Thursday, July 16, 2015

Some Thoughts On Leading Change- A Talk Addressed To Emerging Leaders

I was recently asked to give a kick-off talk around the theme of “Leading change and Innovation” to a great team of Emerging leaders in my organization. Having been involved in delivering these talks in conferences before, one of things that I was always looking to improve was to share the transcript of my speeches and presentation either in video or text form in my blog. This time I am trying to share the stuff more or less in the same flow as I spoke. I took sometime write it post the talk- that's when the thoughts are ripe in the mind. Though it looks like a bit longer (for a 20 min talk), I would appreciate your comments. Here we go-

Starting thoughts:
Standing in front of the talented set of people like all of you, one of the first thoughts that run into my mind is that almost all of us (including myself) remain emerging leaders throughout our careers- probably at different stages of emergence. I would like to count myself as an emerging leader too.  My belief is that when we think that we have become accomplished leaders, we stop growing. I love sports- play a few of them and follow a lot of them. I can quote example from the world of Cricket.
When the Australian team was winning almost everything in the Cricket field from mid-90s through most of 2000s, their captain during the initial stages of its transformation Steve Waugh shared a secret of their success. I remember him once saying that internally the Australian team used to consider themselves as world no. 2 (though they were undisputed #1). This feel of them not being #1, even though artificial one but deeply internalized one, helped them get better even when they won. If they won by 10 runs, they did make sure to celebrate but more than that set themselves the goal to do win by a bigger margin in the next match. So this team remained emerging and constantly strived towards reaching great heights.

There is another opposing example, again from the world of sport, which proves what happens if we believe that we have reached a level of accomplishment and expertise and we are devoid of any challenge. There was an England bowler named Monty Panesar, who was bowling in one of the Ashes tests. Commentating in the match and seeing Monty bowl, Australian legend Shane Warne said 
“Is Monty bowling in his 33rd test or the 1st test for the 33rd time?”

Monty probably stopped growing and probably he started to think of himself as having been an accomplished bowler after getting a break into England playing 11 and didn't improve as much as the situation demanded.

I fully embrace this thinking I shared so here's an emerging leader talking to a group of emerging leaders.

A little about myself:
Further to kind introduction HR gave, one thing I want to tell about myself is that inside office, I try to lean myself towards achieving expertise in the area of my choice- and outside of office, on a lighter note- I try to become the best "Jack-of-all trades". I do try to indulge myself in newer areas/hobbies as I believe this helps you learn a lot about life at a broader level and a lot more about self at a narrow level. Among the things that I have indulged myself in and that has surprisingly stayed with me consistently over the years is the hobby of Technology journalism. I do write on technology areas frequently and this indulgence, more than anything has made me a student of various events that happen in our industry. And my intention is to decipher the events, finding meanings and relevant learnings that could be applied at the workplace.
Ben Horowitz in his book "The Hard things about Hard things" describe the legendary Netscape
founder- Marc Andreessen as someone who is not only a genius in technology but also a master of history of computer science profession. This sense of history, Ben says, is quite important to have as such knowledge often helps give perspective on handling current problems, as much as it does to help to pave way for the future.

I have been a student of learning about leading change. As much as I have thought in the past that I have mastered learning about the change, I have always fallen short as newer situations keep emerging. Having observed our industry quite closely for a considerable time, I can safely vouch that we live in a very dynamic industry in which no two days are the same. In this little talk, I would like my focus to be narrow.  And I would just try and focus on some things that I have learned in my journey around managing change and in doing so, I will try and lean a lot on the learnings that I have had in the field of technology journalism as well as my personal experience.

Key points that I shared about leading change...

Point#1. Anticipating change and adapting to it is a skill…
…and if we don't treat it as a skill we leave a gap open to become victims of change. And one of the things that I often tell myself and my team is that we should not let ourselves be labeled as victims. Being a victim (and sometimes pretending to be one) is not one of the nicest and positive feelings at all. Our attitude should make us accountable to ourselves and own-up things.

One the key events that we saw happen in our industry was the stepping down of John Chambers as Cisco CEO. I call it as a key event because he was at the helm of Cisco for considerable period, around 2 decades. We live in the times when companies find it hard to even survive for even 1/4th that tenure he spent as CEO. In our career times, we have seen some legendary companies like Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Digital Equipment etc. either merge with bigger companies or bite the dust altogether. What makes some companies and CEO tick? Recently, Chambers wrote a piece in Harvard Business Review on his/Cisco’s longevity and associated the same with his ability to stay ahead of technology shifts. Did Chambers view the technology shifts and changes as a “threat”? He says-

“When you’re a large company with significant market share, it’s tempting to view market disruptions as a threat, but we view them as an opportunity. When a market isn’t in transition, gaining market share is hard—you’re fighting to take one or two points of share from competitors. That’s why we’re transforming our entire business, expanding to capture growth, and thinking very differently about the future of information technology.”

While describing how Chambers saw leading change as a skill, he considers listening to the customers are one of the key ways to gain insights about the trends. He further says-

"The best indication of when to make the jump frequently comes from our customers. That’s been true in nearly every market transition. Many years ago, before the market moved from routing to switching, I visited Ford Motor Company, a key customer. Executives there told me they were exploring a new networking technology called Fast Ethernet. I’d never heard of it before. A week later I called on some Boeing managers, and I asked them about Fast Ethernet. “Yeah, we think that might be the way to go,” they said. They told me about a company called Crescendo Communications that was making advances in that area. We ended up buying Crescendo to help us make this transition. 

To generalize the view which Chambers presented, in my thinking, as a leaders we should keep our eyes and ears open and build systems that can help us sniff change and formulate the ways to connect the dots and make sense of what trends and happenings in our industry means to us, to our products, to our teams and to our careers.

If we don't look too far ahead, i feel Citrix as an organization is a great example of how the technology and market changes are anticipated and our response are planned. Citrix started in 1989 and has successfully weathered the storm created by many technology changes that has happened from the pre-Internet days of 1989 and today's times when we are doing all the work that we need to do on miniature devices.

Referring the text from Citrix’s journey-
Citrix's transition: From our humble beginnings as a small start-up, we’ve always envisioned a different and simpler way of computing. Our goal was to centralize applications, virtualize them, and optimize their delivery over any connection available. This core thinking continues to be the essence of our vision for application delivery, and how we imagine a world where people can work or play from anywhere. 

Point#2: As much as we try, it's not possible to anticipate change every time

The second point that I present here is in a way contradicting with the point I just presented and it is that- As much as we try and want, it's not possible to anticipate and predict the change every time accurately. And when we cannot predict it, we should do the next best thing- respond to the situation like the best in the world.

Prior to joining Citrix, I was working at McAfee- which is a well-known company dealing with security software products. When I was there more than a decade back, its product and selling proposition used to be an anti-virus (AV) software. AV software, by definition, works on the premise of preventing the known threats. It creates a layer of security that prevents all the known threats from happening. Over the last decade, the security landscape has changed drastically as much as that it is no longer possible to predict all the threats from happening. The best thing that could be sometimes is the faster detection of vulnerabilities and swifter response to minimize the damage when the security is found to be compromised. Another security product vendor, FireEye- recently acquired a company called Mandiant which essentially deals with faster response after the security has been breached.

Taking a cue from this experience of mine and use this as analogy, it is not always possible to anticipate change as we don't live in predictable world anymore. In those situations, it's better for us to gear us up for a faster response. Sharing some more examples-

The companies that survived the aftermath of 9/11 attacks weren't experts in dealing with such situations. But they were the companies that were most responsive to change, they were the ones who were willing to work on the ground, they were the ones who changed their plans by every hour and do all that was need to get back on feet despite numerous odds. Southwest airlines was one example which survived post 9/11 situation when most airlines just couldn't cope up with the gravity of the situation.

In the similar way, even the great economists couldn't predict the banking disaster of 2008 that lead to wide-spread recession. The companies that were most responsive to the change came our victorious during this time. I remember having been a part of Citrix in 2009 and one of the decisions we made then was to make our core platform product- XenServer free. Whether this move was successful or not is a debate for a different time, but the fact is that we didn't shy away from making a bold move. The intent here was to help our customers who were cash-strapped to try any new technology and pay for it, thereby helping us build a good footprint of the platform, which would have later helped us sell the management applications on top of it.

I would like to quite another case study that I adapted from the book- Nimble: How Intelligences Can
Create Agile Companies and Wise Leaders. It goes as below-

In 2000, Philips N.V faced an "Act of God" disaster. The semiconductor chip manufacturing facility of Philips caught fire after a lightning strike created electrical surges across the state of New Mexico. They had automated sprinklers and a trained staff, as a result of which, the fire was put off in 10 minutes. At the first glance, the damaged seemed minimal. Semi-conductor industry has a concept called as "Clean Room" where silicon wafers are produced. Due to the requirements, this room is kept a thousand times cleaner than operating theaters in hospitals. Philips estimated around a week's delay in production as the water from sprinkler and the smoke itself had done some damage to Clean room. 
Philips semiconductors had 2 major competitors as its customers at that time (who sourced the chips from Philips)- let’s say it- Company A and Company B for the time being. Company B, upon receiving the news about the fire and shipment delay; quickly checked its inventory. It determined that it had enough chips in stock to tide over the week's delay. Thus, they waited for the Philip's factory to be restored.
Company A, on the other hand, went into classic firefighting mode. It took some steps-
1. Setup a team to monitor the progress of the repairs to the factory. It figured out that the problem was bigger than was originally thoughts.
2. As a result of this knowledge, they went fast and contacted other supplier who could help them fill the void. 
3. CEOs got engaged and Philips got into action to rearrange production in its factories in Asia.
4. It redesigned portions of the critical chip so that the chop could be manufactured in other plans.

By the time Company B woke up to this situation, it was too late and Company A took the lead. Company B, not surprisingly, incurred amounting to more than 100s of millions. Company B was Ericsson. Company A was Nokia.
Nokia rode on such thinking and agility to win more than 50% of market by 2007.

What happened after 2007 to Nokia is also widely known and written about. Though operationally, it had the best brains to take them past the fire-like situations with suppliers but strategically, it probably lacked the anticipation machinery that could help them assess the impact of disruption iPhone and Android were about to cause. 
Another aspect in this case is that Nokia failed to part ways with Symbian OS when Android seem to be becoming a de-facto standard.

The author of same book- Nimble: How Intelligences Can Create Agile Companies and Wise Leaders further argues that instead of engaging in the futile exercise of predicting inflections, companies and individuals should develop capabilities that will allow them to deal with the inflections as and when they occur.

 Point#3. During the early days of change, focus more on people who accept change fast than the ones who don’t

I have been quite inspired with former HCL CEO Vineet Nayar's bookEmployees first Customers
second and the management philosophy that he shares. He brought about a massive change in HCL while keeping key focus on what he calls as true value zone for any knowledge based company True value he says, is not generated by the top management or middle management but it is the people who are closest to the product and the customers. In a way, the change he brought, turned the traditional management paradigms upside down.

As Vineet says, a change initiative can’t be termed as successful if affected people are not onboard. It is generally not possible to have everyone onboard right from the day the change was introduced. When he first began to drive the changes in his organization, Vineer Nayar understood that not all people would come on board immediately and in fact there are three different groups of people depending largely on the way they embrace change-

Transformers: Transformers are the people who were just waiting for someone to initiate the change and they join the bandwagon almost immediately. They are the ones who are usually aware of shortcomings in the current environment but probably were not the influential enough to drive the change themselves earlier on. They are the people who not only embrace change but also are ready with suggestions, ideas and raise their hand to implement some to completion.

Lost Souls: They are the people who would never support any kind of change. They always have this negativity surrounding them and they somehow are never able to lift themselves from their hopeless state. They somehow believe that every new initiative is an eye wash from the management or the organization. Whenever the new idea is suggested they would simply go ahead and dismiss that not only in their minds but also knowingly and unknowingly try to spread their negativity by airing their views.

Fence sitters: These are the third bunch of people, who generally are reluctant to share their views, rarely would ask the questions and would rather play a wait and watch game. They may not openly criticize the change but won’t either embrace it with wholeheartedness. When asked their opinions, they are likely to say nice things rather than be upfront honest. They would closely watch "Transformers" and the "Lost Souls" and may even change their opinions in short time. In any change initiatives, such people are usually in the majority. They get easily influenced in either direction.

During my early years as a leader, while driving any change initiative I used to focus too much on getting a buy-in from the Lost Souls as a measure for success. As I learned from Vineet's experience here, I figured out the leader should focus more on Transformers at the start of change initiative and empower these set of people to show positive examples of adopting the change to the Fence sitters and Lost Souls and use Transformer's energy to help get buy-in from Fence sitters first.

In my experience, in any hierarchical organization, any mid-level leader plays the role of a leader to his/her team and at the same time- plays a role of a follower to his or her boss. Thus, we get to play the role of initiator and a leader of the change in some cases and in some, it is aptly following the change and ensuring the alignment of the teams. Both these situations requires different skills to get the buy-in from the team and from the management upwards and leaders should be willing to think of these differently. 

 Bonus point: Have a beginner's mindset
Years ago, the original product of Intel was D-RAM which is basically memory for computers and they had just started to invent the micro-processor. They had a real business problem, the Japanese were killing them in the D-RAM market, just destroying their market share.
So Andy Grove and Robert Noyce were at the office late one night and they were talking to each other.
·       Andy says to Robert: Wow we got a problem!
·       Robert says we sure do.
·       Andy asks- If Board says we would get the new guys to solve this problem, what would the new guys do.
·       Robert says Oh that’s easy, they will get us out of the D-RAM business.
So Andy Grove says, Yes why don't we do that before these other guys get in.

To me, Andy’s question about “what would new guys do” is quite profound because it reflects that Andy was more willing to be a beginner again. And to me that is what is needed the most when we drive the change efforts.
Most of the organizations fail to cannibalize the stuff at the right time.
As John Chambers also said-
"For Cisco, each transition required a decision about when to jump from selling a profitable product to a new technology—often one that would cannibalize our existing product line. These jumps were critical, though, if we wanted to stay ahead of the curve."

Even when we attempt to reinvent our careers, most of the people tend to focus a lot of learning new stuff but in reality the harder thing in any reinvention efforts is to unlearn what we already know that will not be needed in the future. As a leaders, we should help our teams unlearn stuff that’s hampering the growth to drive the positive change.
The Book “One Thing” narrates this story about Steve Jobs that reflects further on adopting beginner’s mindset.

"No one knew how to go small better than Steve Jobs. He was famously as proud of the products he didn't pursue as he was of the transformative products Apple created. In the two years after his return in 1999, he took the company from 350 products to ten. That's 340 nos, not counting anything else during that period. At the 1997 MacWorld Developers Conference, he explained, "When you think about focusing, you think, 'Well, focusing is saying "yes", No! Focusing is about saying no. Jobs was after extraordinary results and he knew there was only one way to get there. Jobs was a "no" man."
As a key learning, we should be ready to cannibalize something that's working for the sake of something better that you foresee coming.

Closing thoughts:
I will close the talk with the words of our CEO, Mark Templeton that he shared after one of our difficult change initiatives-

“Truth is people don't like change. And the older you get, the less you like it.
Change has to start here (pointing towards mind). You have to move mind before you move your bodies. Change is an intellectual process that you have to work to see it for what it is. It’s about staying relevant and not becoming a dinosaur.”

Thank you.

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