Tuesday, July 19, 2016

My Internal Talk to Emerging Leaders on the Topic of Leading Change

I am just sharing an internal talk that I gave to emerging leaders in my organization on the topic of Leading Change and fostering Innovation.
Just sharing the contents of my speech as below-

An Emerging Leader speaking to Talented Emerging Leaders: 
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 are emerging leaders for most part of 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. 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.

Leander Paes won the Bronze medal for India in 1996 Olympics. The aspect that was unique about this achievement was that this was the first time in 44 unbelievable years that India won an individual Olympic medal. In this barren phase for India, athletes seemed to have lost self-belief.  There are a lot of stories that confirm that only participating in Olympics was a pinnacle of achievement as if winning a medal was a deal only for aliens.  After Paes won, it raised the self-belief of athletes and we have won in all the Olympics since then.

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

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.

I have been an apprentice about the subject of 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 and unknown 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 3 core points-

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 is not one of the nicest and positive feelings at all. Our attitude should make us accountable to ourselves and own-up things.

A couple of years back, Facebook brought WhatApp for a whopping $21 billion dollars. There was a lot of analysis done on why Facebook would have spent so much for just an App. I mean one could buy multiple steel companies for that sum. Now, with the benefit of hindsight, it is easier to tell Facebook anticipated the disruption caused by Messaging apps much earlier before they even became a threat. They realized that amount of time average users were spending on WhatsApp was the time they were b spending on Facebook. Even though they haven’t possibly earned a dollar from WhatsApp in all these years, this acquisition helped them prevent cannibalization and stay relevant. Bottom line- they had mechanisms to anticipate these changes before they caused disruption.

John Chambers was a former CEO of Cisco who, after almost 2 eventful decades at top, finally hung his boots last year. In our career times, we have seen some legendary companies like Sun Microsystems, Compaq, Digital Equipment, McAfee, EMC etc. either merge with bigger companies or bite the dust altogether. What makes some companies and CEO like Chambers tick? 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 and Zuckerberg’s actions 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 just look at our work home, 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. Not many companies, which started as long back as Citrix did, are still around and thriving as we are. We should be proud of this.

So summarizing my first point-
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.

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.

In 2000, 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.
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 book- Employees first Customers second and the management philosophy that he shares. During his tenure as a CEO, 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.

Images sources:

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Did Microsoft Acquire Wand Labs for Talent or Technology?

While the whole world was talking about Microsoft’s famed acquisition of Linkedin, it quietly acquired yet another company- rather small in size called as Wand Labs.
In order to understand the specifics behind this acquisition, we would need to reverse jog our memory a few months back to Microsoft Build Conference. In this conference, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella laid out the vision of something called as “Conversation-as-a-Platform”.

Last year, I did write a bit about how future of IT will more depend upon how invisible it will be for the users. The crux here being that eventually technology will become so seamless that it will weave with our very fabric of existence, so much aligned with our lives that we wouldn’t even know it existed. When we reach that stage of maturity of technology, the current means of interacting with technology i.e. through keyboard or mouse or stylus or any other physical means with exist but will become unpopular over a period of time. When that happens, Microsoft (and a lot others) believe that we will interact with technology with language, with the power of spoken words- as we do as a second nature when interacting with humans. This future transformation is best put-forward by Drupal founder Dries Buytaert when he argues-

The current Web is “pull-based,” meaning we visit websites or download mobile applications. The future of the Web is “push-based,” meaning the Web will be coming to us. In the next 10 years, we will witness a transformation from a pull-based Web to a push-based Web. When this “Big Reverse” is complete, the Web will disappear into the background much like our electricity or water supply.

Nadella’s vision of “Conversation-as-a-Platform” calls for three “actors” as was framed in Build 2016 conference 1) People 2) Personal Digital Assistant 3) Bots.

Simply explained, People are conversation starters, Digital Assistants like Siri and Cortana understands people, their habits much like personal assistants (using AI, machine learning) and Bots integrate with digital assistants and help do very specific chores like booking a ticket, ordering food etc.
Satya Nadella believes puts Conversations-as-a-Platform in the same category of breakthrough innovations of the past like the graphical user interface, the web browser and the iPhone-driven adoption of the touchscreen. And Microsoft is not alone in the game here. We have Amazon Echo (Alexa), Facebook Messenger (which as per the recent news supports ~ 11000 bots) and Slack (something I need to explore more). I am awaiting my Echo device that I recently and luckily have won in a contest in my organization to experiment more.

Again, this gets me curious on what has made such big organizations bet so big on messaging apps ?
A comprehensive data would serve me better here but if i need to make an educated guess, the success of apps like WhatsApp has made every organization stand-up and take notice. Just look at the amount of time and attention we spend on WhatsApp (or any other competing app) every day. Every organization is trying to see what more can they do with this massive user attention. Bots seem to be a natural way to add more value to that user attention span by making it easier for users to do more tasks and further making them hooked.

So where does Wand Labs' offerings aligns with Microsoft's vision?

The technology that Wand Labs (was still in beta when acquired) offered revolved around questioning some key assumptions around the usage of mobile phones-
What if your apps could all talk to each other?
What if you could let your loved ones borrow your services like you lend them your credit card?

This shortcoming as shared by Vishal Sharma, the CEO of Wand Labs in a talk to backchannel.com explains the motive behind his start-up-

Back when the desktop ruled, there was a single comprehensible hub that provided access to unlimited content and activities — the browser. People typically used it with several tabs open and painlessly shifted from one task to the next. “But the minute we went to mobile, the browser failed,” he says. Living in a browser world was like residing in a contiguous continent. But now we live in a land of a thousand islands — those apps we keep installing — and keep hopping from one to another. And good luck if you try to share what’s inside one of those apps — in many cases even if your recipient is using the same app, he or she can’t do what you can, because your stuff is (understandably) protected with a password.

So Wand is meant to be an super application that acts much like browser did for desktop and helps turn an island of app into a continent of sorts where there are ways established for apps to talk to each other via its advanced messaging technology.

While Microsoft’s current bot technology and framework helps people talk to phone to get specific work done, the way Wand possibly adds value is that it augments this vision further by enabling various apps to exchange information with each other and lets users share app features with other friends.

I wasn’t quite able to try Wand to add my experience here as the service is shut now but will be eagerly waiting to see what Microsoft eventually does with it. I will particularly be interested in understanding the enterprise use cases such technology can support.

so why did Microsofy eventually acquire Wand Labs ?

To understand this, I will look back at Satya Nadella's memo to Microsoft employees post Linkedin acquisition where he shared the factors he keeps in mind while taking acquisitions decisions-

Given this is the biggest acquisition for Microsoft since I became CEO, I wanted to share with you 
how I think about acquisitions overall. To start, 
I consider if an asset will expand our opportunity — specifically, does it expand our total addressable market? 
Is this asset riding secular usage and technology trends? 
And does this asset align with our core business and overall sense of purpose?

Companies do acquisitions for various reasons, prime of them usually being make them more profitable and adding additional revenue streams like the last acquisition that I assessed. But this one seem different as Microsoft seem to have taken an early beta player (with possibly no revenue of its own). Its prime motives could be two-fold-
1. As evident from Nadella's memo- this posssibly helps be more relevant by being adept to technology trends.
2. Again from Nadella's memo, something that aligns with overall sense of purpose.
3. Getting great people into its talented work-force.
2    What are your thoughts ?

Further, I will be looking forward to further assess a recent acquisition in enterprise space. Do watch this space for more updates.

Saturday, July 2, 2016

My Advice to the Class of 2016

I had a chance last week to interact with the campus grads. joining my organization. It was more of a fun event with the Engineering Directors and towards the end, each Director was asked to give some piece of advice to the engineers on the first day of their jobs. There were some brilliant pieces of advice given by my colleagues and I did share few points from my side that I intend to share here. By nature, I am not the one to initiate giving advises unless asked. This is certainly not because I don’t want to help people but more so the realization that the engineers who have cleared such stringent selection process are smart and can be trusted to seek help when they need. Other aspect that I am mindful of is also that unsolicited advice (that’s given without being asked) is usually ignored and tends to project the advice-giver as someone superior, which I certainly not want to be seen as.

Here are my piece of two advises (given I had 2-3 minutes to talk) I gave to class of 2016-

Snapshot “First day of the Career” mindset:
As you will start working from next week, you would be dealing with Virtual Machines and Containers while working on engineering tasks. One of the interesting features that Virtual Machines and Containers have is creating infrastructure is the snapshot. The snapshot feature is most useful when you want to preserve the state of the virtual machine so you can return to the same state repeatedly.

Unfortunately our minds do not have snapshot feature and I would have so dearly liked it to have. But hypothetically if it had snapshot feature, I would have requested all of you to take snapshot of your current mindset, and asked you to retain it for future.

Being at your situation years back, the first day a job mindset is something like-
1.       All of you have a Beginners mindset. You are not afraid to try anything new and also not bogged down by thoughts/processes of the past.
2.       You have a positive fear that is leading you to think that you need to do well in your jobs.
3.       Passion to do well for yourselves and the organization.
4.       Very high energy/enthusiasm and motivation.

I bet to you- if you are able to retain this mindset every day, every hour till the last day of your career- you would have surely achieved something significant in your lives and careers. Just try and snapshot and use this state everywhere, especially when things aren’t working for you.

Software Engineering is a Team Game:
Second point, I believe all of you are special and very talented to have been selected to drive Citrix’s future. All of you would be looking to contribute individually towards the success of your respective products and Citrix. One thing that I wanted to share with you was to never forget that Software engineering is a team game. In order to win this game, in addition to being very strong Individual contributors, we need to be world class team players.

I admire Rahul Dravid as an outstanding Cricket player, but more so for his selfless display as a world-class team player for Indian cricket team. He said in Harsha Bhogle’s book-

“the team is like a pot. Some people put into the pot, others draw from it. Who puts in and who takes out depends upon the people as well as the moment. Ultimately, a team that has more people putting in rather than taking out is a happy team, a team more likely to win.”

So, please do remember this. As this quote says and I figured out personally by experiencing- one of the great ways to being a world-class team player is focusing on giving back to the team be it knowledge, a helping hand and voluntarily finding opportunities to help. Give back more than what you take from your team members.
School/College tests usually do not measure:
Creativity, Vision, Teamwork, Integrity, Grit, Passion, Empathy, Loyalty, Endurance, Humility, Compassion
But your success in organization will more depend upon how you master these skills in addition to technical skills. So, while you chase your individual glory, please remember that- individual successes alone don’t make organizations great but when team succeeds, organization succeeds.

What advice would you give to smart engineers on the first day of their jobs ?