“Undercover Boss”, real-time communications and I sure hope Ray Ozzie builds something amazing

I like the show “Undercover Boss”. Mostly because I like seeing the CEO’s reactions when they find out what their employees really think about their jobs, the company, policies, etc.

Recently our CEO responded to some policy concerns by asking us to tell him what policies we thought were stupid, so they could be fixed, or discontinued completely. He called for a “policy purge” and that very day the first policy was killed. And our CEO is NOT out of touch with employees. He sits 40 feet from me in a cubicle just like I do. With the right arc I can nearly hit him with a Nerf dart. Any employee can stop by and chat with him anytime they see him.

One of the key things I have noticed by watching Undercover Boss (and being in business a long time) is just how much valuable information is being lost between the front line troops and middle and upper management. Often the middle managers get the blame for this, but at the end of the day, the CEO runs the company, and has to set the standard for the culture. Open, or closed? Inclusive, or exclusive? Executive restrooms, or does the CEO piss in the same pot I piss in?

Undercover Boss has covered some very arrogant and extravagant CEO’s – and some very down to earth ones. The down to earth ones almost always know their businesses better.  They may not understand every employee’s personal issues, but they get the business. The arrogant ones are out of touch – probably because they are out of reach.

Being disconnected from employees is just as dangerous as being disconnected from your customers. Listening and learning seem to be lost arts in many companies.

As companies become more global and the Internet makes the world more real-time it is more and more difficult for companies to communicate internally. And at the same time we are adding in the complexity of a nearly real-time external communication channel with customers.

This is a LOT for companies to digest and adjust to. Many won’t. But those that invest  in new communication channels will probably get to know their employees and customers much better than those who do not.

Finding the right tool to talk to a lot of customers and/or employees is hard. You may pick the wrong platform, expect people to show up where they do not show up – but you must not give up.

The new world is about rapid communication – and customers and employees both expect it. How they want it delivered is something we are all still figuring out.

Maybe Ray Ozzie knows? He has been as close to getting it right as anyone. And it appears he is still working on it.



Has the Internet changed your job? If not, why not?

If the Internet has not changed your job – please let me know.  I want to invest tn the startup that find a way to get you involved in the Internet.  No joke. If your industry does not know how to use the Internet for profit, I really want to know about it.

I think there is a huge untapped Market that we just are not thinking about.

Because they are not like us.

We love startups

With all of the frenzy of #SXSW I didn’t ever share this video with you. Love what we are doing with and for startups.  Love that Rackspace trusts me with stuff like this – because it is really important stuff.

Having Dave McClure on the same video is just golden – anyone that knows us both knows we share a lot of the same fucking quirks.  Like using bad language inappropriately 🙂

It’s all about the community. #BMPR

This past Thursday we hosted over 100 local business, media, and PR professionals from the local area as guests at my employer’s office. The group is called BMPR, affectionately called “Bumper”.

I’ve been lucky to meet many members of this group, to include most of the founders, well before this event. What started as a Tweetup has grown into a community of like-minded people that want to help each other raise the bar – to get better at reaching, serving, and satisfying their customers. And to teach each other how to get better – which is the real key. Vibrant communities are built when people care more about US then they do about “me”.

This is a pure grass-roots organization, with no dues, no real rules, but a lot of shared excitement, and curiosity, and a desire to both learn, and to teach.

I was lucky enough to speak at BMPR two months ago, and I had fun with it. I had the dorkiest slide deck ever because I’m not a fan of slides. I would rather “talk story”, as they say down under.

So for three years, almost, I have been talking about this company I work for, and how amazing it is. And I know some people were probably getting tired of it, because it just sounded like me beating a corporate drum. But last Thursday a lot of my friends got to come and see why I love talking about who I work for.

It is not a perfect place, but it is most often a magical place. Being able to share that with 100+ of my friends, and the friends of my friends was really cool. I was pretty proud to have them see what we did with an old shopping mall – how we turned it into a very comfortable home for Fanatical Support to live – and grow.

Managing over 100 guests at a time, to include a tour through offices with a thousand or more people actually doing their day jobs isn’t something many companies would welcome. My bosses supported the idea from the first email I sent that asked, “What if…?”.

They were so in sync with me on my desire to just show off a little bit of what we are building – we are not done by any means – both our mall (The Castle) and our company are still expanding very quickly. They had no clue who BMPR was – they just knew it was important to me. Important enough that a member of the senior leadership team took some time to welcome people, and stayed around for most of the session.

I’ve been a Rackspace customer for a long time – and approaching being an employee for three years.  The things Rackspace has let me do – the ideas they have let me pursue; the chances they have let me take…  It really is a different kind of company.  Where the Chairman might call me at 12:30 am if that is the only time we can find to talk, or I might have a 1:1 dinner with the CEO.  Where a Social Media team is built off of engineers and not marketing.  Where one over-riding goal of “Be Helpful” permeates everything we try to do.

Where a great idea can get funded if you are passionate enough to pursue it.

That doesn’t happen in a lot of companies our size.  It is a little magic. And I’m glad I can invite in guests that can get a bit of a sense of that magic.

Everything starts with community.  From the way we are building our company to why BMPR matters.

If you want to make your life more full – get involved with your community.  There are some amazing people out there wiling to both learn and teach you.  Find them.  They are looking for you too.

We all need each other.

Thanks so much to my friends in BMPR for letting me show you a bit of my world – and for sharing so much of yours with the rest of us.

Note – edited to link to my dorky slide set, per request.


A Newbies Guide to SXSW

I had a conversation with someone today that will be attending SXSW for the first time.  He was looking for what to expect/prepare for, etc.  So below are some of the things I have learned, best practices, etc.

1 – Wear the most comfortable pair of walking shoes you own.  Do NOT go buy a new pair of shoes now – it is too late to break them in and make sure they are comfortable.  Find that ugly old pair of sneakers in the back of your closet if you must.  Comfort is critical.  You will walk miles and be on your feet 18+ hours a day (if you are doing it right!).

2 – Don’t shake hands.  Fist bump if you must, but so many people coming from all over the world bring in flu strains your body won’t be expecting.  Better safe than sorry (and I’ve been sorry more times than safe, I am afraid).  I also don’t recommend using hand sanitizer right after you shake hands with the CEO of that great company you just met – might send the wrong message 🙂

3 – Chapstick rocks.

4 – Don’t carry anything that you can’t fit in your pockets.  You will either regret you did and/or lose it. After 18 hours you will hate that “comfortable” backpack.

5 – Be wary of the weather and pack accordingly.  You will be outside a lot.  And sometimes the weather even comes inside (like it did at our party last year when the roof leaked!). If it is hot, a big floppy hat is a lifesaver. Doubles as an umbrella.

6 – The only thing I carry besides my wallet and iPhone (and the charger) is a bottle of water.

7 – Use FourSquare – that’s how you can find the stuff that isn’t in the official program.

8 – Take advantage of the hallway track.  Some of the best friendships and business deals are made informally in the halls of the convention center.

9 – Party well.  By that I mean have fun, but pace yourself.  There are a lot of parties and a lot of people.  And everyone has a camera phone.  If you end up in a viral video on YouTube, make sure it is for the right reasons!

10 – If you are with others always set a few times and places to meet back up each day in case you get separated.  AT&T did much better with cell coverage/reliability last year than the year before, but relying only on your phone may leave you alone.

BonusSee my session!

Got some more helpful tips?  Add them in the comments!