Robert's Blog

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Your Other Job

It's been a while since my last post on a non-technical subject. I'm inclined to do write such an entry today, and its my blog so I'm going to. [It's fun now and again to do something because you can - that is, because you're in a position to do so. I remember when U.S. President George H. W. Bush (father of the current President) invoked executive privilege when explaining his food likes and dislikes: "I'm the President and I don't have to eat broccoli."]

Earlier today I was thinking of a conversation I had about 10 years ago with one of IBM's top database technologists. This guy was (and is) a Big Cheese in the DB2 development organization - a bona fide database rock star. I was part of the DB2 National Technical Support team at the IBM Dallas Systems center, and Joe DB2 and I were hanging out in a hotel lounge during a conference. I was saying that I never had been comfortable doing sales-type stuff, and that I was happy to be in a technical role. The Big DB2 Cheese gave me a no-nonsense look and froze me with four little words: "We're all in sales."

I was immediately struck by the truth in that comment, and by the power of such a simple concept.

"We're all in sales." Here was a guy with absolutely bullet-proof tech cred, and he was (figuratively) standing with the sales guys! He did that because he understood the importance of the sales mind-set, and he was kind enough to pass that understanding on to me. It really doesn't matter what you do for a living, or the organization for which you do what you do. You're in sales. If you think otherwise, you're fooling yourself. I remember a big-time professional basketball player saying a few years ago that he wasn't a role model (translation: what I do on and off the court is my business, not anyone else's). Of course he was wrong. Being a star in the National Basketball Association made him a role model to young fans. The relevant question was, would he be a good role model or a not-so-good role model?

It's the same way with this sales business. The question is, do you have a positive impact on your organization's sales, or are you a drag on sales (and EVERY organization - public-sector or private, for-profit or not-for-profit - has customers; hence, EVERY organization is engaged in sales)? In recent years, I've taken the "we're all in sales" axiom and kicked it up a notch. As I see it, not only are you in sales, but most EVERYTHING YOU DO in your work life has a sales impact, and WHAT you do and HOW you do it will determine whether the effect on your organization's sales will be positive or negative.

Over a number of years and in a wide variety of places, I've heard groups of DBAs engage in developer-bashing. Similarly, I've heard plenty of developers speak of DBAs in very unflattering terms. This might seem on the surface to be good fun - a bit of water-cooler talk that promotes team bonding. In truth, however, for the employing organization it's a sales impediment - indirectly, perhaps, but an impediment just the same. See, that kind of mind-set (them=clueless, we=smart) leads a group to focus on taking care of itself. You work hard not to achieve success at the organizational level, but to avoid the appearance of having messed something up yourself (the other guys are the ones who mess things up). If a group that you look down upon is in some trouble, that's their problem. Fiefdoms emerge, people look for ways to gain leverage over other departments, and the human element of IT - the most important element of IT - loses a lot of its potential to deliver value to the larger organization (i.e., to contribute to SALES success).

Suppose you work in an IT group characterized by the kind of us-and-them sniping I've described. If you buy into the idea that "we're all in sales," you'll act to change the dynamics of the situation. That isn't easy, especially if you're trying to do it pretty much on your own. You can start by refusing to join in when people are deriding co-workers. If you're really feeling gutsy, go beyond a refusal to speak poorly of others and actually speak up for the people being ridiculed. At first, you could find yourself on the outs with respect to your teammates, who might look upon you as being self-righteous. If you stand your ground, eventually you could find people moving to the ground on which you're standing, perhaps because they were never really comfortable with the old "elbows-out" work environment but feared upsetting things. You could go further in breaking down sales-impeding barriers by actually reaching out to the groups that have been the targets of past derision. A DBA could actually ask to sit in on some early-stage design meetings for a new application (or a developer could ask to get involved with DBAs on a performance tuning or database redesign project). Again, the early going could be tough, as you might catch no small number of verbal spears in your backside upon first venturing into "enemy territory." Hang in there, though, and you could find that a) you're actually able to add value to what the other team is doing, and b) people on that other team tell you how much they've wished that someone would do exactly what you're doing: reach across boundaries and work for the common good.

Wherever you are on an org chart, you could end up being a change agent who successfully promotes a "we're all in sales" mind-set on the part of your colleagues. Sometimes this kind of positive organizational transformation is led from the top, but other times it gets started on the shop floor. Take a look around. Do you like the way your department functions with respect to teamwork that aims always to drive success for the overall organization? If not, take another look - this time in the mirror. Who knows? You might be the person you've been waiting for to get things going in a more productive direction.


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