we are saying we don’t have time to spend 2 hours upfront before committing to 20+ hours of labor.
  2. Scope Creep and Success Criteria: as you can see in the definition above, a POC is meant to prove a concept/feasibility, be small, may not be complete. We all know we should limit the scope, so we try to do the right thing and ask the customer for their requirements.  Unfortunately, the customer only knows their desired end state and that is what they describe.  Next thing you know the SE is tasked with trying to build a complete implementation.  Even if you are able to limit the scope/requirements, how do you know that it is successful.  It is amazing to me how many POCs are done and no one can answer a simple question – “How do you know if the POC is successful?”.  Usually all of the focus is on completing and delivering a functional POC and not on a concrete metric of success.  It is the measurable business outcome that matters.
  3. Yet Another Free T-Shirt (YAFT): Would you like a free t-shirt?   Sure, why not. “Mr. Customer would you like a free POC, you don’t need to do any work for it, we will do it all for you.  You will then see how amazing we are.”  What customer wouldn’t say yes?  But now the customer has no compelling event, no urgency, no outcome based plan.
  4. Lack of Customer Involvement: the customer is busy, they don’t have time to sit down with you and go over requirements or help you build it.  You are trying to sell to them after all, why should they invest their resources?   So you forge ahead and try to make something that you *think* they may want.  When you present it and try to show off all the hard work you did they barely pay attention and think it is “nice” or “fine”.
  5. Cost & Effort: At Cisco we had a service called Demo Depot where we could load out hardware and we would be charged back a small fee to our expense budget.  The SE managers had to manage this inventory and trying to track down old gear and get it back was a tedious endeavor.  Furthermore, if you had lots of products in a solution you had to manually order every SKU.  A full Collaboration solution required 176 SKUs to order.  Even at SaaS companies where you don’t have to order/install hardware you often have to manage the trial subscriptions.Labor is a major issue as well.  In FY15Q3 I did an inventory and we had 32 open POCs across 7 SEs.  Assume an average of 20 hours per POC and you can see that there would be a lot of night and weekend work.  However, the real impact of this is that the SEs were no longer available for ‘selling activities’ like customer meetings, pipeline generation, demos etc.

Key Criteria for a Successful POC Program

Creating a POC program is a lot like budgeting or dieting.  You know what you need to do but for various reasons you keep having exceptions and creating consistency is an issue.  You need a way to pay yourself first and make executing this approach automatic and as painless as possible

  • Timing:  a POC should be a part of the late stage in a sales process as a ‘closing move’.  If there is pressure to do one earlier there are other substitute activities you can do such as workshops, the solution design, or non-customized samples.  It should also be after initial discussions on commercials and an agreement to partner. As you can see below in this sales process, the POC is in stage 3 of 4.

Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 12.55.17 PM

  • Give-Get:
    Would you like a free T-Shirt?  Sure.
    Would you pay $1 for this T-Shirt?  Ummm… no I don’t think so.
    When offering a POC it is important to keep a balanced Give-Get ratio.  If a customer asks for a POC then you can ask for one of these things in return.  The Get doesn’t have to be huge, but it should be more than ‘free’ and demonstrate their skin in the game.

    • An executive alignment meeting between their Business Owner/Economic Buyer and your Head of Sales, CEO, etc.
    • Agreement on the audience to present to, include in the Business Owner/Economic Buyer
    • An exclusive – you will be the only vendor doing the POC
    • Customer Labor and resources to help build it
    • Agreement to purchase by XYZ date
  • Success Criteria & Compelling Event:  Jackson Rose from Financial Force believes the key to POCs is making sure you are set up for success. “Start with clear success criteria, and a commitment from the customer that if you deliver on the success criteria, you’ll be the selected vendor of choice. This is an exercise in clear expectation setting right from the get-go, if you want to reduce overlap with what happens in post-sales, draw the line segmenting what you will do, and what you won’t do and set the appropriate expectations with your prospect, and why.”
  • Define Types: rather than giving the sales team a one size fits all option for a POC, give them a menu to choose from and explain the tradeoffs.  Make it clear what each option offers and what it does not offer and how much effort it requires.  Give each option a name and have it become part of the vernacular.  “Hey, lets just do a Visualization POC for this customer, but for this other customer lets really invest and do a Full Platform POC”.  This lets the SE partner with the AE on investment planning.Screen Shot 2016-03-27 at 8.12.27 AM
  • Inspection and Approvals: You can define a process all you want, but if you don’t inspect and have some checkpoint capability in place then both your AE and SE behavior will not change.  As an SE Leader you don’t necessarily need to be bottleneck and personally approve every POC, but at a minimum you should have a system in place where every POC can be tracked and then reviewed.  I highly recommend having a system in place where a POC cannot be started without this information captured, i.e. you can’t place an order for equipment or get a trial account unless this is captured.  This allows you to do inspection on Success Criteria, Give-Get, timing, etc.For example, for the below customer I would question whether we really have a success criteria established.  What is the ROI we need to show?
    Screen Shot 2016-03-29 at 1.14.59 PM
  • Lightweight Process: whatever process you implement must be lightweight.  Can you automate it? Can you provide a simple checklist or tool?  Can you make it just a 30 minute checkpoint call with yourself?

Each of the actions above are pretty standard and most of us try to do them.  However, there are a few other strategies that I have seen prove useful in the past.

 

  • Automation: A strategy Jackson Rose suggests is to look for ways to reduce busy work. When they first started doing POCs, it took them 2 days to set up our product in the customer environment. 95% of this work was simply salesforce busy work. We had our most experienced SE work with our development team to develop a script which automated that busy work and completed the work via a script in 30 minutes.At Cisco we did something similar where we packaged all 173 SKUs for gear into a single demo SKU and then built a set of virtual machines that had the software and basic configurations pre-installed.  One thing we had to be careful of was that many of our SEs thought that their way was better and wanted to still custom build everything.
  • teamwork_motivational_poster_wall_artWorkshop:  A new favorite strategy is the “Onsite Technical Workshop”.  Rather than having the next logical step in a sales process be to jump to a POC you can give the AE a different option (remember, doing nothing or saying No is not an option).  A workshop is where the SE (and SE Leader) commits to going onsite to the customer location and is joined by the key business stakeholders. Depending on your product you can ‘pre-build’ some pieces of a POC.
    • You show me your stuff Mr. Customer  (requirements, product, environment)
    • I show you my stuff  (product deep dive, demo how we meet requirements)
    • Lets design/build something together (whiteboard and/or start POC build)

    The benefits of this approach are that it requires the customer to give you access to key stake holders, it requires an investment of time on their end, it is a great forum for them to share their desires with you rather than you pitching them, and it is an opportunity for you to educate them.  We started implementing this approach in Q4 and saw a 75% reduction in POC and were able to do 400% more business.

  • Cobuild POC: technical buyers stake their careers on the technologies they purchase and they often get a technology religion about it.  One of the best ways to overcome this is to educate/train the customer on your solution and make them comfortable with it.  So get out your credit card, order some pizza and beer, and lock the customer and yourself in a room to build the POC.  Not only will you educate the customer, you will also build camaraderie and trust, you can glean additional information about competitors, and build the POC.  The customer will have pride of ownership for what they built and be empowered to share it with others without you there.

Tactics that Sometimes Work

  • Paid POC or don’t do one at allCurt Brown has a good summary of his POC options below.
    1. just close the deal – paid
    2. close the deal with an out (could be positioned as a pilot with contract commitment at the end)- paid
    3. Limited contract (90+ days) – paid by client (covers post sales integration team)
    4. Limited PoC for free (least desirable but sometimes required to win those big logos) I limit my team to a certain amount each quarter to ensure we are validating anything for free. Depending on your level of effort and skill set of the team determines who does the work in a free scenario. If your team has the skills and you limit the free PoC to a level of effort, your team (SC/SE) does the work with proper guidance from PS.

    In my experience paid POCs sound good but require far too much effort with legal, procurement, and requirements review and doesn’t outweigh just the SE doing it.  An alternative to the paid POC is to just do an actual deal but structure it as a very small land deal and structure an expand/opt-in (future blog post on this strategy forthcoming).

Tactics that Often Don’t Work

  • Saying No or Pushing Back: as mentioned above, sales teams are trained to overcome NO.  Instead you must give alternative options (Types of POC, workshops, exec engagement, etc.)
  • Outsourcing POC work: at some point the topic of either creating an offshore team or an inside sales team dedicated to building POCs comes up.  It always sounds promising, “Lets get a lower cost set of technical resources to build these things and let our SEs get back to customer facing activities that they enjoy more”.  Unfortunately the drawbacks I have seen in practice are:
    • Knowledge Transfer: for the outsourced person person to come up to speed and build the POC they need to know the requirements.  That means they either have to attend the customer meetings along with the SE or have the SE try to convey all the information.  When questions come up – do they have to go through the SE or does the outsourced person contact the customer directly?  Finally, when the POC is complete the SE must review all of the work that was done in order to present it.  They may not be familiar with the design tradeoffs the builder made.
    • Lose tech skills: building POCs can be repetitive (if so, automate it) but it is also the primary way for an SE to get his/her hands dirty to learn the product and new features as they come out.  When a technical person stops being hands on the skills will start to atrophy after 6 months.  For example, how many of us still remember calculus and can do it today?
    • Accountability: when an SE knows they own the outcome for a customer they are accountable to going above and beyond and making sure it gets done.  SLA’s aren’t needed, miscommunication isn’t a problem.  The SE owns GSD.
    • Friction: when you outsource the POC work you remove the pain from the SE and provides a path of least resistance.  If the SE has to do the work they are personally incentivized to ensure proper qualification, discovery, and design are done.  With a separate POC team you are creating a tragedy of the commons situation.
  • The exception to this would be if you have a junior person on the same team as the SEs and they are on a career path to being a full SE.  In this case the SE’s skills remain sharp because they are teaching and mentoring the Jr. SE, the Jr. SE is attending the customer calls for exposure, and the Jr. SE reports to the same manager and has accountability.

Whew…. that was a much longer post than expected and I feel like I only scratched the surface.  Kudos to you if you read this far.  This is a topic where I would love ideas to be shared in the comments section.  Also I think Jonathan Michaels at EnerNOC and Matt Norton at Box have created some good collateral and I will see if I can get some to share.

Future Topics may be found in the Welcome to SE Thoughts post.  I think the next post will be on Sales Enablement Approach but if there is a different topic that would be of more interest I would love to hear it.

 

 

 

Welcome to SE Thoughts

Back in 2006 I was a new manager at Cisco Systems and I had the opportunity to attend an Emerging Leadership Program training class in the UK.  One of the first questions they asked the class was, “How many of you are able to take 60 minutes a week and jot down your thoughts and reflections?”.  Only a few of the 30 hands went up.   The class was incredulous at the question – “With all of the stuff we have to do we don’t even have time to spend with our families let alone write down thoughts!”.  Working hard was and is a badge of courage.

A few years later during the kickoff for my MBA at Babson College Professor Bill Stitt asked a similar question – and then required that each of us write a reflection paper once a week.
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Fast Forward to today.  I recently resigned as VP of Sales Engineering and Enablement at  GoodData and will be changing industries for a fourth time, this time to cyber security.  I will start my new role leading the Americas SE organization at ZScaler April 11.  This has given me a few weeks to slow down and reflect.  I am now 37 years old (yikes!) and no longer the ‘young buck’ at work.  When I look back I am proud of what our teams have done, the people I have met, and the experiences I have had.  However, I can’t help but recognize that I learned and grew the most when I paused, wrote, and reflected on what I had experienced.

With age comes knowledge (and less hair).  To that end I am kicking off an effort to jot down and share the lessons learned and ideas I have had over the years.  Specifically, I will focus on leading technical customer facing teams, with an emphasis on Sales Engineering.  There are a slew of excellent books and training courses on how to lead high performing sales teams – yet try finding collateral on being a great SE Leader or SE.  It is few and far between.

images-2This gap is driven home every quarter when the Bay Area Pre Sales Leadership group gathers.  This is a collection of SE leaders from top tech companies such as Box, Citrix, FireEye, ZenDesk, Salesforce, Twillio, GitHub, Enernoc, Okta, and more.  Every time we meet it is obvious the challenges we are facing are very similar and encompass coverage mapping, training and enablement, hiring, measuring, hiring business case, handling our sales peers, balancing proof of concepts, etc.  Through this blog I will endeavor to share my point of view on these.  Perhaps some day people may find the musings valuable and I could package them together like Ben Horowitz in The Hard Thing About Hard Things (you have read this book right? If not go get it!)

Who am I and what gives me the right to stand on a soap box and pontificate?  Nothing really.  Although I have had the opportunity to observe and learn from a number of great SE Leaders like Jedd Williams, Doug Good, John Graham, Jill Van Rooy, Karen Manning, Bob Fisher, John Columbus, Randy Wood, Chris Moss, Ron Minto, and others at Cisco.  While at Cisco I led a team of about 50 SEs and had matrix leadership for 22 architects.  I had the opportunity to lead my own global SE team and Sales Enablement GoodData.  My background covers equipment sales (Phones, Video), on premise enterprise software (Contact Center, Call Manager), cloud software (Webex, GoodData, ZScaler), and various industries (Defense, Communications, Networking, Big Data, Analytics, Auto Body Repair, and now Security).

I have learned that despite all of the differences above, SE Leadership is like the game of football, there are just different terminologies and playbooks.

I hope you find it useful and interesting.  If so please click subscribe on the right to be notified of new posts.  You can also comment in the box below or by clicking the comment link at the top of the post. I am looking forward to interacting with you virtually!

My next post will be on the topic of Proof of Concepts.  I have also reposted some other articles I had previously authored.

Future Topics

  1. Proof Of Concepts: when executed well Proof of Concepts can secure the technical win and clinch a deal.  When executed poorly due to timing, mis set expectations, or poor positioning a POC can absorb your entire SE team worth of resources and still lose you the deal.
  2. Measuring the SE Team: what is the concrete value of the SE team?  How do you know they are spending their time in the right manner?
  3. Sales Enablement Approach: whether you are enabling your own SE team or the entire sales force there are some basic principles of what you do (content, process/tools, accountability) and how you operationalize it (automation, workflow, brute force).  I will explain the model I created to help think through this.
  4. What does an SE do? Believe it or not many people do not know – even in high tech.  I recently had to present to a packed room of Services and Development engineers to explain the role.  Many functions see only a portion of the role and assume that is everything.
  5. What does an SE Leader do? The SE Manager/Leader role can be the best or worst position in a company.  Every leader has the opportunity to define the role and demonstrate its value to the organization to make it happen.  I will cover my personal viewpoint and strategies I have taken to implement it.
  6. Architects & Sales Engineers: almost all tech companies reach a point where they say ‘We need to hire Architects!’  Well, what is an Architect? ‘You know, a technical customer facing person who can explain the big picture, how it impacts the business, and can speak to CXO’s with confidence’.  If that is an architect than what does an SE do?  ‘Well, someone has to do the demo’. Lessons learned on the value each role can bring and why organizational design and structure is so important to its success.
  7. Performance Evaluation & Conversation: your goal as a leader is to have the best SE team out there.  However, come review time you can’t have everyone ranked in the Top 10% (can you?).  How do you handle these conversations, how do you keep the SE motivated and appreciated.
  8. Career Pathing, Titles: SE’s don’t often get pulled up on stage and given credit and the giant check for closing the big deal.  So why do they do it?  Street Cred and reputation are very important. So how do you balance this without becoming a title centric ‘big company’.
  9. So You Want to be a Manager? At some point in time your best SE’s will often express that they want to move into management.  Do they really?  What are the factors that drive this need and how can you help them answer this question for themselves.  On the flip side how can you identify people who make excellent SE Leaders but don’t raise their hand?
  10. SE to Sales Alignment and Org Structure: there are lots of coverage models and ratios for creating an SE organization.  Do you make the SEs pooled, direct alignment, or field/inside? Do you organize by geography, customer segment, size, skill?
  11. Making the Business Case for More SE’s: SE’s are always overloaded but are often viewed as a cost center.  How do you make a business case to increase staffing.  When should you?
  12. Interviewing and Talent Acquisition: the best SE’s are typically well treated by their current company, a lot of the value they offer are tied to their company’s product line, and they tend to be more risk averse (otherwise they would be a sales rep).  So how do you find the great ones (or the ones with the potential to be great), how do you validate their abilities, and how do you make them feel comfortable making the jump?

Leadership Philosophy

Originally posted to LInkedin at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/article/leadership-philosophy-lessons-learned-bill-lapp/

In 2008 I was finishing up my Babson MBA and undertook an independent study class.  Sort of.  I was actually taking a required leadership class at Cisco and I figured I could get double credit.  As an output of that class I had to write a paper explaining my leadership philosophy.  In the almost 8 years since I have shared this paper with many first time managers/leaders.  The intent was to share some of the lessons I had to learn that they never teach you in a class.

When I submitted the paper to Babson the professor called me and asked what my sources were and whether or not I had plagiarized the work.  I had to walk her through radar discrimination algorithms and how I had learned them at MIT Lincoln Laboratory before she believed me.  Personally I don’t think there are any ground breaking takeaways in this work, but rather just raw experience written down.  Thus I am sharing it with a broader audience.  Also please note that as much as I would like to believe I can follow all of my lessons learned below on a daily basis, it is a daily struggle.

Hope this helps someone…

Leadership is the art of accomplishing more than the science of management says is possible

1                Talent Acquisition

Organization doesn’t really accomplish anything. Plans don’t accomplish anything, either. Theories of management don’t much matter. Endeavors succeed or fail because of the people involved. Only by attracting the best people will you accomplish great deeds. -Colin Powell [1]

1.1      Approach

Just as Colin Powell stated in the opening quote, a leader will only succeed by attracting the best people. Many first time managers are promoted as a result of their functional competence and not because of their demonstrated ability to lead others. These managers often achieve goals through task assignment and using their teams as extensions of themselves. You can identify these managers as those working harder not smarter and who are unable to leave their team alone for fear that they will not operate without him or her. They are afraid to let their team make mistakes and often swoop in to correct or prevent any misstep from occurring. I learned early on in my management career that if a leader operates in this manner they will be viewed as irreplaceable in that role and never receive new opportunities. Furthermore, the team will never perform better than their leader and the leader will always be the limiting factor.

My approach has been to quickly assess your team, make the tough decisions early on for who should stay and who should leave, tap professional networks to source talent, and then provide an empowered and safe ‘playground’ for them to operate in.

1.2      Assessing

When joining any team a leader must first assess the talent to assess who is strong, who is weak, and what are their talents[2]. He should be wary of pre-existing performance reviews or reputations as they can easily be misinterpreted or incorrect. A poor performer may only have been miscast in their role or had issues with the previous manager. A high performer may only be a good promoter who is all flash and no substance or living off of previous accomplishments. Rather, a leader should let the team know it is a fresh start for everyone and they will make my assessments based on contributions and performance.

Once a leader has had a chance to assess the talent distribution and personnel he should quickly determine who must stay and who must go. During the early years of Jack Welch’s career he was known as Neutron Jack for removing business or people that were being unproductive.[3] This approach may have been unpopular at the time but he believed it was the right thing to do for the future success of his employees and company. I too subscribe to this approach and have had to make difficult and unpopular decisions to remove highly regarded individuals, but I did so as I believed it would make the team

stronger in the long run. For the team members who are identified as high potential a leader should begin relationship building as well as career planning[1].

[1] Harari, Oren. “Colin Powell on Leadership”. Power Point Presentation

[2] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[3] Welch, Jack, and John A. Bryne. Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

1.1      Sourcing

Perhaps there are companies who have excellent recruiting personnel, if these companies exist than I have yet to see or work for one. Corporate recruiting these days often consists of an overworked recruiter taking the job description and posting to online classifieds and the company website. The best people are often stars at their jobs and aren’t actively looking at these locations. When these star employees seek a new challenge they typically utilize their professional network. As Peter Carbonara states “You can’t hire people who don’t apply.“[2]

A leader must always be building his talent pipeline even when he doesn’t have an available opening. He should constantly be evaluating peers, customers, or partners while they work[3], and if they show potential he should strike up a relationship. Professional networking sites such as LinkedIn can be used to keep in touch. Providing favors and assistance to the network even when the reward isn’t clear will almost without fail get paid back in the future come hiring time.

1.2      Selection

Early on in my management career I would review hundreds of resumes looking for the best fit of skills, experience, and value; not unlike a person analyzing product datasheets. I would find a few great resumes and fall in love before I even met them. I had made two cardinal sins of hiring without firing[4], I took applicants at face value and I ignored emotional intelligence. I got lucky with a few of the first hires but the majority struggled or failed. They had the right skills but the ambition, teamwork, communication, and intangibles were sorely lacking.

Since that first hiring experience I realized a life lesson in hiring, “What you know changes, who you are doesn’t”.[5] Combining the fast paced high tech market with my penchant for getting bored and instituting frequent change means that my team must be adaptable, quick to learn, and independent. The Infosys methodology for hiring provides an appropriate approach fro any leader in the fast paced technology environment.

“We don’t necessarily look for people who have the exact skills we need, instead we hire people that have the quality of ‘learnability’ and then we teach them the requisite skills.” Prospective employees are not tested for computer programming, a skill Infosys executives believed could be taught easily , but for (a) analytical and problem solving skills to help dynamic learning, the key to success in an industry where the state o the art changes rapidly; and (b) communication skills – not just the language skills but the ability to get ideas across

in both interactive and non-interactive situations – essential to developing deep and long term relationships with clients”[1]

In order to select the right talent a leader should adopt a few interviewing best practices. Create a structured interview process[2] where each interviewer covers a different topic, include interviewers outside your functional area to get varied perspectives, and never take answers at face value. The interviewer must sometimes be unconventional[3] in the line of questioning to find out what may be buried underneath. What makes the person tick? After all of this data collection, making the final decision can be difficult. When faced with this information overload, sometimes a leader just needs to go with his gut[4].

[1] Nanda, Ashish and Thomas Delong. Infosys Technologies. Harvard Business School Case Study, 2002.

[2] Fernández-Aráoz, Claudio. Hiring Without Firing. Harvard Business Review, July 1999

[3] Welch, Jack, and John A. Bryne. Straight from the Gut. New York: Warner Business Books, 2001.

[4] Gladwell, Maxwell. Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking. Little, Brown and Company, 2005.

[1] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[2] Carbonara, Peter. Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill. Fast Company – Issue 04, 1996.

[3] Ibid

[4] Fernández-Aráoz, Claudio. Hiring Without Firing. Harvard Business Review, July 1999

[5] Carbonara, Peter. Hire for Attitude, Train for Skill. Fast Company – Issue 04, 1996.

1                Talent Leadership & Development

Four Keys to Management

  • Select for talent.
  • Define the right outcomes.
  • Focus on strengths.
  • Find the right fit. [1]

1.1      Introduction

Harnessing one’s own style is crucial in how they lead and develop their staff. My hard charging, fast paced, outspoken style paired with my inability to focus on tasks or topics for more than a few minutes at a time can make it difficult for those I lead. My approach has evolved over the years to match my style to the varied needs of my staff. I have paired key lessons from how to be a “One Minute Manager[2]” and “5 Patterns of Extra Ordinary Careers”[3] to create an environment where a playground is defined, goals are articulated, assistance provided upon demand, and then achievements assessed.

1.2      Create the Foundation

People with extraordinary careers do not claw their way to the top; they are carried there[4]. A leader must understand that he cannot be the best at everything and that he cannot scale to manage every task his team undertakes. A leader’s goal should be to have his people be better than himself.

Novice managers may subscribe to this theory and seek to empower their employees through delegation of tasks. Without much guidance these employees invariably falter at some point at which time the manager swoops in to save them and make sure the task is a success. The employee is often left feeling like a failure and the manager’s sense of self worth is increased. This is a pattern doomed to repeat itself with neither party advancing far beyond their current roles.

A leader should invest their time with each team member upfront to prepare them for their roles. It is during this period of investment that that a leader should describe the “playground” they will be operating in. Every playground has boundaries and rules that children must adhere to, but within that playground their imagination is left free to run wild. In the corporate world the playground is the bounding of an area of responsibility, what their roles and goals are, how value is created, and how they will be assessed. Setting the playground allows me to leverage my inclination to speak first, give opinions, and provide insight without undermining the individual’s ability to own the problem and resolution. The playground reduces the ambiguity and stress employees often feel when tasks are merely delegated without support.

By investing this time upfront to set the playground and mentor the leader is encouraging the employee to be entrepreneurial and creative in their solution. People with extraordinary careers understand how value is created in the workplace, and they translate that knowledge into action, building value over each phase of their careers.[5] By having the individual become self reliant and confident the leader is now freed up to invest his time in high value activities while providing one minute coaching sessions on an as requested basis. [6]

Below is a visual representation of this approach with the amount of effort invested by the leader as the y axis and time elapsed on the right.

1.1      Coaching

1.1.1               Establish the Coaching Contract

Coaching can be one of the most difficult tasks a manager must do. Employees vary widely in their desired method of coaching or feedback.[1] Some people desire lots of real time feedback, some little feedback, some a direct approach, while others may like an indirect approach.

When the leader is setting the playground it is an ideal time to agree on a coaching approach and performance expectations. A leader should be brave enough to try a lot of stuff, keep what works and then prune dead branches[2]. While people are playing in the playground they are bound to make wrong turns. These wrong turns may be unexpected and can lead to mistakes. However, these turns can also be for the better and result in a shortcut or an innovative approach to an old problem. A leader should to allow the team to make these wrong turns but still be there to support them should they venture outside the safe confines of the playground.

[1] Weintraub, Joseph and James M. Hunt. The Coaching Manager: Developing Top Talent in Business. Sage Publications, Inc., 2002.

[2] Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins Business, 2004.

[1] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[2] Blanchard, Kenneth. The One Minute Manager. Berkley Trade, 1983.

[3] Citrn, James and Richard Smith. The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction. Crown Business, 2003.

[4] Ibid

[5] Citrn, James and Richard Smith. The 5 Patterns of Extraordinary Careers: The Guide for Achieving Success and Satisfaction. Crown Business, 2003.

[6] Blanchard, Kenneth. The One Minute Manager. Berkley Trade, 1983

1.1.1               When to Coach

Having a manager who is unable to effectively determine the ideal opportunities for coaching can be like having an annoying backseat driver constantly chiding you or having your navigator sleep for the entire trip while you get lost. Honing his coaching radar is an essential skill for any leader.

Radar is a tool used to identify objects in space and determine which objects may be a dangerous missile or a harmless bird. Below is an example of a radar’s A-Scope, a tool used to draw a visual representation of radar pulses.   When a manager is thrust into leadership of a team without proper training he is confronted by an order of magnitude more events and tasks which his team is involved in than he had been exposed to as an individual knowledge worker. To an uneducated manager it is unclear which of these events are important and which are white noise. The A-Scope below is like an untrained manager – the events or pulses all look the same.

Raw radar pulses often undergo a process called signal processing which uses complicated math to remove the white noise and provide a clearer picture where the height of the pulse indicates the importance of the object. Management training is akin to signal processing for a radar; it enables a manager to determine which events may require coaching or support. For example, the large spike seen in Figure 6: Educated Manager may be an excellent coaching opportunity.

Effective signal processing is only the first step in correctly identifying an object. To interpret the results a radar must apply a signal detector. If the signal detector is too sensitive it will pick up false positives in the white noise. If the detector is too high it will miss everything. A properly placed signal detector will pick out the objects with the most importance. A trained leader must apply experience to his education so that he can properly place his signal detector. If he places it too low he will be seen as a micro manager as he inserts himself into the day to day tasks. If his detector is too high he will be a hands off manager and his team will falter without his guidance. When an experienced manager places his signal detector in the right place he is able to swoop in at just the right time to coach or support the team member. The red line in Figure 7: Educated Manager’s Signal Detectors is placed too low and having false positives rise above it. The green line is an appropriately placed detector where the critical event is captured while ignoring white noise.

By properly applying his signal detector a leader can create an environment that allows mistakes to occur while they are in the white noise while simultaneously promoting self reflection so that the team can learn from these minor mistakes. When a critical event occurs the leader is able to watch it closely and assist with the appropriate support or coaching.

1.1.1               Coaching Approach

Management training in the 21st century is mimicking the self esteem concept used for children’s education. Everyone is equal, everyone is valued, you aren’t allowed to say anything negative, and you must ask open ended coaching questions for everything. In the beginning this was tremendously difficult for me as it did not lend itself to my action oriented and confident personality. My team felt I was asking leading questions and being insincere. After expressing this concern to a former manager of mine he drew a simple diagram to explain how to utilize situational coaching.

 

 

 

 

If there is high criticality for a task and a long time to complete it, or a little time to do it but low criticality then a leader can delegate it. If there is a long time to complete the task it is likely that the leader has time to intervene should something go awry. If there is little time but low criticality then the impact is small and recoverable should things go poorly.   This prompts an employee’s empowerment and ability to do tasks on their own.

If there is little time available but the criticality is high then a leader must be direct and commanding in his approach. There is no room for failure. Should a brigade of firemen enter a burning building the fire chief does not have the luxury to ask probing questions of his team before the roof comes crashing down.

In between these two extremes are coaching and consulting. Consulting is when you ask for your employees’ insight or opinion before you make a decision. Coaching is when you leave the decision to your employee to make but make yourself available to assist or share your past experiences. In practice, new managers start at either delegating or commanding and rarely use the in between skills of coaching or consulting.

During these coaching sessions a few best practices of Dale Carnegie can be useful[1].   First, make the other person feel important – and do it sincerely. If you set up a safe and empowering work culture your employee is a key asset, don’t belittle or insult them. Second, talk about your own mistakes before criticizing the other person. Chances are you have made the same mistake they have. Finally, let the other person save face. People have pride and are smarter than we give them credit for. People often realize the mistakes they have made and don’t need to have them belaboured.

1.1      Career Development

Once a leader has selected the team, set the playground, and honed his coaching radar he has reached Camp #2 according to Buckingham and Coffman[2]. The team knows what is expected of them, they know how to contribute value, and they know they belong on the team. In order to reach Camp #3, the summit, they need to know where they are going. People often don’t work just for money[3] but rather to know they are developing themselves and improving. A leader can assist them in reaching Camp #3. Every few months a leader should set up time to talk openly with the employee about their goals and desires.

The three steps to a successful career discussion are to create a risk free environment for discussion, probe into their desires and talents to find out what they are passionate about, and then discuss how they could achieve those desires in their current role or other roles. Employees are likely to be guarded in discussing career desires outside their current job role in fear of retribution. The leader should let them know that he is open to supporting them in their progression within their current job role or others across the corporation. When asked by their manager what they want to do, employees often have no idea. It is the manager’s responsibility to guide them through this self reflection and exploration. Finally, the manager can advise the employee what roles may be available to them or how their current role could be changed to accommodate their goals. An employee who joins the team, does well, and grows into a better role encourages other ambitious employees to join the leader’s team.

2                Organizational Design

Comfort is not the objective in a visionary company. Indeed, visionary companies install powerful mechanisms to create discomfort – to obliterate complacency – and thereby stimulate change and improvement before the external world demands it [4]

2.1      Overview

Organizational design is more than just the reporting structure but includes symbolic, political, and human resource elements.[5] The structure dictates who reports to whom and what the lines of command are. Symbolic elements include the culture and shared values. The human resource element refers to the support and empowerment a team receives. Political aspects dictate how conflict and limited resources are handled. Building an organizational is like building a beautiful house; it takes a structure, a plan, resources, and desire.

2.2      Building the Framing (Structural)

Structure is often the only element a manager takes into account when designing their organization. While structure does play an important function it should only be viewed as the foundation upon which to build the rest of the house on. Common structures utilized are functional, divisional, matrix, network, and horizontal.

My first organizational structure was functional and responsibility was divided along product lines. While ownership and accountability was clear this structure lended itself to silo’ing and limited collaboration between functions. My current organizational structure is a matrix based on each group’s approach of proactive vs. reactive rather than product lines. The goal was to force knowledge sharing between the groups and instigate best practice sharing. While the matrix structure is ideal for this it has introduced stress into the front line employees when it is not clear which manager owns responsibility.

There are pros and cons to each approach and no design is perfect. A leader should do what best fits their most important goal.

2.3      Determine How House is Built (Symbolic)

Once an organizational structure is established the next step is to determine how the team will operate and make decisions, i.e. what is the vision, strategy, and culture.

One of the main questions employees consider when evaluating their job satisfaction is “Does the mission/purpose of my company make me feel my job is important?”[6] People will be loyal to an organization which has a unique identity and makes them feel that what they do is important. In a large company it can be difficult for front line employees to understand how their job impacts the overall company’s vision and strategy. If the employee is to be empowered to achieve extraordinary results then the “company must have such clarity about who they are, what they are about, and what they’re trying to achieve.”[7] It is the manager’s responsibility to connect these dots for the employee by developing a compelling vision for how the team and individuals can achieve its goals and then articulating how that maps into the corporate vision.

I further reinforce this vision and culture by utilizing talent for promotion. I endeavour to be very visible and energetic and manage by walking around. I seek to establish organizational traditions and values to provide cohesiveness and meaning.

2.4      Secure the Resources to Build the House (Political)

In order to secure the resources to fulfil the compelling vision a leader must work with his peers. In a corporation there are always limited resources and as a result conflict can arise between groups.

Rather than relying on manipulation a leader should always assume positive intent[8] from the different organizations and groups he interacts with. Fundamentally, all organizations want to do well and further the goals of corporation they just have different views or opinions on how to do so. A leader should first seek to understand the other organization’s goals, challenges, and opportunities and then share their own. Typically by approaching in this manner both groups can reach not only a compromise but true collaboration and a win-win situation.

2.5      Grow the Environment (Human Resources)

“The day soldiers stop bringing you their problems is the day you have stopped leading them. They have either lost confidence that you can help them or concluded that you do not care. Either case is a failure of leadership.”[9]

To create an empowered and high performing team you must create an open environment where questioning assumptions, providing feedback, and constructive confrontation is not only accepted but encouraged. Employees should feel free to come to their leader with any concerns, even concerns about the leader himself. The most important thing is the success of the team against its own goals and the goals of the corporation. By creating an open and supportive environment your employees will feel safe in taking risks, making mistakes, and going outside their comfort zone.

2.6      Blow it all Up

In the fast paced ecosystem of high technology methods of operation change at a break neck pace[10]. What’s worked well yesterday and today may not work well tomorrow. A leader must not let his ego get in the way[11] and he must be willing to look beyond his current success to see what will happen in the future.

In my last role, I had a high performing team that was considered a best practice across the corporation. When I was planning to leave my General Manager asked me, “What are the next steps for your team, what should be done?” My response surprised him when I replied, “Blow it all up.” Looking ahead six months I could forsee that the team would quickly become overloaded, attrition would be high, and it could not adapt to our transition from products to solutions.

So I went back and asked the team, “the only sacred cow is our ability to step in and lead in a crisis. Besides for that everything is open for debate. What should we do and where should we go?” This resulted in one of the best brainstorming sessions ever and a new vision and charter was born with our core values still intact.

Lou Gerstner calls this “being a change agent”.[12]   It is the ability to look ahead at what needs to be done and create the evolution or revolution to make it occur. “If an organization is to meet the challenges of a changing world, it must be prepared to change everything about itself except [its basic] beliefs as it moves through corporate life. The only sacred cow in an organization should be its basic philosophy of doing business.”

When leading a team the leader must always be looking ahead, not letting his ego get in the way, he must not be afraid to be a change agent, but he must be sure to preserve the core.

The Four “Lazy Manager” Rules of Thumb

2.7      You are Your People

To be successful in any endeavour a leader must surround himself with the best people. When entering into a new role a leader must disregard previous assessments and make his own judgments. He should be decisive in his assessment; if someone will not be a fit he should assist them to find a new role inside our outside his company. He should utilize his professional network to source new talent and find the stars that are not looking for a new job. When selecting talent a leader should not hire for skill, rather hire for attitude, learnability, and flexibility.

2.8      Set the Playground

A leader must invest time upfront with his employees to prepare them for their roles. He should define a playground that defines what their roles and goals are, how value is created, and how they will be assessed. He should encourage his employees to be entrepreneurial and creative in their solution. The playground is their area to experiment, make mistakes, reflect, and learn. If your employee ventures outside the playground, be there to support them and make sure they are safe.

2.9      Hone Your Coaching Radar

Managing a team adds orders of magnitude to the number of events and tasks ongoing. A leader cannot scale to manage them all. He must allow his team to run free in the playground but utilize his coaching radar to identify the critical coaching opportunities. He should take advantage of these opportunities and tailor his approach to ensure optimal results for these defining moments.

2.10  Build the House

A house is more than just its structure and includes the architectural vision, the people inside it, and the resourcing of people to maintain it. In order to have a successful organization a leader must leverage the four frames of structural, political, symbolic, and human resources. Once the house is built, a leader should stand on the roof and look far into the distance for how the next house needs to be built and don’t be afraid to change.

3                Actions Speak Louder than Words

In the end, this advice and evidence contained in this manifesto is only as valuable as the leader who is able to apply during their day to day jobs. Actions speak louder than words and it will be the tough decisions the leader makes under duress that sets the true performance of their team. A leader must walk the talk every day and every moment – which is often easier said than done.

 

[1] Carnegie, Dale. How to Win Friends and Influence People. Simon & Schuster, 1981.

[2] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[3] Pfeffer, Jeffrey. Six Dangerous Myths About Pay. Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.

[4] Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins Business, 2004.

[5] Bolman, Lee and Terrance Deal. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, Choice, and Leadership. Jossey-Bass, 2003.

[6] Buckingham, Marcus and Curt Coffman. First, Break All The Rules: What The World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently. Simon & Schuster, 1999.

[7] Collins, Jim and Jerry Porras. Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies. Collins Business, 2004.

[8] Noori, Indra. “The Best Advice I Ever Got”. Fortune Magazine, http://money.cnn.com/galleries/2008/fortune/0804/gallery.bestadvice.fortune/7.html. Last Accessed July 31st 2008.

[9] Harari, Oren. “Colin Powell on Leadership”. Power Point Presentation

[10] Greiner, Larry. Evolution and Revolution as Organizations Grow. Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.

[11] Harari, Oren. “Colin Powell on Leadership”. Power Point Presentation

[12] Gerstner, Louis. ­Who Said Elephants Can’t Dance? New York: Harper Business, 2002.

 

Leadership Lessons Learned – Cisco Goodbye Email

Originally posted to linkedin at: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/leadership-lessons-learned-goodbye-email-bill-lapp

About a week before I left Cisco I was on a 3 hour plane flight without WiFi.  To keep busy I decided to write down all of the lessons learned I had from my time there.  People have recently asked for a copy of the list so I am sharing here.

The good bye lessons learned email:

I have always challenged our team to “think differently” and “do something different”.  As such this will not be a goodbye but instead I will share a list of lessons that I have learned from each of you.  I have learned an immense amount during my time here and as such it is a long list.  I cannot claim to have been successful in applying all of these lessons but hopefully you find some below that are attributable to you. 

I have tried to make this list mimic my approach at Cisco.  Be open, transparent, rough at times, humorous at times, and way too long.  If I missed something that you may have taught me, or something I taught you, I would appreciate hearing from you unicast and I will add it to this list.

  • Never stop learning.  Never stop teaching.  Make a lot of mistakes – do your best to learn from them, do your best to teach from them. 
  • Never get on a bus with 30 SEs, beer, and a possibility you will get stuck in Chicago rush hour traffic.  Especially if they are ticked off about Microsoft and product gaps in Jabber. It will be a long drive and you have no where to run. – Central Team
  • You know you are doing a bad job if your team stops inviting you on that bus.  They have lost confidence that you can help them 
  • If it is 1am and you have been out late with the team be wary of hotel lobby discussions.  You are likely to get into a heated debate for hours on some esoteric technical topic. -Jesse
  • “Love your work” – East Team, Wenning, Cliffy
  • Be transparent and genuine – Jedd, Doug Good, John Graham, Chuck Robbins and others 
  • If engineering is delivering  new products or features to sell then you have two options.  Sell old stuff to new people or package old stuff in new ways. -Matt
  • Don’t focus on what you can’t control. Take ownership and action on what you can – Shark Tank – Dennis 
  • Never ask what is the difference between a CSE and a TSA…  everyone
  • Never muse about wanting to open up the fence in your backyard to put a door in it.  At least not where a certain TSA is in listening range and a crowbar is available.  – Central Team, Ian, Andy
  • Always separate emotion from evaluation.  It is never personal.  Giving feedback is not an assessment on the individual as a person.  It is just an assessment of the actions they did. – CMS 101 class
  • “Aligning” is a bad way to work.  Instead of scheduling meetings to stay in sync, change your actual workflow so that it coincides with each other. That way you don’t need to align because you are already working together. – CCBU, Jefts, Needelman, Arvenkat
  • If you ask the team to track something, but it isn’t a part of their day to day workflow or they don’t see value in it then you are screwed.  You will never have accurate tracking and they will resent it.  It is better to figure out how your teams work and figure out how to tap into that workflow to get your data. – SFDC, GAMES, UCPROFIL
  • Give a lot of CAP awards.  Overspend your budget.  Chances are someone else didn’t spend all of theirs and you will equal out – Jedd
  • Don’t talk too much in big meetings 🙂 – anyone who was ever in a meeting with me
  • If you are not talking out loud in big meetings, don’t keep whispering to your neighbor – Karen 
  • If you are first out of the gate for a 200 mile jogging relay race.  Be sure to check your pockets and make sure you don’t have the keys to the only van.  When your team calls to tell you to come back don’t keep sending them to voicemail.  You will only have further to run when you have to turn around and return the keys.  – Doug and Cindy
  • When delivering an SE bootcamp you should not use cheap wooden boxes with sharp metal edges, some elevators are bigger than others, always have a hand truck handy, be prepared for a semi truck to show up, know where your closest Frys is, learn how to crimp rj45 cable, and be ready to spend a lot on your Amex.  – Gene, Monica, Leo, Kevin, and 1300 other people
  • When merging two companies where there may be a culture clash the best way to overcome it is to throw them all in a room and have them work on a really hard problem under duress.  They will quickly realize that they need each other to pull it off and will love learning new things.  Pizza and beer helps too.  – Durick and Bob
  • When trying to run a program at scale don’t manage the tasks centrally.  Define the outcome, identify the local owners, hold them accountable for the outcome, and let them be entrepreneurial with the details.  The only thing to manage centrally is the progress against outcomes.  –Bootcamps, City Hubs, ACE trainings
  • A buttset is a big red phone with wires that you used to have to connect to test if an analog phone works.  -Patrick and Joe
  • When you ask a committee for their opinion people don’t feel they are adding value unless they ponder risks and say ‘no’, otherwise if it was so obviously the right thing to do why would you be asking them? -Deric
  • When trying something new – don’t ask permission.  Start small, run fast, experiment, and be darn sure you show value quickly.  Typically this means 30-60 days since that is when you will need someone to pay your Amex Bill.  – SE Bootcamps, Jedd
  • Explain things to your team and be transparent. Go ahead and tell them what their comp ratio is, where they are in the 9 block, how promotions work, etc.  There are no rules saying that you can’t. -East Team
  • “Did you learn more from your hard classes/professors who graded you hard or the easy ones you coasted through?” Push your team and challenge them.  You will annoy them.  But they will grow. And thank you for it. – Deric
  • Let your team push you.  You will be annoyed. You will grow.  And you will thank them.  -Shelly, Dennis, Ben, Uly, Dave, Jedd, Karen, Jill
  • Breaking the build as a software engineer intern is a quick way to get a bad rap right off the start. But be a valuable contributor and your peers will put up with it (one or twice).  -CCBU
  • It takes some broken glass to do great things. -Jedd
  • Driving change can be very lonely.  Find your first follower.  Find your second follower.  Other followers will start to find you.  Then you won’t be lonely.  – CAMS class
  • If there is something cool and interesting to do – why not just do it?  Don’t spend countless hours waiting for permission. Do it broad.  -Collaboration Bounty
  • Even if everything you do usually turns out well, you will still someday make a mistake and screw up.   When you do, the best thing to do is go and admit it plainly and clearly, offer to help fix it, and tell the person what you learned.  You may be surprised at the other person’s reaction – Deric 
  • If you are in a meeting or listening to a message, you believe it is off base, and that “the emperor has no clothes”, don’tstay quiet.  Tell the emperor he has no clothes. Don’t be afraid to give feedback up the chain.  -Jedd
  • …. in the middle of that meeting and in front of everyone else it may not be the best idea to tell them that  🙂
  • People don’t give feedback enough, if you ask for feedback a person will give you a thumbs up and tell you good job.  They are doing this because they want your help in the future. If you want to hear critique from them, you need to offer a critique of yourself first so they feel safe to chime in.  -Chris
  • It is amazing how much people value real, candid feedback. They may only remember the constructive feedback you give and ignore the positive feedback.  They will likely be upset for a few days.  But if you gave it because you are genuinely invested in their success it is the most trust building thing you can do.  -Clarence and others 
  • Getting constructive feedback sucks and feels like someone punched you in the gut. (360s, NMAPs, etc.) but.. don’t dwell on it. Reflect on it.  And then a few days later… See bullet above. It is invaluable. -Gerard
  • People in Cisco will always say something can’t be done because “They” said so. Rather than accept that something can’t be done, find out who ‘they’ are and then ask them ‘why?’.  Chances are they had no idea the impact of their decision and will often fix it. – Chuck Robbins
  • If you are going to do something for yourself or your team and it is X amount of effort. Chances are that for X+1 effort you could do that same thing and share it with other teams, segments, organizations, etc.  (GAMES, ACE, CityHub, Partner SE Bootcamps) -CCBU Deployment Success team, Needelman, Arvenkat, Jefts
  • Trying to fix things can be tiring. But anyone can do it.  And it is rewarding. 
  • People don’t come to work everyday and want to stink at their jobs, they have goals and metrics – you just need to learn them.  Maybe they are doing well when judged against those.  Next time you are frustrated about another organization or a team, just remember this. – Deric
  • Pushing back is futile – our culture is to overcome obstacles. Instead discover the outcome they want rather than the action they are asking for.  You can often find an alternative action that would be a win-win.  – Emily and NYC team
  • You train engineers and keep them happy not by classes but by “locking them in a room with pizza, peers they respect, and a hands on tough problem’ –Jeff
  • When you come into a situation that you need to do a diving catch for… Dive and Catch! But then follow back after, explain why it can’t happen again, and get the other parties agreements in email.  The next time the same situation comes up – reference that email and situation and put the responsibility back on them. –CAP team
  • Karma is real.  When you see something that could be done or needs to be done, Do it. Even if it isn’t important for your day job.  Do college recruiting.  Mentor people not on your team.  Be IT tech support for those who need it.  Spend an hour to talk about someone else’s idea.  Offer to present at a company function.   The world is incredibly small. It is eerie how often these small things come back to you in a rewarding manner.  -Jill, Gino, and others…
  • Don’t ask how can you make something X% better. First ask yourself if you need to do the thing at all.  Next ask yourself what do you really want the outcome to be. Keep asking yourself ‘Why’ or ‘What’. Then develop a solution based on the outcome and not how to only improve the set of actions. Chances are you will come up with something transformational. 
  • People are always overwhelmed with ‘stuff’ in their jobs. Reports, tasks, ‘fire drills’, and endless emails with the subject “ACTION Required:”.  If you have to do something more than once, automate it. Don’t make weekly ppt or excel reports. Invest upfront, automate it, and present using a dashboard.  Or better yet don’t present at all, teach people how to go to the dashboard themselves.  –CCBU
  • When you go away on PTO for a week and a decision needs to be made your team will usually say “we need to wait until so and so gets back from PTO”.  When you go away on PTO for two weeks people figure they can’t wait and magically make the decision on their own… and it is usually a good one.  So why not push them to make those decisions day to day on their own even when you aren’t on PTO? –Deric
  • The best way to operate in a big company is to know the rules better than anyone else.  That way you can bend them without breaking them.  You can overcome objections because you know the rules better than the organization who is saying no.  –Deric and Bill Belichick
  • When there is a crisis, get everyone on a call.  Do a round table and get all the issues out on the table.  Document them in real time for the audience.  Then one by one spell out the actions, owners, and dates.  Distribute it in writing after the call and schedule recurring calls at a rapid frequency. On each call review or add new issues and track actions and accountability.  Eventually everyone will get on board, trust each other, and ask for fewer calls 🙂  –Dave
  • Customers and team members get nervous when there isn’t a plan. This is when people start escalating and demanding things. All people really want is a plan and to see progress.  If you can’t show big progress split something up and show small progress.  –Dave
  • When a customer or person escalates – decide up front if you will give in eventually or hold your ground.   If you firmly believe you shouldn’t do something then you need to stick with it.  If you say no at first but then give in afterwards you have only taught the customer or person to kick and scream louder and louder next time. –Deric and Cable & Wireless
  • If someone threatens to escalate you should be OK with it.  Be sure to prep you leadership or stakeholders ahead of time.  Those leaders hired you because you are a talented individual. If you are doing the right thing then you need to trust that your leader will support you. Give the leader a chance to support you.  They may surprise you.  –Jedd, Doug, Richard, Deric, Dave, Will, Matt, Ken and my matrix leaders
  • If your leader does not support you – get a new job.
  • Matrix management is great.  Having 4 bosses is the best way to have the entrepreneurial independence you want.  If you have 4 bosses they will all assume one of the others are managing you. If one boss wants you to do something but you don’t think it is the right thing to do then chances are that one of your 3 other bosses shares your opinion.  – Me
  • Push responsibility to individuals and manage to the outcome. 
  • If someone on your team wants to do something different, try to challenge them in their current role. If you can’t challenge them anymore do whatever you can to find them an awesome opportunity.  By rotating your people into other roles people will see that and want to join your team. 
  • When a call gets emotional, end it.  You will achieve nothing else. –CAP, Steen Wagner, Ludford, Plaskon
  • Don’t over complicate the role of a manager/leader.  First, if something is broken in one area of the org it is that area’s responsibility to fix it (and learn in the process).  If it is broken in 2 or more areas then it is the leader’s job to fix it because it is a systemic issue.  Second, if something is working well in an area of the organization it is the leaders responsibility to operationalize it and spread it to the rest of the organization.  Finally, it is the leaders job to get good people, keep them challenged, and put them in a position to do what they do best everyday.  – East CSE Team
  • If you really need something done give it to whomever on your team is the busiest. 
  • After seeing 50+ ‘business plans’ for an open job role they all start to blend together.  Don’t forget that everyone else applying for the job is probably a rockstar just like you.  Keep your plan simple – focus on why you want the job, focus on the business – what would you invest in or divest in. What innovative things would you do? Only at the end should you talk about why you are the right person.  The fact you are the right person should be conveyed in your plan and not your list of past achievements, certs, and awards. –Doug
  • We all run fast.  Not investing in yourself or your team’s infrastructure because you are running fast is an excuse.  You should always pay yourself first.  No matter how busy your team is you should always invest 20% of your time on ways to scale.   -Tandberg Merger
  • As you rise in responsibility it is more and more important to do less.  Keep things simple. You have 10, 50, 100 or more people you are trying to steer.  Do you really think those people are going to execute on that amazing list of 10 initiatives you created? They will be overwhelmed, give up, and do what they did before.  –Fehrunnisa
  • Never take a job for a title or pay.  Take the job where you can learn the most.  Every time I did that it was invaluable. A year or two later I always ended up in a higher position with higher pay and a higher title – all by doing a job I loved. – Me
  • If when you assess your career path and respond “to be a Grade 12” you probably take a step back and ask why?  What does a higher grade get you?  What is the real outcome you are looking for.  Figure out what you love to do – and set your goal to that.  The money and other items will work themselves out.  
  • Always do the right thing for customers, company, shareholders, and people.  
  • The right thing isn’t always the easy thing.  
  • The tech industry is a small world. People are what make the world run.  Your relationships with those people outlast everything. 

As you can see, I have learned a tremendous amount from all of you.  It is said that people leave companies because of their managers or because they have stopped learning.  I have been fortunate to work for great leaders who supported our team and myself.  They made the company feel small and allowed us to break glass and make things better.  In turn I hope I was able to take the lessons learned above from all of you and made our team a place where you never wanted to leave because of the manager.  

It is the second reason why I am leaving Cisco.  I have had the joy of working in development, post sales, and pre-sales.  I learned enough to create this long list… and more!  Now I am ready to learn different ways of doing business, how to create a large enterprise from a small company, and how to apply the lessons learned above. 

Thank you all for a great internship and an unbelievable career.  I am looking forward to staying in touch.