By Tom Fedro
I’ve been fortunate to experience a great many exciting business environments, and it’s been very interesting to watch how approaches to business have changed and then changed back and then changed again. I’ve seen buzzwords praised and condemned and been through all of the big and sweeping business philosophies. I’ve seen six sigma, management by objective, one minute management, team management and more. It can get crazy, but I’ve come to the conclusion that we’re really looking at one thing and one thing alone, people.
Think about that for a minute and then consider the departments in your organization. When you think “sales” you’re probably putting a face or a name to the thought. When you think “IT” you’re doing the same. No matter how much we try to program things in a way that lets us avoid it, the reality is that people do the work of your company and people make the difference between success and failure. So naturally, we all try to figure out how we can motivate people to do their jobs in a way that builds our success, right?
Here’s the problem. Motivation is a myth. More accurately, “motivating,” is a myth. I remember one of the most significant things I learned when studying Dr. W. Edwards Deming. (He’s often considered the father of Total Quality Management.) He made a comment in answer to a question and said, “Everyone is already doing his best.” He went on to explain that best efforts, to have any value, need direction. How often do we spend our time trying to get our employees to be excited about their work instead of making sure they have all of the information and tools necessary to get it done? Really, if your employees need constant urging to do the work, should you reconsider how you hire them?
I believe everyone wants to take pride in his or her work. I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and thinks How can I get away with drawing a paycheck while accomplishing nothing. Maybe I’m wrong, but I know I’d never hire anyone with that attitude and wouldn’t keep anyone with that attitude on staff. Here’s the scary thing though… do I encourage those kinds of thoughts by making assumptions my employees won’t do their job if I’m not right there offering a constant stream of extrinsic incentives? Am I frustrating the desire to succeed right out of my staff when I cheer them on, exhort them to put in that extra effort, and beg them for superhuman dedication? If I’m more focused on their willingness to perform than I am on their ability to perform, I think that’s the result.
I’m not saying there isn’t a time and place for a pat on the back and encouragement. I am saying that it’s time we had enough faith in our employees to believe they actually WANT to succeed and to make sure they have the tools necessary to do so. What good is getting them excited when they don’t have what it takes to deliver, right?
By Tom Fedro
Have you ever watched a television show or a movie from your youth and just sat astounded at the way everything in the show doesn’t mesh with today’s world? I’m not just talking about the emotional or political aspects of it. Sure, when Ricky Ricardo gives Lucy a spanking, our eyes get wide and we shake our head about how different our world is now; but I mean the way technology has become such an integrated part of our life that things just seem off when it’s not part of the equation. There’s something about watching a police officer put a quarter in a pay phone or a detective open up a phone book that seems strange. I catch myself wondering why Starsky doesn’t just call Hutch on his cell phone!
Nobody in the 1980s could have predicted the way things have progressed. Sure, Alvin Toffler was pretty close when he wrote The Third Wave and announced the end of the industrial age and the beginning of the information age, but even Toffler’s genius didn’t anticipate the completely wired-in (or wireless for that matter) access to…well, to just about everything. In fact, while the beginnings of the information age focused on technology—Can we do it?—the new focus is on service based delivery of functionality and information. Content is king in ways never imagined before, and this means that opportunities have really shifted from pretty buttons to secure methods of storing, transferring, and accessing data.
With every major company trying to get in on the Cloud in one way or another, predictions explode from tech pundits like one of Lucy’s cooking experiments gone wrong. How many of these predictions will go the way of the flying car or the teleportation device? There’s no way to tell, really, because so much of what we get in the world of technology is driven by market forces that are fickle. One thing I believe is certain, though, is that we have to interpret technology based on trends we anticipate for the future. Twenty-five years ago, we couldn’t have anticipated (absent sheer genius) the social media explosion, the complete mobile revolution, or the trend toward instant access, but the one thing that we could have and should have anticipated is the reliance on data and its complete takeover of our daily lives.
Someday, our kids will watch television shows and movies from our time and wonder why the hero doesn’t hop in his flying car or simply order up a logical answer to the dilemma or something else that seems impossible now. Who knows what technology will be standard in thirty years. I’m willing to bet, though, that at its core it will deal with information and access to it.
By Tom Fedro
Today’s executives face issues yesterday’s didn’t. This isn’t to say today’s businesses are completely different than those of the past. I’m a firm believer that business fundamentals are the exact same today as they were two hundred years ago. Everything still comes down to creating a product and selling it for more than it costs to make it. Now, though, the product is often virtual or intellectual in nature, and the ability of a company to sell it is influenced by a great deal more than the quality of the product, not the least of which is the rapid change in technology and game-changing alterations of needs, expectations, and therefore buying habits of the customer.
Take tires, for example. We’ve only had pneumatic tires for about a century, and they’ve been prevalent for less time than that. Thousands of wheel manufacturers had to adjust simply because a man wanted a bicycle tire for his son in the 1880s that would handle rough roads. Some of those tire companies were able to adjust to the sudden change in the marketplace, and some couldn’t. Other examples are even more profound. Carburetors gave way to fuel injection, for example. In some cases, entire industries were built out of needs previously unknown or unexplored. Cell phones make landlines almost irrelevant from a residential standpoint. Digital delivery of music has devastated manufacturers of machines designed to play non-digital media. The list goes on.
So how does an executive charged with the vision and direction of a company stay on top of what might happen tomorrow? After all, just getting where we need to be with our current set of tasks can be overwhelming, right? I believe the answer lies in the perception of the business itself. If you believe, for example, that you’re in the backup and recovery business, you might have a problem. Turn it around and say your company exists to keep information secure. Think you’re in the burger business? I think you’re offering customers food quickly and conveniently. Maybe there wouldn’t have been such a lapse in healthy choices at the big fast food companies if they’d thought that way.
The point of all this is that we need to be committed to what our products do for our customers, not what our products do from a technical standpoint. It does us no good to make great carburetors, no matter how much quality control we put in place. We can make the best steel rings ever produced to line our wheels, but it doesn’t do us any good. The key (and the hard part) is realizing when our product, no matter how stable and well thought out, has become our goal instead of our means to the goal.
By Tom Fedro
The cloud as a computing concept is relatively new, though it had its roots in central database management that’s been around before the personal computer. Still, outsourcing not only data storage but also applications and customer management technology is a new concept that’s rushing forward with the kind of intense inevitability that has a great many technology pundits excited (and sometimes I think we get excited just to get new buzzwords and new acronyms) and more than a few businesses confused.
Vendor relationships require work, and vendor relationships that are technology based require even more work. While individual projects (when done right) will include a thorough needs assessment and a path toward meeting those needs within budgetary guidelines, when a relationship will be ongoing and mutually reliant, several issues present themselves. A cloud company such as a customer and relationship management hosted application or even hosted email like Google Apps is in the business of developing software, not handholding. A company that offers financial services isn’t looking to learn the ins and outs of a piece of software but instead to gain from its functionality.
We can think of cloud software a bit like we might a car. Sure, we need to learn to drive it and sure, we ought to know how to fill it with gas, check the oil, and keep the tire pressure up. Except for enthusiasts, though, none of us want to be to the mechanics. Businesses are a lot like us. They want to use the software and are ready and willing to perform basic minor maintenance, but they don’t want to waste company time and resources dedicating heavy intellectual resources into the process. So, while value added resellers can certainly tout the advantages of cloud products, they have to do so with a basic understanding in mind, that the technology is no more the business of the consumer than a car is an end in and of itself for most people.
All of these factors lead me to agree with a number of experts in the field who believe VARs will soon become CSBs, Cloud Service Brokerages—integrating cloud computing services together to fit the needs of a particular business and helping that business get what they want, to move from point A to point B, just the thing I want to get from my truck.