Successful Knowledge Transfer

As a reminder (from my last post), I just started a job as VP of Product Development for the Social Intelligence division of SDL.  I wrapped up my second week of work at SDL on Friday.  Last week’s focus was knowledge transfer (to me) from Ericka, who had been “Acting VP” for the Social Intelligence development team, in addition to her regular job, reporting to SDL’s CTO.

Knowledge transfer can often be a difficult part of the ramp-up process for a new employee.  The situation is difficult if the outgoing employee is no longer employed by the organization – the necessary knowledge may already be gone.  Similarly, if a new position is created, there won’t be a single person with the necessary knowledge to provide.  Finally, in some cases, there’s resentment or resistance to the organizational change, making the knowledge transfer strained or stressful, since the person with the right information is uncooperative.

Luckily, for me, I didn’t have any of those obstacles.  It’s rare to have an “instant connection” with a colleague, but I found that with Ericka.  From the first day, we meshed well and understood how to communicate with each other.  We quickly developed a rapport and a high level of mutual trust.  Because of that connection, the knowledge transfer from Ericka to me went very smoothly.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Successful knowledge transfer is, traditionally, difficult to achieve.  It works best when there’s single expert providing the necessary transition. 

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An Ending and a Beginning

Last Friday (22 February) was my last day at Noetix. After almost twelve years, I’ve moved on to a new opportunity.

On Monday 25 February, I started a new adventure as VP of Product Development for the Social Intelligence division of SDL. Here’s the “official” description of our division (whose primary product can be found here):

SDL Social Intelligence offers an enterprise suite of social intelligence tools and services that includes social media monitoring, listening, analytics and predictive insights.

What does that mean, in plain English? I’ll answer that in two parts.

We collect information from social media conversations – micro blogs (like Twitter), social networking (like Facebook or MySpace), blogs, rich media (like YouTube) and others. We aggregate and organize those conversations (classifying it by geography, gender, and other tags). We also analyze the content of the conversations, using text analysis and keyword matching to determine sentiment, emotion and topics. All of that gets stored in a big data warehouse.

Once we have that data warehouse, we provide tools and services for our clients, giving them insights based on those conversations. From that standpoint, much of what we do is similar to what a market research firm does with surveys, focus groups and questionnaires. With our products and services, we can help our clients understand what their customers (or prospective customers) are thinking, based on the conversations those people are having online. That can be incredibly powerful.

In upcoming posts, I’ll explore some of these ideas in more detail, while also continuing to offer thoughts on management, theatre, baseball and whatever else seems interesting.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

My years at Noetix were wonderful and I have fond memories of the people and products there. I’m now ready for (and very excited about) a new challenge at SDL.

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Organizational Changes – Hiring a General Manager, Part 2

This post continues a series discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

We brought in four candidates to interview for the General Manager position.  As noted before, the candidates fell into two groups of strengths: Consulting Delivery Focus and Consulting Sales Focus.  Going into the interviews, my expectation was that delivery would be more important than selling.  A big reason for this was that we had moved Kelly (one of our Consulting Directors) into a role focused exclusively on helping our sales team to sell consulting services.  With her already in that role, hiring additional strength in selling services was less important than other skills.

As we spoke with the candidates, the interviewers were generally in agreement, even before having a debrief meeting.  One candidate (who was “sales focused”) clearly interviewed far better on the phone than he did in person.  He was quickly (and unanimously) eliminated from consideration.  Of the two “delivery focused” candidates, one was clearly stronger than the other.

That left us with two strong candidates – one “sales focused” and one “delivery focused.”  As we made the final decision, it became clear that a weighting between those two areas wouldn’t matter.  Although both finalists were strong, one candidate, Jon, seemed better in most ways and (just as importantly) was nearly as strong at “selling services” as the one purported to be more focused in that area.

So, our final decision was relatively easy.  We all agreed that Jon was our choice.  I worked with our HR director to make an offer, which (happily for all of us) Jon accepted.

Next time, we’ll complete this series with the final transition of responsibilities from Jan, as she reaches retirement.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Don’t pre-judge what’s most important when interviewing candidates with diverse backgrounds.  Allow the interview process to play itself out.

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Organizational Changes – Hiring a General Manager, Part 1

This post continues a series discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

After filling our new manager roles, we turned our attention to hiring a new General Manager of Consulting.  This position would include most of the responsibilities that Jan had carried out as VP of Professional Services prior to her retirement.

We knew that we wanted to find an external candidate for this role.  Our HR Director identified candidates through all the traditional recruiting channels – recruiters, employee referrals, LinkedIn, job posting sites, etc.  After resumé screening and phone interviews, we identified four candidates we wanted to bring in for interviews.

Interestingly, the candidates naturally grouped into two main categories (with two candidates fitting into each one):

  • Consulting Delivery Focus
    Two of our candidates had very strong track records for delivering Consulting services.  Each had been a VP of Consulting, managing large Consulting teams, delivering more revenue than our team currently delivers.  Both had grown up through consulting organizations, having started as consultants with strong technical skills in the core technologies that are essential for our team.
  • Consulting Sales Focus
    Two of our candidates had very strong track records for selling Consulting services, with career focus in Business Development.  Again, each had a strong track record, but focused primarily on “generating demand” for consulting, rather than “fulfilling demand” for services that had already been sold.

We arranged for each candidate to fly to Seattle for an interview.  Because of the critical importance of this position, we also arranged for key remote employees (especially Rene and Chris) to travel here to interview the candidates in person.

As we scheduled the interviews, it wasn’t clear (at least to me) which of the two divergent areas of strength would prove more important to us.  It would depend upon meeting the candidates themselves.

In the next post, I’ll describe the interviews with these candidates.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

When filling key positions, it is valuable to consider candidates with differing (and contrasting) strengths.

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Organizational Changes – Introducing New Managers, Part 2

This post continues a series discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

Delivering the good news to our internally promoted managers and new hires was the easy part.  Now it was time to take on the more challenging portion of our structured communication plan:

  • Deliver the bad news to the candidates we didn’t select
    This was the hardest part.  We had four internal candidates who, as noted in a previous post, are very good at their jobs, but weren’t selected for the manager roles.  For each one, we had a conference call with Rene, myself, and, in a few cases, Jan (the retiring VP of Services).  We had agreed that I would deliver the disappointing news, explaining clearly and concisely why we had chosen the candidates we had.  I also committed to have a follow-up one-on-one call with each candidate, explaining in more detail what the strengths and weaknesses of their interviews had been.

    Each of these calls went relatively well.  Naturally, all of the employees were disappointed – each of them had hoped to be chosen.  [That’s fairly obvious – why else would they have applied and interviewed?!]  I was direct (without being mean) about where they had interviewed strongly, where they could improve, and how they could be successful in interviewing for similar positions in the future.  Overall, I think that our open and honest process helped alleviate some of the disappointment.

  • Inform all employees of their new manager
    For each consultant currently reporting to Jan or Rene, we organized a one-on-one call to inform that employee of the changes we were making.  Most importantly, each employee learned in that one-on-one call who would be his or her new manager.  This was especially important – no one should learn that sort of information indirectly.
  • Announce the changes to the entire company
    Once all of the people who were directly affected knew what was happening, we were able to announce the changes to the entire company.  This was pretty easy – I drafted an email that provided some background information on the new organizational structure. I announced (and congratulated) the new managers and concluded the message by listing everyone on the team, organized by manager in the new reporting structure.

With that message sent, we were done with this major part of our reorganization.  One big task remained: fill the General Manager position with Jan’s replacement.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Employees should always learn about managerial changes that affect them through direct one-on-one communication.

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Organizational Changes – Introducing New Managers, Part 1

This post continues a series discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

After interviewing seven candidates for our managerial openings, we had chosen two and were prepared to make offers to them.  One of the new managers was an internal candidate and one was external.

The first step was to communicate our decisions to the two new managers, and to the rest of the company.  We started this process with an important core belief: No one should learn indirectly about a change that affects them directly.  Instead, communication of those changes needed to be personal and private, and in order to achieve this, our communication plan followed a carefully structured order:

  • Determine the reporting structure for the new managers
    Now that we knew who the new managers would be, we needed to work out the new organization structure.  We had about fifteen employees who were all going to have new managers.  We needed to determine who would report to which new manager, and who would report directly to Rene or directly to me.  There were a lot of factors to consider – geographic location, technical skills, personality, inter-personal relationships with colleagues (including the about-to-be-promoted manager), and length of tenure with the company.  Still, even with all those considerations, it didn’t take too long to come up with an org chart we were all satisfied with.
  • Make offers to the new managers
    It’s easy to deliver good news!  We arranged a three-way conference call with the internal candidate, myself, and Rene (Director of Consulting, who would oversee this new role). He eagerly and happily accepted the position.  Our HR Director then called the external candidate with the other job offer, which he also accepted and agreed on a start date.
  • Make offer to the new principal consultant
    One of the external candidates turned out to be well qualified for a different open position.  Our HR Director called him with a job offer as well, along with an explanation of why we hadn’t chosen him for the manager role, but thought he was ideal for the principal consultant opening.  Just like the other candidate, he accepted our offer and agreed on a start date.

In the next post, I’ll explain how we completed the communication (including the most difficult part of the process).

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

When you are announcing significant organizational changes, prepare a detailed, structured plan for communication and carry it out swiftly.

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Organizational Changes – The Search for New Managers, Part 2

This post continues a series discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

We had identified seven candidates for our managerial openings: five internal and two external.  We still were uncertain as to how many positions we were going to hire – at least two, possibly as many as four.

Our interview process for the internal candidates was a bit unusual.  We had five very strong employees interested in the positions.  We already knew we liked them, we knew they were good at their jobs, and we knew we wanted them on our team.  We recognized that we were immediately setting ourselves up to create disappointment for several of our strongest employees: each of them, naturally, hoped to get one of the new manager roles, but there weren’t enough roles to go around.

During the interviews, I made a point of discussing this openly and directly with each candidate.  I emphasized that the worst case outcome would be that they’d have a job they liked and were very good at, for a company that appreciated them.  Based on follow-up discussions with each candidate, that honest and candid approach was helpful.

Following the interviews, we had a “group debrief” meeting, with all six members of the interview team participating.  I like this approach and prefer it to the “have each interviewer send feedback to the hiring manager” method.  It allows each interviewer to hear and consider the pros and cons identified by the other interviewers.  It also allows for discussion of the priorities for the position and comparison of the candidates’ strengths and weaknesses against those priorities.

In this situation, the group debrief meeting also allowed us to determine how many positions we were filling.  We decided to add two managers, leaving ourselves the option to grow further as our team adds more headcount.

In the group meeting, we reached consensus fairly quickly.  One internal candidate and one external candidate stood out above all the others.  In addition, the other external candidate was deemed a good fit for our team, but not in a managerial role.  We decided to offer him a position as a Senior Consultant.

Next step: communicate the decisions, both to the candidates and to the rest of the team.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Proceed carefully when interviewing internal candidates for a new position.  You likely disappoint the candidates not chosen and you want to make sure you don’t alienate them in the process.

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Organizational Changes – The Search for New Managers

This post continues a series discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

We had determined that we needed new managers within the Consulting team.  Looking at the size of the team, we had determined that we needed at least two new managers and as many as four.  These positions would report to Rene, Director of Consulting.  We decided to search for those new managers openly, considering candidates from within the company and from outside.

Initially, we had considered identifying the most promising internal candidates (chosen from our project managers) and simply offering promotions to them.  However, we quickly realized that we wanted to better understand the strengths (and interest levels) of those candidates to make sure we made the best choices.

Together with our H.R. department, we drafted a job description for the new manager roles and posted that job description both internally and externally.  We weren’t surprised that there was quite a bit of interest within the existing team – five of our consultants and project managers applied for the job.  Meanwhile, the recruiters in H.R. identified about half a dozen strong candidates from outside the company.  After phone screening, those were narrowed to the two best candidates.

Our interview process is fairly traditional and, in my opinion, very effective and fair.  We create a loop of six interviewers, including people from multiple departments: Consulting (of course), Engineering, and H.R.  We want to ensure that we get a broad perspective of the candidates and that (especially for outside candidates) they get a good overall view of the company they’d be joining.

We organized all of the interviews to take place during one week in April.  Rene (whose home office is in Dallas) traveled to our corporate office near Seattle for the week.  We arranged for each of the candidates, both internal and external, to fly out for a day of interviewing.  Over the course of four days, we interviewed our seven candidates.  It was exhausting (for both the candidates and the interviewers), but it was important.

Next up: the interviews.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

When new positions are created, post them publicly and allow qualified internal candidates who are interested to apply and interview.

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Organizational Changes – Introducing a New Structure

This post is the fourth in a series that I started at the end of May, discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

Once we had the interim organization in place, we assessed our situation for several months.  Our approach was very traditional, starting with taking a look at our current needs and the strengths of the team.  We tried to anticipate what our needs would be over the next twelve months.  Comparing the two, we wanted to get the most out of the existing team’s skills and identify holes we would need to fill.

There are two main components of the team – Managed Services and Consulting.  The Consulting team does implementations of our software products, along with custom report development and other consulting work.  Managed Services provides remote management of our customers’ environments.  The organizational decision for Managed Services was fairly easy.  The team has about a dozen people, all distributed around the world with multiple home offices in the U.S. in addition to India and the U.K.  We concluded that this team would not be changed.

The Consulting team was different.  Even before we started making changes, the management of this team was fairly thin.  We had two directors (Kelly and Rene) plus two managers – one with responsibility for the team in India and another managing a team in our office near St. Louis.  Everyone else on the team (about 20 consultants) reported directly to either Kelly or Rene.  We had temporarily moved Kelly’s team, but now we needed a long-term solution.

In addition, we decided that having several functions report directly to me wasn’t practical.  I still had all my Engineering responsibilities, as well as cross-functional demands (helping with sales opportunities, working  with HR and Marketing, coordinating with the other Engineering team, etc.).  Therefore, we needed to identify a “leader” for the entire Consulting Services team that would report to me.

Our conclusion:

  • Expand the level of managers, reporting to the director level.  Previously, we had two; we decided to add at least two more.  We would look both within the company and outside the company for candidates.
  • Consolidate that level of managers, along with our project managers, to report to Rene.
  • Hire (from outside the company) a new General Manager of Consulting, to report to me.

Once we decided on that organizational structure, we “socialized” the idea within the team, looking for reactions.  We wanted people to get used to two key ideas: bringing in new management from the outside and promoting existing employees to management roles.  In the next several posts, I’ll explain how the team responded and how we accomplished both of those changes.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Gradual transition can be beneficial, as long as you make consistent progress and keep people informed.

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Organizational Changes – An Interim Plan

This post continues a series that I started on May 29th, discussing the handling of some major organizational changes at my company.

At about the same time that Jan announced her retirement, Kelly, one of the directors who reported to her, moved into a new role.  That left us with about a dozen people who needed to move to a new manager immediately.

Our initial hope was that we’d put The New Organization in place fairly quickly and move everyone just once, but it quickly became clear that we wouldn’t be able to do that.  As noted in the previous post, we had decided not to replace Jan immediately with a new VP.  Instead, we split the leadership responsibilities between two existing VPs within the organization.  We agreed that the Support team, which had moved temporarily under one of our Engineering functions, would stay there.  The rest of Jan’s team – Consulting, Managed Services, and Customer Training, would report to me.

With those decisions finalized, we needed an interim solution for the 12-person team that reported to Kelly.  As a temporary fix, we moved Kelly’s team to report directly to Jan.  Was this optimal?  No, for two main reasons.  First, Jan already had a full plate of responsibilities and this added more to that burden at exactly the time that we wanted to begin gradually ramping down her responsibilities.  Second, it guaranteed that we would have to move all of those people to a new manager at least once again (since reporting to Jan was not the long term plan).

However, although it wasn’t optimal, it was far better than leaving Kelly’s team in limbo.  We wanted to make sure each individual had a manager even in the midst of our corporate transformation.  We clearly communicated to everyone that this solution (reporting directly to Jan) was temporary and that more changes would be coming.

For now…I’ll leave you with this thought:

Even though a temporary reporting structure isn’t ideal, it’s far better than having no structure at all (even temporarily).

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