Archives for September 2010

Rob gets a “Cube Grenade” – Culture of Service.

I’ve known Hugh MacLeod for a couple or four years. Knew him online for even longer. I’ve respected his work – which first got my attention with his work for Stormhoek.  Then came the Blue Monster, for Microsoft.  I liked the way his cartoons got me to think about things.

That was before I came to work for Rackspace.  Recently Hugh was in San Antonio, and he toured our corporate headquarters in a once abondoned 1.2+ million square foot shopping mall.  He saw the worlds largest (certified by Guinness!) Word Search puzzle.  He saw the only known functioning escalators in a hosting company’s offices.  We had a good time, and later went out for some BBQ with a few Rackers, and guests from the community.  It was a great day.

While he was here, Hugh and I started discussing him doing something involving Rackspace.  Working with a number of other Rackers (Rackspace employees), we decided that we wanted Hugh to focus on what we are most proud of – what makes our company unique, and why the number of employees has doubled since I joined 26 months or so ago, and why our customer count has risen just as quickly – even in a down economy.

So here is his first cartoon – and I really enjoy it.  I thank Hugh for making this one special as my very own personal “cube grenade” 🙂

Click to enlargeOur motto is “Fanatical Support” – which is based on our unique culture.

This is the first in a series of cartoons, blog posts, etc that explore why culture is important to us, and why a culture of service – to each other, to customers, and to our community is so important to our success.

I am hoping this series starts a conversation about culture, and service.  So feel free to comment!

Hugh’s original post is here.

Rob

What my days are like, and why I love them so much

It is easy, looking at this blog, to discern who I work for. It should even be easy to figure out why.

I’ve never done a good job explaining WHAT I do on a day to day basis. I am sure some coworkers will be just as interested as anyone. In a company of over 3K employees, it is hard to know what people do. Especially people like me. Why?

I work at home most of the time. I manage a nomadic team, so they don’t need me in their faces every day. I trust them to do their jobs, and they trust me to let them. And when I work at home, I work with customers. A lot of them.

I am also part of a larger team that understands that I add a different value – one I can’t add in an office. Usually, at least :). I trust them to appreciate me, and to ask me for help when they need to. And I often ask them for the same. They are amazing people to work with, and they have a ton of my respect.

I spend my days, and nights (on good days and nights) talking to customers. Or potential customers. I love what I do, and who I do it for, so I spend a lot of time and energy doing it. I honestly don’t mind talking to a customer at 2am. 6am is harder for me though :).

I run Social Media for our company. And that is a pretty big job – we get a lot of mentions on Social Media. Our entire Social Media plan consists of two words though – “Be Helpful”. Not a lot of fluff there. No 37 slide PowerPoint Deck. We are singularly focused on helping our customers win. No fluff there.

I love customers – even one’s that aren’t happy with us – I spend a lot of time with them. I try to “fix” whatever we broke. A promise or a process has probably failed us. We are a big company – that happens. I want to fix it. It is not my job – it is my passion. My team has adopted it as their passion.

I’m empowered to cause change – and I empower my employees. And I have interesting employees. I have AMAZING employees, in fact:

Two Linux Senior Systems engineers that know more about hosting than I will ever know. Robert (Robot) Taylor and Robert Collazo have spent most of their technical careers helping customers.

Robert Scoble and Rocky Barbanica, who bring life to building43.com, and introduce us to amazing people that just need a bit of help by someone that just gives more than a shit. That’s why we do building43.com – it is helpful.

Yes – I have a team of five, and four of us are named Robert. And we have one Rocky. It DOES get confusing!

But we all have the same focus – to care for customers, share their successes, and help them build the value they deliver to their customers – that is our goal – we all win together. And it is our commitment. It is so simple.

And it is so fun! If you are not having fun, you are doing it wrong.

We have a different thought about “Social Media” than many public companies. We think we need to have a staff that knows the company and the products so well that they can actually FIX issues we see on Social Media. And we do. I am the former Director of Software Development for our Cloud. Robot and Rob Collazo are engineers that have built and supported our company for years. No fluff there either.

We also support and appear at as many events as we can possibly support. As recruiters, engineers, evangelists, speakers – it is all the same thing. We want to be where customers want to talk to us. And if that is on Twitter at 2am, you have a good chance of seeing me tweet my home phone number. Or one of my team reaching out to make sure we help, at almost any hour.

So yes – I love my role. I can touch a lot of parts of the business. But mostly, I can interact with a huge number of our customers – and help us find new ones. Mostly because I have a lot of people supporting me – from my employees, to my managers, to my coworkers.

And our Senior Leadership Team that is just willing to “think different” – and allow me to try some crazy ideas, (responsibly) and see where they take us.

And where they take me – which is to places I would not have imagined just 2 years ago when I went from a customer to an evangelist.

Find a company you love. Then find a job there. Then find a way to help them win. It is an amazing feeling.

You really can’t hire people that have the dedication my team has. You can inspire them, and empower them – trust them, and have fun with them. The right people weren’t looking for a job when they found you though.

They were looking for a mission.

Create one.

I was Windows – now I am Mac – the REALLY simple reason why

I was a Mac customer during the 90’s – a Newton developer, I helped add wireless to the first Mac laptops (can anyone remember Digital Ocean?) and just loved the Mac.

Then we became a big company with Outlook, and managed desktops – and all that other evil crap. I was moved to Windows.

I took a new job with Rackspace and they asked me, “Windows or Mac?” – I was honestly surprised – I didn’t know many large companies that gave you a choice. I chose Mac.

But that is the story of how I got BACK to Macs – not why. The why is pretty simple.

As a PC user I bought new hardware several times a year – and every time something significant changed (CPU, graphics, motherboard, RAM etc) MS ASSUMED I was trying to steal from them – and made me jump through hoops to prove that I was not. I’m sorry – that shit wore on me. I got really tired of “starting over” every time MS decided I had done something stupid – like buying new hardware, or, for goodness sakes – installing one of their betas!

I do run into some of these issues with MS products on my Mac right now. I can’t upgrade the office 2008 copy I bought because MS thinks someone else owns it (or something – hard to tell).

With my Apple OS’s I buy them. I install them. They work. I might even sometimes bend the rules and install the new OS on an extra machine – one I don’t have a specific license for, but want to test it on different hardware. And it works. These are normally older machines that I don’t use often/at all except for testing – so it isn’t like Apple is losing anything. But under the same circumstances MS would label me a thief – and even disable the functionality of my computer – they cripple their own product!

Microsoft treats me like a thief – which causes me a huge loss of productivity even when I absolutely have the right (per their terms!) to reinstall my SW – *MY* SW – I bought it – remember (and yes, screw the BS about “renting it – that is lame)

Anyway – upgrades work on my Mac. Betas work and upgrade easily. Windows makes it hard and accuses me of being a thief with no justification whatsoever.

So in the last 18 months I have added 7 new Macs to my household, including iPhones and an iPad. I’ve added a couple of Windows virtual machines. Because as long as I only have virtual trust with you, I’ll only run virtual instances of you.

And the way Microsoft has treated a 20+ year customer is virtually criminal.

The Problem With People Like Me

I’m a fairly high-maintenance employee. I tend to surround myself with people like me – people that are always pushing me, and my company. And I am always pushing. I’m not interested in drones. I want people that cause us to think, and re-think everything we do. Luckily I am surrounded by people like me in a company that accepts people like me.

But people like me are a real pain in the ass.

We tend to want things to happen now, and get bitchy when they won’t happen until tomorrow.

We tend to demand more than even we can deliver – so we question ourselves a lot – even as we publicly state we don’t need a lot of internal “support”. The truth is that we do – we need to know that we are pushing the right directions, and that roadblocks will be removed from our paths quickly, and efficiently.  It takes a team, and a corporate commitment to make people like me effective.

I’m not sure how to even describe what high-maintenance people like me do – we just push, and keep pushing. And when we feel pain, we tend to push harder.  It is painful for everyone.

We aren’t trying to cause trouble – we are trying to do something new, we want to help – we just … well, we are demanding, and that means we are trouble 🙂

So if you run a company that has an employee like me, what do you do?

Most companies get rid of “troublemakers”.

Is that wise?

Why people cause “trouble” is the first question to ask.  Is it because they are disgruntled?  OK, get rid of them.  Is it because they are passionate and know you can do better, and should be doing better?  Hang on to them – encourage and empower them.

Why?  They love your business and are your best spokespeople.  Why would you marginalize them?

Businesses that will succeed over the next decade are those that realize everything is changing.  Everything.  Hell, it has already changed.

Embrace it, or run from it.  Do the latter your own peril.

I’m interested in people that push me, make me think differently, and challenge everything I thought I knew.

I’m interested in tomorrow, not yesterday.

Companies that get this will win.  Others will fade away, perhaps because they fire people like me.

What I suck at

Have you ever had the “What I suck at” conversation with your boss/employer/significant other?

I’m damn near 50, so I know what I suck at.  I suck at math, and metrics. I suck at writing documents and I hate presentations.  I have a large list of what I suck at or just hate doing (which means I will suck at it) – and in the last 5-10 years or so, I haven’t been afraid or ashamed of sharing that with my bosses.  My future employers, employees, significant others, etc.

Setting expectations is important.  Before I joined my current company I told them exactly why they shouldn’t hire me – the stuff I sucked at.  They still hired me.  They liked that I knew what I sucked at, and they liked what I thought I was good at.

I hate rules that make no sense anymore, but are still enforced.  I don’t do meetings well. I work better when I want to work then when people normally work.  I work VERY well at home.

I’ve had a number of bosses since I joined my current employer – and the first conversation I have had with most of them is about what I suck at.

Once we get past that, we can focus on what I do well.  And that lets us focus on how to help me do that even better.  And if my company knows how to help me get better at what I love, and what I am naturally good at – well, that helps us all take best advantage of my unique contributions.

If you are in finance, I don’t recommend you tell your boss you suck at math.  Don’t be suicidal, unless you want a drastic change in your employment future. But do be honest with yourself, and if what you do falls into the “I suck at this” category, find something else to do.  Usually you know this better than your bosses do.  You’ve probably known it for some time.

But I am a people person – my employer wins (so do I because it is what I love) when I talk to people.  So we found a way to make that happen.  Sure – there is accountability – but not overbearing rules that slow me down, or make me start to feel that my employer is asking me to do what I don’t like doing. Or what I suck at doing.

We worked together to find a way that we are both rewarded for doing what makes sense – putting me in a role that is targeted at my natural strengths, and minimizes the “I suck at this” parts.

Don’t be afraid to tell the world what you suck at – but know what you are naturally good at.  And make sure the good is good enough.  Actually – make the good great.

Then magic happens.