Tuesday Jul 31, 2007

Tough Love



We held our leadership conference last week - something like 185 vice presidents from around the world came together to kick off our new fiscal year and get aligned behind our FY08 priorities.  We did something a little different this year - we asked customers, a former Sun employee, a placement counselor for a major university, a frustrated would-be customer, and even a Silicon Valley legend, to come in and tell us their view of... us.

When you ask for honest feedback. you get it.  Sometimes that's more fun than others.

Just a few years ago, we wouldn't have asked for this perspective at a broad forum such as our leadership conference.  Our wounds were a little too raw, our pride too badly damaged.  And frankly?  We were pretty busy focusing on staying afloat. But last week, we came together after a year where we made remarkable progress in turning our company around.  You saw the earnings, I hope - it was a report card that just about anyone would be proud to take home.  

In light of that, I like to think of this leadership conference as an inoculation against complacency.  Yes, we did a lot of great things last year.  But we didn't grow enough, and unless we want to spend the rest of our careers cutting costs to maintain profitability, that's something we need to get right in the months ahead.

Our guests did us a great favor by coming in and being truth tellers.  Yes, we heard a lot of nice things about what we're doing right. But more important for our future - and our ability to grow - was hearing what we were doing wrong.  Here's a short checklist:

  • Solaris is fantastic but hard to install and hard for new admins to use.  Can't we make it more like Linux?  (Answer:  Yes. In fact,   Project Indiana is already well underway.)
  • Our online store is a pain to use.  Amazon got this right - why can't we?  (Answer:  We need to, and honest - we're working on it.  We think you'll see improvements soon.)
  • Pricing and order management consume way too much time for our customers.  We need to do something about this. (Answer:  Harder to fix.  We're doing a major installation of ERP which is targeted at fixing exactly those problems.  But if you've ever done one of these installations, you know that easy it's not.)

So as we congratulate ourselves on a fantastic FY07 (did I mention how good our year was??), we go into our next fiscal year with our eyes wide open.  As Mike Lehman will tell you, we're on a journey.  And like any journey, there are high points and low points involved.  Knowing where some of the land mines are is as important as not drinking our own Kool-aid.  Let's move forward with courage, with persistence, and with the words of our guest speakers top of mind.  By doing so, FY08 just might be even better than FY07, and wouldn't that be something to write home about...

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terrymckenzie

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