Monday Jun 29, 2009

Blogging, networking and sneezing in Amsterdam

I had the opportunity to chair the Marcus Evans Social Media conference a couple of weeks ago, albeit with a particularly nasty cold that caused me to occasionally lose my voice. The session was located in Amsterdam, convenient because I was visiting my daughter in London for the month of June. This is the fourth time I've chaired or participated in European communication conferences, and I always walk away smarter for the experience.

It's far too easy to end up U.S.-centric when working for a California-based company, even a global one like Sun. Spending three days with new colleagues from other countries helps me to reshape my perspective and learn new ideas.

What I found really interesting at this particular conference was that participants ranged from those involved in very sophisticated social media to those who were contemplating taking their first baby steps. And because participants came from different industries, we could have really meaningful conversations about how networking plays out in one culture versus another.

I admit it - just when I think there's not much more to say on the subject, I find there is.

So the tipping point is rapidly approaching on a global scale, where employees around the world, regardless of what their company is doing in social media, will be using these technologies to connect. Case in point: a company who has blocked Facebook from work has employees actively and enthusiastically engaged in that social networking site - they are simply using their smart phones instead of their company laptops or workstations (and duh, yes, during business hours). In other words, the revolution has happened already, so it's not a matter of if, it's a matter of how companies will adapt to this brave new world.

I started off on Facebook and LinkedIn maybe two or three years ago, just as an experiment. I've been shocked at how much a part of my life these networks have become, for both work and personal connections. And how much of a drag email is by comparison.

So consider this: Instead of buying CDs, I pay for and download music to my laptop and iPod. Instead of buying physical books, I pay for and download e-books to my Kindle. Instead of paying the phone company an outrageous amount of money to stay in touch with my friends and relatives outside of the U.S., I pay for and use Skype (so I can make "free" international calls as well as connect via laptops) to do as much talking as I want.

And I'm not a youngster (much as I hate to admit it). But the value these technologies represent is high enough that it's well worth the learning curve - which fortunately is really pretty darn low.

The icing of the cake for me is being featured on a new blog - Shoe's Talk, written by the witty and quite charming Medard Schoenmaeckers in Basel, Switzerland. (By the way, the URL is, in case my link isn't working - so much for low learning curves!) Medard also spoke at the Amsterdam conference and I was flattered to be interviewed by him for his first podcast. I think we both sound brilliant, don't you??

Tuesday Mar 31, 2009

Saying Goodbye with Dignity

I admit it - my original blog today was a rant:

“It stinks. It never gets easier. The fact it's necessary is small comfort. No comfort, in fact, to those who are losing their jobs today.”

But as I read emails from my departing colleagues, I realized that a rant was not appropriate. Because it didn't do honor to the dignity and classiness of the people we said goodbye to today. To give you a taste of what I mean, here are some sample lines from farewell emails I read today:

“Every day I've been at Sun has been a privilege.”

“It's been an honor to work with such an amazing group of people.”

“There have been a multitude of people at Sun who have touched my life and I wish and pray the best for you all.”

These comments are a reflection of our culture of caring. As is the vibrant online community that is hard at work helping each other find jobs, get support, know they're not alone. You'll find us on LinkedIn, on Facebook. You'll find us blogging. You'll find us emailing. Gone but by no means forgotten. We keep in touch with each other. I'm so impressed by the number of us willing to share that most precious of commodities today – job openings. That speaks to a generosity of the spirit that you just don't find everywhere.

When our founders started Sun almost 30 years ago, I know they envisioned a company of extraordinary people creating extraordinary innovation. And of that they – and we – should be proud. But I'm even prouder of the kind of person that Sun has bred. High in integrity, loyal to each other.

Even as we go through these tough times, we all have many reasons to hold our heads up high. I salute my colleagues and thank them for the lesson in professionalism and generosity they've taught me today.

Wednesday Mar 04, 2009

From Wild and Wacky to Reality

I spent much of this week in meetings about our emerging new intranet, and by the end of it all, I was so excited about where we are and where we're heading that I (almost) didn't mind the two-hour delay at SFO to get home.

Eighteen months ago, we started out on a mission that was pretty cool – if a little out there – to create a corporate intranet that lives on the edge, that is 90 percent customizable by employees, that can link to any widget or gadget out there, and that is device agnostic. In the airport and need to check something on our website? Enter through your iPhone or Blackberry. Need access from a kiosk? No problem. On your home computer? Welcome.

We wanted to not only say goodbye to firewalls but to the entire idea that a company intranet is primarily an information forcing function. Rather, we wanted our new intranet to be employees' home away from home – for work as well as personal interests. We wanted a place where employees could build communities, share expertise, and – yes – have fun online. So we've figured out a way to keep your Twitter tweets in full view, let you hop over to Facebook, Ning, or whatever social networking pavilion you like. A place where you can quickly take care of business, be it an HR transaction or collaboration on a project. A place where you choose what's important to you, instead of us making that decision for you.

The project has been known as SunWeb Next at times, and other times as Project 90/10, because corporate will control only 10 percent of your home page – employees will personalize the other 90 percent. Lately though, we've started calling it “The Mother of All Aggregators Site.” Or “mother,” but only affectionately, of course!

Our new website will really be an extranet, and we see it as a way to go to where employees are, rather than expecting them to come to us. Pilots begin this month, and with many fingers and toes crossed, we hope for broad rollout in early fall. Our team conversations are shifting from architecture and platforms to risk management, governance, template creation, channel and content migration, change management and communication. And to tell you the truth? What still needs to happen feels overwhelming and scary. But what a privilege to birth this particular baby.

This has been a cross-Sun effort, with so much help from so many groups. Include Clear Ink, our talented and fun partner in this adventure. And while there have been tussles over whose technology to use and what are corporate versus local decisions, they have been fought and resolved with a positively inspiring “Sun First” mindset. I started this project as such a technology newbie that I scared myself. While I'm not planning on programming your next project, I have managed to learn a ton about the brave new world of e-communities, and what it takes to make them work. So stay tuned, because I hope to be able to show you more very soon. And it will be the worth the wait. Guaranteed.

Friday Oct 03, 2008

A European Perspective

This week, I had the privilege of being in Austria, chairing the Marcus Evans conference on Employee Communication and Engagement. It was two days packed with presentations, perspectives and ideas. Even better, from my perspective, I was the only North American presenter.

So I had the chance to learn about Corporate Social Responsibility as part of the employee value proposition from a senior advisor at Hydro, a Norwegian metals company. Communicators from a bank in Hungary, a telecommunications company in the Czech Republic, and a financial institute in the U.K. spoke passionately about the importance of brand and the best ways to engage employees around it. Fiona McKerrow of Syngenta International AG shared her company's innovative method of challenging employees to create stories that demonstrated company values.

And yes, I shared the exciting work Sun is doing in the Web Next world, but was blown away listening to the great work happening at BT and ABB, as they push intranets to the next level. I also presented how we fuse change management and communication here at Sun; in return, I learned how OMV does it here in Austria.

Ah yes, we can be a sheltered lot here in the States. What we take for granted is seen as good, bad or sometimes just plain bizarre in other parts of the world. For example, a CEO who casually talks with employees? Not a big deal for us, but pretty unusual in more formal cultures. And it's fine to be a touch provincial – unless you're a global company. Then it's not OK. At all.

By the way, the next time I'm congratulating myself on my presentation skills, I'm going to remember my fellow presenters here in Austria, all of whom presented in English - a second or third language for the majority of them. Ginger Rogers dancing backwards - in heels.... Looking good.

So I thank the good folks at Marcus Evans for inviting me to act as the chairperson of this conference, and also for allowing me to share some of the cool stuff Sun is doing. I walked out of the conference with my head bursting with new ideas, but also feeling so proud of Sun and the work we've done. Sometimes you have to talk to people outside your own neighborhood to realize we have lot that we should feel very good about accomplishing.

Monday Aug 04, 2008

Leadership Connections

If your company runs a complex business, like mine does, helping employees understand why things happen the way they do is a huge challenge.  Why, for example, did Sun pay around $1B for MySQL?  Why do we open source everything we can?  Why are we investing in university relations?  Why aren't we just focusing on our high-end servers and our big customers?  Especially when employees and investors want us to show them the money, and make that today - not tomorrow!

Even friends who love Sun almost as much as I do have said to me, "Terry, while I sort of think Sun is on the right track, your story is so darned hard to explain.  How can you expect investors to get it?"

Well, my job is not to explain our story to investors, but it is to explain it to employees.  More important, it's to get employees to believe in it and know how to align their goals and activities with it.  And to make that happen, the credibility of our leadership is absolutely key to the process. That means we better make darn sure our leaders can talk knowledgeably about Sun's path.

Communications will only take us so far.  Under the guidance of Karie Willyerd in Sun Learning Services, the company has put together Leadership Connections, a week-long learning adventure for directors and vice presidents that is nothing less than astonishing.  For two reasons:
  1. The value of the experience, from learning to networking with other leaders
  2. The commitment of the company, even in these challenging financial times, to mandate that 90 percent of all directors and vice presidents go through this program in one year
When I entered the course last week, however, I did go into the experience kicking and screaming. (One of my favorite trainers once told me that there are three kinds of people attending any given company training course: hostages, victims and true learners. Guess which group is the smallest.)  Despite my entry as a hostage, I came out a true believer - and a learner.  And I'm very excited to share what I learned with my team, so they can experience it as well.

Leadership Connections is an intense business simulation where you and your teammates compete with other teams for market share and long-term customer value.  Working under tight time constraints, you go through three years of business decision-making and results in three days.  Computer modeling predicts the results of where you've chosen to invest and how you're positioning yourself in the market.  We got to see what happens when you change sales coverage, when you focus on small or large IT spenders, when you invest - or don't invest - in your own IP.  We saw hiring decisions have unexpected reverberations, and quality issues crop up to undermine our strategy.  Perhaps most important, we saw how turning one dial impacts the rest of our very interdependent model, making every decision sensitive.

The timing of our session was particularly good, because the training week ended on August 1, when we announced our FY08 results.  Although the earnings call was at 5 am Pacific Time, I listened carefully to our results.  And for the first time, I understood at a much deeper level what was being said - why some investments are important although not paying off today, early indicators of future promise, and short-term struggles for long-term results.

I got it.  At a visceral level, not just an intellectual one. 

We still have a communication challenge, because we can't ask the world to go through a week of training.  But I walked away with practical ideas on how to make our story easier for our employees to understand and to tell.   Not only was this a week well spent, but a vivid reminder that Sun is a company that just plain does things differently - and in this case, differently in a very good way.

Monday Jul 14, 2008

A Not-So Civil Discourse

I'm the youngest of two children, and my role in the family was that of peacemaker. My poor sister fought all the fights, battled for all the rights. And because these were bloody, screaming battles, I was the one who would plead, "Can we please, please just get along?"

Because my parents were yellers - at us, at each other, I grew to really, really dislike screaming arguments. So when I get mad - red sheet of anger dropping over my eyes mad - I tend to go in the opposite direction. Quiet. Icy. But not withdrawn - just trying to use quiet space to figure out my next move.

So in reading the many posts last week to both internal and external venues, I had the same childhood reaction - "Can we please, please just get along?" My sister would shrug and tell me to get over it - families fight, and sometimes it's unpleasant but it's all part of the dynamic.

And I get that. I know how tough last week was. Miserable barely starts to describe it. Walking around MPK10 and seeing people crying in each other's arms. Hearing about yet another friend who lost his or her job. Having to deliver bad news myself. And watching the stock continue to drop. Anyone who doesn't get how bad last week was... Well, that I don't get.

But back to those posts. Talk about venting. Wow. There was a lot of it. And I think some of it reflected the disappointment and frustration many of us feel. How can this be happening to us - AGAIN? But some of the postings were so nasty, so slanderous, so over-the-top, that reading them made me feel worse - and eventually upset. Does my bad reaction to much of what I read relate to my hatred of screaming? Maybe. But I just don't see much good coming out of ethnic slurs, accusations of unethical behavior, and saliva-speckled bursts of venom.

A number of writers complained that they had to vent externally because there's no place to do it internally. Oh, please. Yes, we do. Sun employees can provide anonymous feedback in a variety of internal places, typically in comment areas on articles, playbooks and videocasts. But I really wish we didn't allow it. Because reading last week's anonymous comments reinforced my belief that anonymity is a bad thing, not a good thing.\*

I know this is a minority position, because some people are genuinely afraid to speak up. But I believe owning your opinion is the right thing to do because signing your name to something lends credibility to your opinion. It also introduces dialog and says you're willing to engage in discussion of the issue (rather than just sling mud).

One of the sad ironies I found in the ugly exchange last week was that so many posters complained that Jonathan et al would never respond to these comments. Well, now let's get real. What could Jonathan - or anyone, for that matter - say in response to those attacks? Let's see, maybe he could say, "Oh yeah? Am not!" Constructive dialog requires the right behavior on both sides of the equation.

Let the conversation - not the hurling of insults - begin. Because I, like most of us, believe we have something worth fighting for here at Sun. And that solutions worked together and civilly give us a chance, whereas divisive techniques poison us from within.

\*Of course, if you have a problem with the ethics/behavior of your manager or any part of the company, I support 100 percent your need and right for anonymity. That's why we provide anonymous feedback and complaints to our Business Conduct Office.

Saturday May 10, 2008

Bragging Rights

In the midst of stories dissing my company because of our weak Q3 and subsequent drop - ok, plunge - in stock price, my day was brightened this morning when I opened up my morning paper, the Los Angeles Times. There, on the front page, was this headline: A Second Life for Corporate America

I'm an internal communicator, and my job is typically behind the scenes, not making headlines.  So the fact that our recent Global Employee Connections meeting in Second Life was prominently featured in the story has just made me grin, ear-to-ear.

Here's a quote from the story:

"Sun Microsystems, which makes computer servers and software, owns seven islands in Second Life, two of which are open to the public. The rest are used for training sessions and meetings. During its biggest event, a 12-hour corporate meeting held last month, 14 of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun's top executives hobnobbed with hundreds of employees. Alpine skiing, car racing, live jazz and a sandbox were also part of the event....

....Hundreds of Sun avatars lounged in the audience, some wearing sneakers and jeans, others in business attire, asking questions about new products, Second Life and Sun's competitive position. Thousands of other employees watched the virtual meeting on monitors in Sun's offices in Santa Clara, New York and Tokyo."

How did employees react to our global meeting in Second Life?  I'd say the reaction was pretty split, with some people loving it and other not so crazy about it. But while not everyone loved the experience, you've gotta love good publicity!

OK, I'm going to get this big grin off my face any minute now....

Monday May 05, 2008

So You Wanna Have a Second Life Party....

The party is over.  The streamers have been picked up, the avatars have gone home.  And I think we've answered the question that my chairman, Scott McNealy, raised at his Second Life training - as he made his avatar jump really high and laughed with his trainers - "This is really fun.  But what's its business purpose?"

Two purposes in my mind:  the first was to encourage our folks - including our executives, btw - to try a new technology.  The second was to give employees around the world the opportunity to hear a series of our leaders talk about the company, regardless of location.

Here are some facts:

Average number of attendees in the central arena for presentations: 185
Number of webstream viewings: 1751
Number of new avatars added: over 600
Number of training sessions held: too many to count
Number of presenting executives:  14
Size of presentation hall: largest in Second Life. Built over four islands to allow lots of employees to attend the Town Halls
Number of "skiers" on the SL Alpine Run: don't know...we're still picking up virtual broken skis and poles! Fortunately, avies bounce better than humans so no injuries
Number of dancing fools in Club Java: sooooo many! Alas, we only captured a handful on film:

Dancing at Club Java
Club Java dancers: 6 (and they're still dancing since last week!)

While the cost of Second Life is virtually (no pun intended!) free, the preparation for the event clearly was not.  We invested hundreds of hours of time in getting ready. We had to do the training, help folks develop their avatars, create the virtual arena and playgrounds, work out the technical issues. 

The payoff, though, made it all worthwhile.  As I said to one of our execs after he finished presenting, "You just reached 600 employees in 30 minutes.  Not a bad ROI for your time!"

Terry Getting Ready for Intros
My avatar walking on stage.
JonathanS, ChrisM and DonG
Jonathan, Chris and Don ready to go.

Mike Dillon, our chief legal counsel, commented that in a way it felt like a giant conference call but with visuals.  A fair comment, I think. 
We have a lot to learn about how to best use the technology, which continues to evolve rapidly.  For example, presenters who were already very comfortable with Second Life, such as Rich Green and Jonathan Schwartz, were able to not only present to the crowd but instant message individuals in-between comments.  This moved their presentations from a speech with Q&A at the end to a much more personal encounter.  Interesting....

So there were no train wrecks.  The system did not crash.  People brought their sense of adventure and sense of humor, which helped make the day fun and participative.  We did have issues on people being able to hear the comments, but I think we addressed most of those on the fly.  There was that naked and bald issue, of course, where slow resolution of your avatar caused your body to be seen before your clothing, and hair was disturbingly slow to appear.  Fortunately, in Second Life, you have the body you choose and your most naked self appears to be covered with gray ace bandages, top to bottom.  

Would I do it again?  Oh yes, I would.  Although I'm thinking now about more targeted audiences for a specific executive to go after - a Second Life session held with engineers, for example, where they could talk with our Technical Management Team.

Did you go?  Did you try to go?  Would you want to go?  Let me know so we can do better next time!


Thursday May 01, 2008

The Best and Worst of Times

Springtime, that old hag of good and bad news, has struck again.  Tuesday we had a fantastic day in Second Life, with thousands of employees joining in the virtual fun.  And today, Thursday, we had our earnings announcement, which was the antithesis of a good time.   

The story, in brief, is that the U.S. economic blues have done a number on our top and bottom lines, and after seven quarters of really terrific momentum, we hit a speed bump.  Which means that some jobs will be impacted. 

Now the news was not all bad - we had outstanding performances around the world, great gains in the sales of some products, and a strong push forward in our open technology strategy.  But if you're a communicator and you're trying to tell a balanced story, there's always this fear in the back of your mind that you might come off like  David Brent in the BBC comedy, The Office, and his memorable performance where he tells his team that they've been made redundant but he's been promoted:

"There’s good news and bad news. The bad news is Neil will be taking over both branches and some of you will lose your jobs…
On a more positive note the good news is I’ve been promoted - so every cloud… you’re still thinking about the bad news aren’t you?"

He goes on to express bewilderment at why people are sobbing because after all, isn't a promotion good news?

So what I don't want to do is express bewilderment at why employees are upset at our results because after all, aren't great gains in products sales good news?

Turnarounds are a tough business.  Two steps forward, one step back. One day you're a hero, the  next day a goat.  Our turnaround has been built on tough decisions on where to invest and where to disinvest, on a strategy that in the short-term is controversial but in the long-term is the key to our future.  And like any war, there are losses on the battlefield.  It's too early to say who will be impacted by the cost-cutting, but it's not too soon to say that there will be pain in the process.

I take my hat off to our CEO, Jonathan Schwartz, who chose to tell our employees, via an impromptu video, what happened this quarter, why and how we'll move forward.  If you watch it, you'll see neither defensiveness nor arrogance - just a leader talking quietly and authentically to his extended team of 32,000 employees around the world. And I'm confident that the rest of his team will follow his lead in this kind of open conversation with employees.  No anger.  No blaming.  Quiet acceptance of responsibility and strong resolve to make the changes we need to make to succeed.

It's the kind of communication and maturity that gives me hope and keeps me going.  Because we're in this together - win, lose or draw.

Wednesday Apr 30, 2008

It's a Mad, Mad, Mad Second Life

And it takes a great, great, great team to make it happen! I was blown away by the dedication of all the people who worked to make this day a success - Debra, Christy, Jessica, Fiona, KJ, Wincy, Chris and others worked behind the scenes training newbies on Second Life, creating the beautiful setting and helping style avatars so we looked as fabulous as we could ever hope to be. And reassuring me that we were not about to commit career suicide.

And then there were all the business group communicators on my team, who contacted executives, helped them prepare and convinced them to come to the party (not that much convincing was necessary - my favorite response was from Jonathan, who in response to my email asking if he'd be willing to join the experiment was, "absolutely.")

There's so much to share, photos to post and tales to tell. But I still have earnings to get through this week and so duty calls. I promise to tell all (well, most of all, anyway) next week. Meanwhile, let me entice you back with these words:

Naked happens.

Thursday Mar 27, 2008

Let the Fur Fly!


I've been reading the comments on my recent post,  Rejected! Great Places to Work, with a mixture of anticipation and nervousness.  As a community, we have a lot to say on this subject, and whether you're a huge Sun supporter or just hugely disappointed with the company, great passion lay behind your words.  I don't think you can have that passion unless you really do, at heart, care about this place.  And want to see us do better.

Which is what I love about this company.  There are 33,000 of us with opinions and we're not afraid to voice them.  There's still an element of that theme song from Malcolm in the Middle that runs through the core of Sun: You're Not the Boss of Me.  Gotta love that. (Although I realize that it makes us, uhm, a challenge to manage...)

I've never been interested in working for a sheep ranch or a lemming farm.  I want to work with smart people who care passionately about their work, and who have the courage to stand up for their beliefs.

Making Sun a different and better place is messy, frustrating, hard work.  Opinions clash and new ideas result.  It's not always fun, but it's always interesting.

Did we deserve to win a spot on the U.S. Great Places to Work list this year?  Objectively, no.  Four hundred employees told us why.  So Sun needs to listen - to the good and the bad - fix what can be fixed, and keep moving forward.  But please, let's not become one of those cookie-cutter companies where everyone recites the company line.  Ugh, ugh, ugh.  Let's keep talking - and let the fur fly!  Viva Sun!



Monday Mar 03, 2008

Rejected! Great Places to Work

OK, I'm going to say what is obvious to anyone who picked up the February 4 Fortune magazine - Sun did not make it on the U.S. 100 Best Places to Work list.  And I was soooo disappointed.

Because I think Sun is a great place to work.  Unfortunately, some of our randomly selected survey takers didn't agree with me.

For those of you who are not familiar with the coveted Great Places to Work (GPTW because I'm getting tired of typing) list, let me quickly fill you in.  You get your face on Fortune Magazine's cover and fabulous publicity if you're chosen as the number one place to work in the United States.  That honor has gone to Google for the past two years, curse them.   Not that I'm jealous.  Anyway, you get on the list -which is incredibly prestigious even if you're number 100 (Joke:  What do you call the person who graduates first in class from medical school?  Answer:  Valedictorian.  What do you call the person who graduates last?  Answer: Doctor) by going through a grueling application process.  Two-thirds of your score is based on a survey that goes to a very small subset of your employee base - something like 400 people this past year.  No, we don't get to choose who gets it.  No, it's not statistically significant. Yes, those are the rules you must play by for the playing field to be even.

I'm now going to reveal a big corporate secret.  Reporters, take note!  Are you ready? While our application was fabulous, we were done in by some pretty poor survey results.   It seems that doing a series of reductions in force over the past five years has not contributed to warm, cozy feelings on the part of our survey takers.  Nor have other cutbacks we've been forced to make to stay in business made our participants feel particularly good. And let's face it. Reductions cause not only insecurity for employees but very valid concerns about career opportunities. So I'm not kidding myself about their impact on employee morale.

As Bob Dylan said, "You don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

Our wind is apparently darn cold and from the north, based on that survey. (In fairness, I have to tell you that our broad semi-annual employee attitude survey - while pointing out some distinct areas for improvement - was far more positive than the GPTW survey.  I don't know if that means that employees are drinking happy juice when completing our corporate survey...)

Here's what's ironic to me - of all the companies that I know of who have gone through extremely hard times, companies who have had to fight for their lives, Sun shines brightly in our determination to be as kind to employees going out as employees coming in.  We are, IMHO, a darn nice place to work.  And beyond that, we're a place filled with interesting work and smart people. 

Our turnaround - fought for by every single employee in this company - is showing results.  Analysts have good things to say about us.  Customers have good things to say about us.  Developers have good things to say about us.  Our press coverage has dramatically improved.  We've been public about what we're going to accomplish and we've met those commitments.  We've stopped changing our strategy and focus on a too-frequent basis and are demonstrating "stick-to-itness."

I'm proud of this company and of our leadership, but mostly I'm proud of our 33,000 employees who have done so much to keep us going. 

Building on the momentum of success is easy. Rebounding after six bad years is extremely difficult.  I think maybe it's time for a new award.  The "Tough as Nails Proud to be Relevant" award (TNPR).  Or the "Better than Ever Despite Hard Times" award (BEDHT).  Or the "Got Guts, Got Heart" award (GGGH).  Somewhere there needs to be recognition for those of us who have marched on a tough trail, teetered near disaster and recovered strongly albeit battle-scarred.

I miss so many great people who used to be a part of us.  Who through no fault of their own are no longer here.  So this award is for you, too.

Oh, and one last thought. How many companies would let you - never mind encourage you - to say what's on your mind about sensitive subjects like getting dinged by your employees? As my friend and colleague Betty Verstegen said, "You don't have to get on a list to be a great place to work."

Monday Jan 21, 2008

Information for the People, by the People

It's 1979, and I'm a 27 years old sales rep at Computer Sciences Corporation. CSC has invested six months in training me and 29 others in how to sell solutions, not hardware, a necessary skill for success in their new timesharing division, Infonet.

CSC was seen as the enemy by a fair number of IT managers back in the day. Most IT shops were IBM - lock, stock and barrel. CSC was Univac (remember them?), and not a welcome visitor. On top of that, Infonet was selling interactive computing, meant to displace those big batch jobs that IT specialized in at that time. As a result, there were darn few IT managers who were willing to meet with me. (One memorable cold call I had involved the receptionist passing my business card back to the IT manager to see if he would be willing to spend a couple minutes with me. I watched through the slightly ajar door as he ripped my card in half and tossed it in the trash. Hmmm...I guess the answer was "NO!")

Locked out of talking with IT guys, we determined sales reps moved on to users, and that's where we discovered gold. Executives and managers weren't getting what they needed from IT - and they had discretionary budgets to spend on a solution. I suspect that IT had treated these guys about as nicely as they treated me, and line folks were thrilled to ignore IT and get their own solutions in place. Thanks to Infonet, McDonald-Douglas and others in the timesharing business, dumb terminals , uh, I mean thin clients, started to appear on the desks of finance folks, marketing managers, operation guys. By ignoring the needs of users, IT had lost control of their computing environment. (And I bought my first house with a couple of those fat commission checks.)

Sun signed an agreement to acquire MySQL last week. Now whether you think this is the most brilliant move we could have made or if you think we did Oracle's dirty work for them, when a company ponies up $1B in assets for another, there's something interesting happening. MySQL's appeal is its open source database, which allows users to modify the code to meet their needs. And closed source companies really, really hate that. Are scared of it, in fact.

Why? Well, as I discovered 30 years ago as a freshman sales rep, when you let the customer (or developer, as the case may be) create the solution they want - not the one you're peddling - you can make a lot of money in the long run.

One last thought. Timesharing wsa a wake-up call to traditional IT and batch processing. PCs were the death knell for timesharing (I still remember when one of our reps, a guy fortuitously named Bill Smart, who quit CSC to open a PC store). Will open source be the end of closed systems? Time will tell. But I do know this: standing still is not an option - not if you want a future in technology.

Monday Nov 26, 2007

A Dream Job

Five years ago this weekend, I went to bed on the Sunday night of the long holiday weekend and dreamt a dream that changed my life.

At the time, I was stuck in a job I despised. My employee communications company had been acquired by a large agency and I was locked in handcuffs of my own making. With the acquisition a failure on just about every count, my days were filled with cost cutting, painful reductions in force, and political battles over everything from which accounts we could pursue to what services we should offer. Decade-long friendships were destroyed. Personal relationships with people I deeply cared about were dealt near-fatal blows. No surprise that deep depression had become a daily struggle for me. Yet I didn't want to leave, because I felt I would be abandoning my team - and because I didn't want to leave a failure.

So I went to work, every day more miserable than the last. And believe me, I'm no poker player. When I'm up, I can't hide it. When I'm down, there's no disguising it. I struggled to lead from a position of strength, but depression was hurting my performance.

There was one bright spot for me. Thanks to the generous recommendations and support of Marian Davis, a VP of human resources with whom I had worked before at Sun, we were back consulting there, helping out with employee communications as Sun was going through its own battles for survival. I had been asked to come in as the acting director of that communication team, as Sun searched for the right person to take the job. Every time I walked into Sun, my heart soared. Every time I met with my fledging team, I felt good. Despite (or perhaps because of) the intensity of the challenge at Sun, I loved the company, I loved the work, and I loved the people.

Yes, Sun had asked me if I would be interested in the job on a full-time basis, but I was still struggling with my other obligations and I just wasn't ready to pull the plug. Until that holiday weekend, five short years ago. That Sunday night, I went to bed filled with dread at going back to work the next day. I crawled into bed, put the pillow over my head and fell into a deep sleep.

I dreamt that I was sitting in my office at the agency, and that one of the partners was across from me, talking to me about more reductions that needed to be made. As I leaned back in my chair listening to her, I realized that my office walls were moldy, and the paint was peeling. I looked up at the ceiling, and saw brown stained tiles, falling to the floor. When I looked at the floor, I saw it was covered with garbage, and slime, and filth. I put my hands on desk and quckly pulled them away, repelled by the spongy wetness of the rotting wood. Suddenly I knew what I was going to do. I rose from my chair, briskly walked from my office, and ran into the one partner who had been both a friend and confidant to me during my four years with that firm. "I need to talk to you, right now," I said. "I've been offered this job at Sun and I think I need to take it." "Of course you do, Terry," he replied. "It will be good for you, and good for Sun. It's time for you to be happy again."

I awoke with a start. I sat up in bed, shook my husband awake and told him, "I've decided to quit my job and go to work for Sun." He mumbled something to the effect of, "What took you so long...?" before falling back to sleep. I, on the other hand, got up and went downstairs to enjoy the sense of peace that comes with a good decision made after much turmoil.

That was five years ago. The dream is as vivid to me today as the day I dreamed it. And its message as true - we each deserve happiness. We each deserve to be appreciated for what we do well. We each deserve to work for a company in which we believe and with a group of people with whom we are proud to be associated. And because my subconscious chose a dream to give me the kick in the pants I needed to make a change, I have all those opportunities and more. I wish no less for you and yours.

Monday Nov 19, 2007

Sun Who??

It's the usual packed commuter flight from SFO to Burbank airport, and speaking of Thanksgiving, we're crammed in there like stuffing in a scrawny turkey. But I've lucked out, and am sitting next to a young man who is sleepy and therefore willing to let me read his newspaper during the short flight.

So in the course of exchanging pleasantries, I learn that he works for Yahoo (an art director) and he learns I work for... Sun.

"Sun...", he says to me. "What do you guys do? Never heard of you."

It was enough to make a grown woman cry. He works for Yahoo and has never heard of us?? Talk about being slapped in the face with our branding issue. I quickly explained who we are, what we stand for and what we do, but from the blank look on his face, it's clear I failed my "compelling elevator speech" test.

OK, fine. I wasn't done yet. I asked my poor, trapped seatmate (he had the middle seat and I was on the aisle, making sure he couldn't make a break for it) if he had ever heard of Java. His face lit up. "Oh sure, we use Java all the time." Whew. Score one for Sun. Encouraged, I asked him if he knew about Solaris. Blank look. So I pulled out my ace card - what about Jonathan Schwartz? "That name is really familiar," he said. I gently prompted him: "Blogging?" I was rewarded by a blaze of recognition. I pulled out the business section from his paper and pointed out the coverage on our recent deal with Dell.

Mission accomplished. But if we have to build brand awareness person by person, it's a going to be a very long effort. How do we reach the next generation of developers and users and customers? We think we have our mojo back - now we need the world to agree.

We've come a long way, baby, as the old Virginia Slim ads used to say. But we're not done yet. I'm thinking the time for cool Sun t-shirts might be back - ones that declare our return to the marketplace in terms that get conversations started with ordinary people. Consider: "Rock on, baby!" or "Niagara - it's not just for honeymooners anymore." Or, "Cool Threads? We'll give you Cool Threads!"

OK, OK. It's clear to all why I'm in internal communication and not marketing. So find your own words and go get our story out! And with that, I wish our U.S. friends and colleagues a wonderful Thanksgiving, and much to be thankful for...




« July 2016