Googler’s Screed


Or perhaps I should say Xoogler's screed instead , now that he got fired .

Strangely, the first thing that hit me was the word "screed" since the last time I heard the word was couple of decades ago in engineering college . Perhaps "manifesto" associates itself with "communism" and hence "screed" seemed to be the more appropriate word.

I went through a series of emotions as I read about the screed . It started with anger, and that is the only reason I did not start typing my views on day 1. I needed time to process the information . And doing that increased my respect for journalists who had to break the news without much time to look at it at depth , as well as Sundar Pichai who had to take a decision quickly on what to do with the guy who wrote the document . I am glad I took the time before posting a rant – it was quite educational to read many different opinions and talk to many fellow engineers, male and female .

One thing is abundantly clear – Google was put in a no-win situation. If they didn't fire the guy, they would get painted as anti-women . If they fired the guy – they will be accused of shutting down diversity of thought.

There were a few points in the debate on both sides that I thought were rather weak – like Damore's first amendment rights , and whether he should have written such a document during work hours. Google is not a government entity and first amendment should not be a big consideration in letter or spirit in this context . The guy attended a google class on diversity and wrote it in response . If google offered the class during work hours , I can't blame him for writing a response during work hours and circulating it .

I am an engineer myself and hire engineers to work with me – and it was extremely painful to read the document and realize it was a fellow engineer who wrote it . It just felt like someone did the profession a big injustice – and perhaps it's an over reaction . In any case – I would not hire a person as an engineer in my team if I suspect a significant lack of empathy . Not going to belabor the point – this is a brilliant take on it and you should read it .

The tone of the manifesto is quantitative and dispassionate from what I could interpret . When criticizing it, however, there seems to be a penchant in media to refer to it as "quasi-professional" and "pseudo-scientific" and so on . Even though the opposing arguments looked strong to me , trying to attack the tone of the writer as opposed to his central ideas and facts(?) diminished its effectiveness.

While I can't say I have a first hand understanding of what it is like to be a woman in tech – I can extrapolate from what I went through as an immigrant and have no doubts how difficult it must be . I also grew up in a family of strong women in India who fought all odds to thrive in a male dominated society . I was not in the minority growing up in India – and my appreciation for its value only happened after I moved to USA in my early twenties .

When I first came to this country, I faced a fair bit of Discrimination as an Indian programmer in the midst of mostly white male programmers – insults to my intelligence , the food I ate , the music I liked , my accent and so on were common place. I also had some very kind managers and friends and co-workers who considered me as one of them and helped me cope . For the most part, I don't feel it anymore – I developed a thick skin over time and larger number of Indians are there in the workforce now for me to feel alone.

Damore is absolutely entitled to his opinions like the rest of us – we live in a free country. But as an adult, he should also know that actions have consequences.

I think where he lost the plot of having a good debate – instead of the storm he caused – was in quoting studies and stating that all of it applied only to populations and not individuals , but then going on to make recommendations that don't follow that thread of logic . That gave me the impression that he was not arriving at a conclusion by building an argument ground up, but just finding a way to substantiate what he always believed . Irrespective of the content , that is not the hallmark of a good engineer .

He does state that he is supportive of an inclusive workforce and agrees that sexism exists. Unfortunately the recommendations are either too vague , or not backed by consistent logic. It came across like "Current diversity program sucks, so let's get rid of it. No diversity program is better than a partly effective one". Huh ?

The charitable side of me wants to believe it was mostly ignorance and lack of skill that caused him to write it the way he did , as opposed to totally evil intentions . In any case – he earned the backlash fair and square in my opinion .

To begin with, Google had a lousy episode recently of telling DOJ that 100K USD is too much money to spend on compiling payroll information for gender equality. Now if they also did not fire the guy who wrote the awful memo – it would have been an even bigger nightmare.

I do grant one thing Damore raised . If you hold conservative views in Silicon Valley, it's rare that your views will resonate in the work place, and there is a good chance you will be out-shouted . Unless of course you are someone like Peter Thiel . It's an extremely left leaning place and the lack of inclusion is not just about gender, it's about diversity of thought too .

One thing google needs more than anything to keep its leadership in the market is retaining and attracting top talent . They cannot afford to risk a bunch of their talent walking away if they think google doesn't support their ideology . There is no non-compete in CA and many of these engineers are already rich and will find multiple jobs quickly with google on their CV . Even if no one walked out of the door per se , which development manager would choose to have Damore in their team after his views became public ?

If forced to choose between the support for gender diversity and thought diversity – I firmly think gender diversity should win every time . Ideologies evolve with time and mistakes can be corrected relatively quickly , but gender doesn't follow that path. Solve the gender diversity and it will be fair game to have absolute focus on thought diversity .

In my view, Sundar Pichai absolutely did the right thing by firing the guy – but google leadership , HR and PR departments should get a B- for how it was handled . As a friend mentioned on Facebook – the only thing worse than scheduling the all hands was canceling it .

The net goodness out of this episode is that it sparked debate yet again on the importance of diversity . The sad part is that without such incidents, it doesn't get the attention it deserves.

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It is hard being a sales leader


Off late, I have run into a lot of highly stressed out sales leaders – at work, at airport lounges and at assorted other places including at customer sites. It is real hard being a successful sales leader.

In most jobs, if you do well in current role – you are generally setting up yourself well for your next higher role. But I doubt that is true in sales . Many of the best sales people I know made mediocre sales leaders when they got promoted. And some of the top notch sales leaders I know today were just about average sales people in their prior life. While such things do happen in other job functions too – I have a strong feeling that sales kind of bucks the general trend.

To begin with – many organizations do not start grooming sales people into sales leaders early. They like sales people to be laser focused on quota and will not recognize the other skills they will need as they move up the chain. And compared to a developer or a finance person or something at the same level, the remuneration for a young sales person doing well in their job is pretty high. So the behavior patterns needed for narrow objectives of the organizations are rather strongly reinforced early in their life. I think this is also the reason why several successful sales people like to continue as individual contributors and not get promoted to leaders.

A developer who grows into an architect or development manager or a VP of development is not expected to code at that point. But  sales leaders have to occasionally take matters into their own hands and sell directly. That is not really the hard part – the real hard part is to resist the temptation of taking matters to their own hands too often in sales situation.

If you have an A team for sales, the chances are that they won’t sit patiently through a cadence call and take instructions and report status in a structured way. And many sales leaders are not very good at sales operations. It never ceases to amaze me on how long it takes for some of them to understand the need for good operations and hire a good COO . Good ops leaders are worth their weight in gold -once you find them, keep them close. However, you always need to watch out for where you draw the line on ops efficiency. End of the day – you need the sales to happen and reporting is an after effect. Don’t let controls screw up front line sales . It is a very hard balance to strike – especially for those sales leaders who totally hated controls when they were doing front line sales.

In  a big sale I did at IBM as an account partner – my deal strategy required a senior partner to come in as a “closer” to get the deal signed. I did not really need that given I had a great relation with the customer CIO and his staff, and we had done a good job in understanding each other. However, I was so tuned to having a closer in such big deals. Thankfully, when I pinged my boss to show up – he said ” this one is on you buddy, call me when you have it signed”. Words cannot express the sense of elation that balanced out my sense of panic. He was a senior guy and totally saw that the defined process is only a guideline – and I needed help in seeing that. Now, this is my guiding principle in any situation – sales or otherwise. Do not use “process” as a rigid mandate – use it only as a rough guiding principle. As long as you have the trust of the manager that you are ethical and responsible – you will have the support you need.

What is the most important asset for sales people? That would be the relations they have nurtured with customer contacts. This is also why a lot of Sales Force Automation systems get implemented by companies who want to keep that data. This is also the reason why most sales people do not care to put the information in these systems. It is hard to get the sales people to share those relationships. However, as a sales leader – your very success is dependent on your ability to share your relationships with your team so that they can go make the sale. This is the most counter intuitive thing for most sales leaders in their first leadership appointments.

As the size of the organization increases, there will be a number of over lay sales roles created to make sure there is sufficient attention on all important stuff. Too often – this results in lack of clarity and vast majority of leaders just become “checkers of the double checkers”. Eventually, everyone and no one is responsible for the actual sales or the lack there of. Over lay functions cannot be avoided when a company has a large number of products and vast geographic coverage for markets they serve. I have seen upwards of ten people “managing the spreadsheet” and “checking on status” for same sale in some situations in past life. It is a rough life to be at the receiving end of that mess. And this is only flavors of sales people. On top of that – there will be general managers of products, HR and assorted others who will need to be kept informed too. They cannot be blamed for asking “who is the customer here ? you folks or the company that actually is paying us?”.

Finally, there is the love-hate relationships with channels. Nothing demonstrates misaligned goals more than the goals set for direct sales and channel. Everyone loves channel up the chain – except the people held directly responsible for the quota for the same business. If you put direct sales and channel in conflict via goals and processes – you have no one else to blame for the resulting chaos. It is a hard lesson – with very few right answers. These are strategic goals to be set at the CEO level and lower level goals should be aligned perfectly to that strategy.

Despite all these things stressing them out day in and day out, all my buddies in sales leadership roles still keep their heads up and motivate (ok ok, occasionally even manipulate) their teams to achieve the big targets. I hope they have a less stressful 2014.

 

 

Acid test for leaders – a good night’s sleep!


How do we figure out if we are leading people as opposed to getting in their way ? Reason for the question is – if we can’t figure it out , we can’t change our course and do better .

Yet, being critical of oneself is the hardest thing to do – definitely the case for me,but also for many people I know .

I had a lot of discussion on the tactics of leadership with friends this week and I thought I will jot it down here , mostly for me to fix my own flaws as an aspiring leader .

My way of looking at this is rather tactical – And borderline selfish – I just try everything possible to stack the deck in my favor by doing a few things

1. Leadership thingy is mostly about people – not process . So the trick to being an effective leader is to carefully create the team you can lead well .

2. I need to be sure of one of two things at least – either I should get a clear direction of what is expected of my team AND/OR I should be empowered to figure out what needs to be done and get the minimum resources (people , time, money etc) to get things done . If these conditions are not met , I happily say NO to the assignment .

3. Try everything you can to get out of your team’s way once you set the goal . This is the hardest part for me – one way or other I always seem to get in the way – with good intentions, but with less than optimal results . If I am the smartest guy in the room over and over – it clearly shows I didn’t hire well , and hence I should worry -A LOT.

4. If/when my team has a hierarchy – then one of my big priorities is to make sure the managers get out of their people’s way too at the earliest . It is easy to delegate responsibility – the hard part is to delegate authority .

5. Encourage debate over elegance in meetings . It kills me to sit in meetings where everyone is asked to shut off phones etc and someone speaks with a set of slides and says this is a report out of past, and this is what we are going to do going forward . Such meetings absolutely kill me – and I prefer emails for such discussions . If people meet on phone or in person – they should be willing to challenge and be challenged . If not – don’t go to that meeting . I don’t go to many such meetings – and if I do, I get out the soonest I can.

6. Watch out for the team and build a culture where they watch out for you and each other .This perhaps I should have put higher on the list . If people won’t watch out for each other – it is hard to be a good team . This doesn’t happen in large teams – and hence my preference for small teams working together for short duration and then dispersing to form other teams . In almost all cases – small action is better than grand strategies .

But all things said , I have an acid test for leadership . The comfort I like the most in my life is to get a good night’s sleep . So if I don’t get that – I usually know something is not quite right .

Finally , celebrate success at every possible point . Negativity is easy – takes no effort and it takes a lot to get out of it . Celebrating small successes along the way keeps everyone closely knit – and it helps get a good night’s sleep .

Always Shooting For The Long Term


I ran into an ex-colleague of mine at a restaurant recently, and it was a lot of fun catching up. It was not the best of times for him – after doing the first half of a project successfully on time and on budget, his customer gave the second half of the project to a low cost competitor. He was at the restaurant for a final lunch with his project team, and that is when I ran into him.

His boss was my boss too – and someone who I still treat as my mentor. So I asked about how he was doing. My friend burst out laughing – and told me about the conversation he and the customer CIO had before he left for lunch.

Apparently, his boss met with the CIO after he was told that his firm lost the business. The CIO totally expected him to push hard to reconsider the decision – which is the routine thing to do for vendors who lose consulting business. However, this time – that is not how it transpired. My ex-boss didn’t say anything about the lost business – nothing at all. Instead , he told the CIO – “Remember I told you we should celebrate your go live big time? Right now I am going to reserve the best restaurant in Napa for us to go celebrate the day after your go live next year. Nothing is more important to me than your success” . That was it – no push for business, no bitterness, nada. Even more striking is that this deal being lost put his quarterly targets at serious risk.

Knowing this guy over the years, I wasn’t surprised one bit when i heard this and knew why my friend was in good humor recounting the conversation to me. We were both equally in awe of the guy. That is how he operates – he knows that a genuine relationship is timeless, unlike transactions that he might win or lose today. Given his success rate on big deals is more than 80% of the time as I remember, I believe that is a successful strategy.

It is a lesson he has tried to teach me and everyone else that he mentors – and shame on me, I have not mastered it yet. But this story was enough to help me get back on track and keep the long term in mind, no matter what. I thought I will share this with you folks too in hopes that it might help inspire some of you, like it did for yours truly.

 

Is “Out Of The Box” a Myth ?


I had a brief exchange of tweets with Ram Manohar Tiwari ( @rmtiwari on twitter ) recently on out of the box thinking , and since then a lot of thoughts have been brewing in my mind about this .

Everyone I know in corporate circles is a fan of “out of the box” . I don’t think a day has passed in my working life these past few years without someone mentioning it explicitly . It almost gives me an impression that there is this huge big box , full of regular joes like me – and a handful of smart people who stand outside and try their best to get us on their side .

My view on this matter is that there is no such thing as “out of the box”. People maybe able to get out of “A” box , but they will be in “some box” all the time . And because people are different from each other – most people should be able to tell others to get out of the box . All they can do is get out of their current box, get into a box with more space , and when that box fills up – then jump to yet another box .

Some times you might even have to visit the box you were in earlier – the one that you took pains to get out . If you need an example : think of people moving out of mainframes and now going to a similar model in cloud computing 🙂

I also doubt we are just in one box at a time – my feeling is that we are at the intersection of several ones at any point in time . This makes me claustrophobic just thinking about it . This is also the reason getting out if a box is hard – it is like a relational DB. All the dependencies need to be taken care off before you whack a table 🙂

All things considered , I now think teams will have more success by making use of diversity in its members than making a homogeneous team try hard to get out of the boxes they are in .

I think I have sufficiently bored you by now . If you need to be “un-bored”, try some out of the box thinking ….NOT

Insecure Middle Level Managers – Help Them !


Yesterday, I was most excited to see an email from my friend and mentee Tomas Krojzl . IBM’s CEO and her senior staff chose Tomas as one of the “Best of IBM 2013” Winners. That is a huge deal in IBM – to be one of the few picked out of 430,000+ employees. No one I knew before personally have made it to that list. I, and many others I know, have made it to the “clubs” for selling more than our targets – but that is nothing compared to what Tomas got recognized for.

Way to go, Tomas – you are an inspiration to the rest of us – within and outside IBM !

As much as I like Tomas , I think there are some unsung heroes in this story – his management that put him up and supported his nomination all the way up. This is exactly what leadership is all about. They let Tomas shine bright as just reward for everything he did and continues to do – with no concern that Tomas will get more visibility and credit than they ever will. Hats off to them – I wish I had more managers like that, and I wish I acted that way more times in my own role as a manager.

At every employer I have worked for – I have had good and bad ( and sometimes terrible) managers. I am only 2 months into SAP , and so far everything is great – so I can’t say from first hand experience how it is with managers in SAP. I can certainly say I could have done a lot better as a manager than I have in the past.

Middle managers are a stressed out lot largely. They fall into a few buckets in generally – and some oscillate between these groups.

1. They see a clear career path forward and a rough time line to get to next levels.

2. They are happy where they are, and do not have a lot of growth ambitions for whatever reasons. Most often, they feel secure where they are.

3. They have no clear idea on where to go next or how to get there – although some might think they know, yet can’t stand scrutiny when pushed for an answer.

Those who know they have a path forward – I think they are of two types. One type is very secure – and will lead their team , and everyone will progress together. They will coach effectively , recruit people smarter than them, get rid of people from the team if they think coaching is not helping and so on. And they will never stand in the path of someone else’s progress. Not only that – they will go out of their way to smash obstacles in your way, and teach you how to smash the next obstacle you encounter. And when they need help – they have no shame in asking for it.

One of my mentors at IBM once told me “I can totally foresee me working for you in few years” . This is a guy I had looked up to for several years, and you can imagine my shock. But I could make out that he was proud that it was a real possibility that his mentee would forge ahead, and that he was part of the reason why that could happen. I know another senior executive at SAP who has hired and groomed several top achievers, and she now works for one of her recruits. Yet another friend of mine – whom I met last week at Bangalore – gladly introduced me to his boss, whom he helped recruit. These are all people I greatly admire. And I would love to work for them any day, or have them in my team any day. It is a privilege just to know them.

Then there is the other type – who are insecure. From the outside, they look exactly like the first type – the key difference is that they mostly care only about themselves. They “manage up” significantly better than other employees. In common parlance – they are awesome politicians. They are masters of stealing credit from their team. The best of them manipulate their teams to make them think that they are watching out for the best interests of the team. Sadly, it takes a while to know who they are . I even doubt they realize this is how they operate – I have asked some of these characters, and they seemed to have rationalized their ways somehow.

Getting stuck with an insecure middle manager is painful – and I have been unfortunate to occasionally have insecure bosses. And I constantly worry if I am (or f I will become) one of them.

It is not as if top management is free of insecurity and politics – they clearly are not. The big difference is that by the time they are in top management, most of them have a fair knowledge of what is next for their careers. So my observation is that only a handful are insecure – and they usually stick out like a sore thumb. And once you know who they are, you can work around them somehow in most cases – or you can leave. There is not a lot of guessing needed for employees, management and peers.

Every company I know think they have a talent shortage . In my opinion, before they look outside – they should evaluate their middle management layers. My bet is that there is plenty of talent usually in companies, and the only reason the top management can’t spot them is because a portion of middle management is insecure, and will hide their top performers. I readily admit that not all middle managers do it out of malice – some just have protective instincts , and like to shield their team. They don’t always think through whether the team needs that extra air cover.

Help these middle level managers – chart a course for them and help them navigate. And make sure you get to know more people up and down the org chain, so that you don’t always need a middle level manager to spot talent. And please amply reward the best of them – like the ones who saw Tomas through to his achievement . They are a big reason why good companies become awesome companies. And if you can’t coach them – move away their employees to another manager who is secure and can do them justice as a leader.

Congratulations again, Tomas – very proud of you. And I am looking forward to see a lot more stars being well recognized and not stifled.

Leadership, Management and Gandhi


mahatma-gandhi

Right from my first day at Business School, I have been conditioned to believe that I should not ever aim to be a manager – I should aim to be a leader, an entrepreneur, anything but a manager. What my professors preached to me was reinforced by my bosses at work, and the books I read. And I have faithfully tried to pass along this message to the people who came after me. I have a feeling that most of you – if not all – have a similar story to tell. As I think about it – it is actually hard to draw a clear line between across leadership and management. So take what follows with a pound of salt – not just the proverbial grain.

Any way, in December I resigned from IBM, and took a break before joining SAP. In that break, I watched several movies – one of which was “Gandhi” . When that movie originally came out, I was in primary school I think. And I have watched it at least 50 times. But I have not seen it since I started working. And this time it shook my belief systems quite a bit. Although it was not a planned activity, I also had read a lot about India’s independence movement before I watched the movie. By the time my vacation neared its end, I was firmaly convinced that it is way better to be a leader AND manager, as opposed to just being a leader alone.

When it comes to leadership, Gandhi played in a league that many of us could not even dream about. He influenced and unified a diverse set of millions of people with no formal authority to win India’s independence. And he succeeded and influenced many other leaders – like MLK, Mandela et al. Formidable to say the least. If anything, Gandhi did not take a liking to “management” as we know it, and it did yield exceptional results. India did get rid of British rule, and on friendly terms with Britain.

However, the lack of respect for management did come at a significant price. He definitely had his favorites – like Nehru. Gandhi went out of his way to make sure that Nehru was seen as the foremost leader even when others had better support from the electorate. Subash Chandra Bose walked away from the post of President of Congress – which he won fair and square – because Gandhi wanted Pattabhi Seetaramaiah to be president. Later, Sardar Patel stood down and let Nehru have the Congress President’s job, and the Prime Ministership because Gandhi wanted it that way. This was the whole root cause of Nehru dynasty ruling over India even today.

There was a short term price too – that was significant. Gandhi did not prepare the country for partition and independence. This resulted in widespread loss of life and property. It is not that Gandhi did not know for a while that Jinnah was serious about siding with British for an independent Pakistan. But he let it linger till the last minute. But his inspirational style leadership did not manage to prevent partition. Eventually – it was Gandhi’s leadership ( including his threat to the country that he will fast to death ) and Patel’s managerial abilities that stopped the violence post independence.

Nehru was probably a mix of a manager and a leader – but probably could not find a successful balance between the two. Patel found a better balance than Nehru in my opinion. Patel used his managerial abilities to integrate the various states into one India – except for Jammu and Kashmir, and he could not do that because of Nehru’s inability to decide what is good for the country.

Of course there is a lot more that can be said on leadership vs management in the context of Indian independence movement. I have a few take aways from the movie and the history lessons, to apply to my life in corporate world.

1. Leadership is required to set direction : Gandhi did not start the independence movement. Congress Party was already founded before he even came back to India. But till he came back, there was barely any direction or mass movement to gain independence. Nehru, Patel and others were all already active in the movement and were better managers than leaders. But their impact was felt mostly after Gandhi set the direction.

2. Management is a bigger weapon in crisis prevention : Amply proven by how Sardar Patel integrating the states quickly, and Nehru promoting the 5 year plans. Not everything went smoothly, but things got done – and clearly would not have happened with Gandhi’s type of leadership alone.

3. Disaster recovery needs leadership and management both : as proven clearly by Gandhi’s leadership and Nehru/Patel acting as solid administrators post partition when the country needed both. One or the other clearly would have been less effective.

4. For continuous improvement – leadership is needed to move to next level, and management is needed to keep things running till the new stuff takes hold and becomes the “new normal”.

So in short, if I aim for leadership alone and loathe management – I probably will just be the guy holding a hammer looking for nails everywhere I look. And things will take forever to accomplish. If I aim for management alone – best case, I will at best get to keep things running – maybe with some incremental improvements, but not an awful lot more. So clearly I need to aim for a good balance between leadership and management. But it is a hard balance to strike – so may be the solution is not to strike a balance in me, but rather try to strike a balance across a whole team. I need to think about that .

Well there is one more thing I am taking away – the need to take more vacations and watch more movies and read more movies 🙂