Monthly Archives: June 2011

How Can Business Contribute to the Future of Technology Education?

Interview with Muhammed Chaudhry, CEO, Silicon Valley Education Foundation

Situation: A critical component for the future of technology in the US is a workforce trained in math and the sciences. In Santa Clara County, California – the heart of Silicon Valley – only 49% of high school students complete University of California/CSU qualifying courses, and only 26% of Hispanic students. How can private industry contribute to the improvement of education and the training of future workers?

Advice from Muhammed Chaudhry:

  • Silicon Valley Education Foundation’s objective is to make Silicon Valley the number one region in California in student readiness for college and careers. It has been shown that the top predictor of college success is the completion of Algebra II in high school.  Our primary program – Stepping Up to Algebra – focuses on students and teachers to increase the number of students who are ready for Algebra I in 8th Grade. To date 2,500 kids have gone through our program.
  • We actively encourage private industry to get involved in our programs and to invest in solutions that work. We call this involvement Work, Wealth and Wisdom.
  • Let’s talk about Work:
    • Our aim is for every business person to make it a priority to invest time in public education. This takes an investment – we ask for a consistent investment of 4-5 days a year.
  • Next is Wealth:
    • We encourage every business person to sign up to our Sustainer Program. The commitment is modest – only $5 per month to support our activities.
    • We encourage corporations to Adopt a Classroom for $10,000.
  • Finally we have Wisdom:
    • We encourage business people to get involved. We need help designing technology products that enhance learning and in formulating a blended learning approach.
    • We need to improve the enabling of technology in our schools to improve individualized learning to maximize the potential of each student.
    • We need support and involvement in policy work by contributing business thinking. Education has lessons to learn from business.
    • There is room for innovators who are interested in social benefit and long-term investment with profit as a secondary consideration.

You can contact Muhammed Chaudhry at muhammed@svefoundation.org

Key Words: Technology, Future, Education, Workforce, Math, Algebra, Science, College, Preparation, Work, Wealth, Wisdom, Investment, Engineer, Software, Funding, Learning, Policy, Innovation

How Do You Identify Good Job Candidates? Four Views

Situation: A company needs to hire several upper level managers to support growth objectives In the past they have selected candidates based on referrals from existing employees or management’s “gut feel” of candidates. The results have been inconsistent. What have you done to identify good job candidates?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • The answer depends upon the success of your hiring in the past, both for areas where you are comfortable with the skill sets and those areas you are less comfortable. For example, you may be good at identifying candidates for technical positions, but not for sales and marketing.
  • One CEO’s “gut feel” hires have been consistently wrong. The solution has been to have recruiters screen and evaluate candidates. Once candidates are prequalified, only the best are presented to the CEO for final selection.
  • Another CEO uses a two-step process:
    • A recruiter selects and ranks their final two or three candidates.
    • Then the CEO gets a second opinion from another recruiter on the recommended choices of the first recruiter.
    • If both recruiters agree on the best candidate, the CEO meets the person and offers a job provided that they are compatible. If the recruiters disagree, the CEO probes the differences between the evaluations and decides whether to meet with one of the candidates.
  • Another CEO involves staff and uses a ranking system to evaluate candidates in areas of competence and fit. This produces composite scores that assist them in identifying the best candidate.

Key Words: Hiring, Manager, Selection, Referral, Gut Feel, Process, Skills, Head Hunter, Recruiter, Ranking

How Do You Manage Opportunities in This Economy? Five Ways

Interview with Keith Merron, CEO, Avista Consulting Group

Situation: Ongoing uncertainty makes it difficult to clarify strategies going forward. What are the bases for these uncertainties and how do you manage opportunities in this economy?

Advice:

  • The world is moving so rapidly that they key to success is differentiation. There is so much information about how to do this that companies start to look similar very quickly. The ability to stand out as different is critical. Ask yourself:
    • What is my target market?
    • What are the needs that my offer will satisfy?
    • What is my unique approach that is distinct from other solutions which meet these needs?
    • Once you identify the answers, you need to back these up.
  • One has the opportunity to write the future. If you can get one step ahead of the curve this is a huge advantage.
    • Products that died were often two steps ahead.
    • Successful visionaries see patterns that are emerging, sense what is next, and speak to that.
  • Because information is at your fingertips through the Internet anyone can set up a business. The Challenges are viability and sustainability. If these are present the opportunities are huge.
    • The web is a place where you can share information. How to monetize this is unclear.
    • Once you have a following you can offer things for sale that are valued by your following. When this happens, the potential for fast growth is more available than ever. So is the flip side. If a restaurant gets trashed on Yelp this can kill it!
  • In a recession, M&A activity is faster. This enables one to establish a presence much more easily.
    • There are many virtual companies. You no longer have to be in the same place to work together! There are also many ways to partner or co-brand via the Internet.
    • What’s hard is to create tensile strength in the relationship. Because it is so quick and easy to cobble together relationships, the biggest challenges are creating loyalty and commitment.
    • The needs are communications, motivation, commitment and follow-through – just like in a traditional company but in a virtual space. This creates a true bond.

You can contact Keith Merron at keithmerron@comcast.net

Key Words: Uncertainty, Opportunity, Differentiation, Target, Market, Needs, Approach, Timing, Patterns, Visionary, Internet, Following, Community, M&A

How Do You Fire a Founder? Three Suggestions

Situation: A founder of a company also heads business development. This person had no prior experience in business development, and no other skills to offer the business. Over the last two years he has generated only a fraction of his salary in new or additional business. The CEO has concluded that it is time to hire a business development professional; however, the Board is reluctant to act. What are the steps that you would take to let a founder go?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Because the individual in question is an owner, the situation is delicate. Staff relationships are involved as well as morale. Therefore, it is essential that you create a convincing case for replacing the individual and show that this is the best for the business. Don’t rush the process. However, once you’ve built a solid case for what needs to be done, act expeditiously.
  • Start by evaluating and documenting what the individual is doing to develop new business.
    • Count customer connects per day. Set a baseline expectation and measure against this.
    • Look at the pipeline. Historically what does your new business funnel look like – contacts, presentations, evaluations, closes. How does this individual’s pipeline stack up?
    • What are his business advancement and close ratios? How do these compare with industry standards?
  • For the individual: Demonstrate that his performance is penalizing his own return as an owner. Create a spreadsheet that shows:
    • The current situation, and his return as a shareholder from current results, versus
    • Hiring two effective business development people, and how this could change his return.
    • Show the individual a graceful way out – one that works for him.
  • For the Board: if the current direction is negative, create a model that shows your current direction and the break even implications. Present this analysis to the Board to show that the company needs a change.

Key Words: Business Development, Founder, Principal, Experience, Performance, Replace, Document, Pipeline, Return, Model, Trend

What are the Challenges Facing Distributed Organizations? Part 1

Interview with David Van Wie, CEO, and Paul Brody, President, Sococo, Inc.

Situation: Research shows that 65% of teams within companies are now geographically distributed. This is driven by both telecommuting and the desire to access the best talent, and is enabled by technology. What are the implications of distributed teams for company and project success, and how can these be addressed?

Advice from David Van Wie and Paul Brody:

  • Broadly, the most important challenge is that of team “presence” – the feeling of people collaborating and working together. As social beings, we are used to establishing trust and mutuality face-to-face. Trust and mutuality are more challenging when we are limited to audible communications.
  • Working at a distance becomes a challenge when different members of a team are on the same stage of a workflow issue and there may or may not be shared understanding of technical requirements or timelines.
    • Team members need to understand requirements to a “T” – across functions, technical requirements, and needed skills.
    • Consider the challenge of keeping team members in synch when project requirements are continually shifting, as frequently happens when new technical breakthroughs are involved and there is no preplanned predictability to the project. This challenge is exacerbated when the team is designing at light speed.
    • The agile design model focuses on people and talent over process and dictates a continuous ongoing meeting. In a distributed setting, the whole team is never stronger than the most remote and linked-up member.
    • These are the challenges that we seek to address at Sococo through our Team Space application.
  • Let’s look at an example of resolving a conflict based on miscommunication of information.
    • In this case, a young employee was tasked with drafting an email campaign around a product. Other team members were time zones away and on their own schedules. The night before campaign launch a misunderstanding developed around one of the core features of the product.
    • Because of the Always-On nature of Team Space, all of the team members working on the project were right there and on call to ensure a smooth product launch. When the problem arose, they were able to have a quick online meeting to share spreadsheets and analysis, understand the issue and resolve the misunderstanding on the fly.  The campaign launched the following morning.
    • When people are in the space, you know they’re part of the team and they’re at work, ready to solve problems. They haven’t given up. Having to bring someone back into a conversation (to resolve a problem) takes more time, effort, and energy and is draining for a distributed team.

For more information on Team Space, visit www.sococo.com

Key Words: Distributed, Teams, Presence, Collaboration, Workflow, Project, Agile, Conflict, Crisis, Silo 

What are the Challenges Facing Distributed Organizations? Part 2

Interview with David Van Wie, CEO, and Paul Brody, President, Sococo, Inc.

Situation: Research shows that 65% of teams within companies are now geographically distributed. This is driven by both telecommuting and the desire to access the best talent, and is enabled by technology. What are the implications of distributed teams for company and project success, and how can these be addressed?

Advice from David Van Wie and Paul Brody:

  • A second example of a critical challenge occurs in crisis mode – for example when a major system is down and service is impaired.
    • You need the right people with the right information talking real time. Those without complete information are at a loss. If they respond from emotion rather than fact, it hinders crisis resolution.
    • Having an avatar in Team Space yields a positive emotional response, primarily in that you then interact with other avatars instead of just names on a list. It gives you an increased feeling of presence.
    • This emotional investment positively correlates to increased trust, as you feel more connected to your peers.
    • You want an environment in which you can bring distributed people together on the fly, provide them with complete information, raise and candidly discuss issues and alternatives, and come up with a solution with all parties involved, all while reducing the emotionality of the situation.
    • Emotionality of tense situations is reduced because of the trust built amongst team members through our unique spatial UI.
  • Third, organizations beyond a certain size tend to form silos by function. This can help to build strong functional organizations, but has drawbacks when different functions have conflicting priorities.
    • In a distributed organization, a visual layout becomes important. You want to be able to include and intertwine all functions in a visual space, and provide access between and across functions.
    • This entails a philosophical shift to an open culture where teams don’t feel defensive or protective. It is facilitated by a visual space where it is easy to bring in the right expertise to resolve issues based on information.
    • Likewise, the underlying open structure of Team Space and its ability to promote quick conversations as well as hefty meetings helps solidify trust in a distributed group.

For more information on Team Space, visit www.sococo.com

Key Words: Distributed, Teams, Presence, Collaboration, Workflow, Project, Agile, Conflict, Crisis, Silo 

What are the Challenges Facing Distributed Organizations? Part 3

Interview with David Van Wie, CEO, and Paul Brody, President, Sococo, Inc.

Situation: Research shows that 65% of teams within companies are now geographically distributed. This is driven by both telecommuting and the desire to access the best talent, and is enabled by technology. What are the implications of distributed teams for company and project success, and how can these be addressed?

Advice from David Van Wie and Paul Brody:

  • A fourth question which arises with distributed organizations is whether you have to have different processes to manage a distributed organization.
    • We don’t think so. Each company has developed their own set of process to address the challenges of distributed personnel. Rather, we focus on communication tools that adapt to clients’ existing processes by humanizing communication – enabling people to easily find each other and share information.
  • Fifth, some of the most challenging environments occur in organizations which span extreme time zone differences. How is this addressed?
    • You want an audio and visual system that lets you know who is available at a given point in time or could be made available easily. This facilitates bringing the right expertise into a conversation.
    • When different parts of the team are widely separated by time zone, it is important to create a more social and effective environment during the times when all team members are available. We believe that Team Space helps to create this environment.
    • In one company, Indian team members stay at the office until 7:00pm – thereby avoiding the worst traffic – and can be available online at home after dinner. This increases the time that they can interact with their American counterparts.
    • It is also important to be able to record meetings and presentations so that members who are absent can play back the meeting to stay up to date.
    • Our experience is that visual presentation is superior for communicating visual information, and we accommodate this.

For more information on Team Space, visit www.sococo.com

Key Words: Distributed, Teams, Presence, Collaboration, Workflow, Project, Agile, Conflict, Crisis, Silo 

What Are Best Practices for Selecting Business Development Staff? Four Thoughts

Situation: A company wants to expand its business development staff. What is your experience, and what has worked best for you in selecting among business development candidates?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Your first priority is your compensation plan for the new person. There are three basic compensation schemes:
    1. High Base/Low Commission
    2. Medium Base/Medium Commission
    3. Low to No Base/High Commission
  • Choice between these options depends on your own philosophy, as well as common practice within your industry. Compensation is central to candidate selection. The CEOs recommend asking candidates about their own preferences for compensation.
    • If they prefer Option 1, don’t hire them – they either lack experience or confidence.
    • They ideally prefer Option 3 – they can make more money, but cost you little unless they perform.
    • If they prefer Option 2, probe. They may be good but face personal obligations that make it difficult to choose the high risk/high reward option. Ask about past compensation and performance. Verify any claims made during the interview.
  • You want to structure sales compensation so that non-performers leave of their own accord – without costing you dearly in time or money.
  • What are the most important traits to seek in a good B.D. candidate?
    1. Understanding of customer’s requirements as well as purchase behavior.
    2. Understanding of your product or service.
  • How do you find candidates?
    • Use a Head Hunter who knows your industry and competitors.
    • Use written tests to evaluate the individual’s traits.
    • Let the recruiter find and screen prospects and present the top 2-3 to you.

Key Words: Business Development, Candidate, Compensation, Experience, Traits, Evaluation, Base, Draw, Commission, Industry Practice, Verification, Performer, Non-Performer, Selection, Head Hunter, Personnel, Recruiter, Test

How Does an Entrepreneur Evolve from Doer to Leader? Four Suggestions

Situation: A company has grown largely through the determination and energy of the founding CEO who is still the principal business development resource. The CEO wants to move from day-to-day focus to a leadership role, planning for the future. How have you evolved from principal doer to leader?

Advice from the CEOs:

  • Start by developing and managing an organizational chart for the business.
    • Create the organizational chart initially by role and responsibility.
    • Match existing people to the roles. Individuals may fill more than one role, but be sure that the individuals are suited to the roles to which they are assigned.
  • Give ownership of areas of responsibility to others.
    • Make it clear for each area of responsibility that the individual assigned is now in charge.
    • Match projects or assignments with individuals’ abilities and available time.
    • Establish quarterly or annual performance objectives WITH as opposed to FOR each individual – objectives that support company objectives.
    • See that people are rewarded for their results – both soft and monetary rewards – as appropriate to the responsibility held by each.
  • While you continue as the lead of business development, hand off new clients to others as soon as you get them on-board. Let others take on the customer nurturing and maintenance roles. Establish a plan to replace yourself in this role.
  • The EMyth Revisited by Michael Gerber provides a soup to nuts recipe for moving from doer to leader of a company. Everything starts with your organizational chart.

Key Words: Leader, Doer, Role, Focus, Organizational Chart, Org Chart, People, Match, Ownership, Responsibility, Performance, Objectives, Reward, Results, EMyth, Gerber

What Are The Barriers to Companies Moving to The Cloud?

Interview with Jim Kaskade, Global Executive (most recently SVP and General Manger, SIOS Technologies, Inc.)

Situation: Cloud computing as a concept dates back to the 1960s. “Cloud” became a more prominent concept in 1990s as a metaphor for service delivery over the Internet. The technology that makes it a practical reality has advanced significantly. Broad business adoption, however, has varied depending on the deployment architectures used. What are some of the barriers to enterprises “crossing the chasm” and embracing moving to the cloud?

Advice:

  • Definitions: There are three cloud deployment architectures or market segments when defining the opportunities and barriers to entry:
    • Software as a Service – SaaS – represented by distinct B2B applications like Salesforce.com and Google Apps, and B2C applications like Apple’s iCloud.
    • Platform as a Service – PaaS – represented by application platforms targeted at application developers and including Microsoft Azure and Amazon Beanstalk.
    • Infrastructure as a Service – IaaS – represented by on-demand access to low-level IT infrastructure such as virtualized computer, storage, and networking infrastructure.
  • The elephant in the room is that, relative to global IT spend, use of public cloud is in its infancy.
  • Adoption of the cloud varies by business size and IT structure.
  • Start-ups – particularly technology start-ups – use all three segments. The rationale is simple. It is easier and conserves capital to use all three delivery segments as an expense rather than invest in IT infrastructure. Another benefit is time to market.
  • Mid-sized companies  – up to hundreds of employees – have more challenges.
    • They start with SaaS applications to get their feet wet. Primary concerns are availability and security. If they have good, dependable Internet access, barriers to entry can be low.
    • Using a PaaS is also attractive but begins to compete with internal, existing platforms. Mid-sized companies typically have their own IT and developers who may prefer an internal platform. The company’s choices are also limited to a PaaS system that is similar to current development platforms.
    • The barrier to IaaS adoption is the IT staff itself. If the IT staff is savvy, they can maintain and run their internal data center less expensively than IaaS services. The question comes down to whether building and maintaining a “crazy smart” IT group is core to the company’s business model.
  • Enterprise companies – Fortune 100s or even 1,000s – have far greater challenges.
    • Their current IT model already has moved to a mix of 30% in-house and 70% outsourced with partners like CSC and Accenture.
    • Most Enterprise CIOs begin their use of “cloud” with a migration to SaaS. The barriers to PaaS are that their systems are tailored to customer-specific applications and internal infrastructure, limiting PaaS use to small, non-critical applications which require quick, global deployment.
    • The barriers to using IaaS services are similar to PaaS, where CIOs struggle with tradeoffs between agility and issues of cost, security, and availability.
    • The Achilles’ heel of these companies is that 80% of their IT spend is just keeping the lights on.
  • The implications of all this are that the cloud is ideally for small to medium companies, some of which will become large enterprises. If you can succeed with a migration of legacy applications to cloud-based services you will become more nimble in responding to customer’s needs – the biggest upside to cloud services in general.

You can contact Jim Kaskade at jim.kaskade@gmail.com

Key Words: Cloud Computing, Adoption, SaaS, PaaS, IaaS, iCloud, Business Size, IT, Structure, Staff, Applications, Cost, Nimble, Availability, Security, Chasm, Start-up, Mid-Size, Enterprise, Outsource, Partner, Data Center, Legacy