Welcome to Five for Friday. Today we get some insight from Lance Walter (@lancewalter), a long time veteran of the analytics space who has made the jump into strategic consulting, working to improve company, team and personal performance for some of the best companies in Silicon Valley.
Lance has been around data warehousing, analytics, and performance management since his first job as an engineer at Oracle back in the early 1990′s. He moved into Product Marketing at Arbor Software back in the early days of the OLAP market, a predecessor of today’s performance management applications. He has held technical as well as executive roles at Hyperion Solutions, Business Objects, Pentaho, and Aria Systems. He’s now a managing partner atExecCatalyst, a high-tech consulting and coaching firm.
Here is Five for Friday with Lance Walter
PM: Lance, what was the inspiration for ExecCatalyst and what services does your firm offer?
LW: We work with high-tech companies who need to manage effectively through different inflection points due to changes in the market, hyper-growth, reorganizations, turnarounds, executive turnover and more. Our “inspiration” was living through those inflection points during 20 years in high-tech and struggling to balance the “day job” of keeping the business running while also helping the team to execute “new initiatives,” adjust to change, as well as develop themselves as professionals and as leaders.
PM: You work with some of the leading companies in the valley. When you talk to executive teams, what are their biggest challenges?
LW: High-tech companies need to move so quickly, react to competition, manage through major platform shifts like cloud computing and mobile devices, AND “keep the lights on” by consistently hitting revenue targets, servicing customers, and delivering new products. One of the big challenges we see is helping teams and individuals execute the “new strategy” as outlined by the E-staff, especially when there are skill gaps or lack of alignment to a given strategic change.
Executives usually invest a lot of their time thinking about this “new strategy” and when they’ve move into “strategy execution” mode they are looking for their teams to deliver quickly. But it’s not as simple as saying “We’re going to move to a channel-centric model and go after SMBs.” The people on the team may not fully understand that or even agree with it, and even if they do, they might not have the right skills to make the change. But executives don’t have the luxury of changing out the team for every new strategic initiative – the team itself needs to evolve and adapt in real-time.
PM: What role do information and analytics play in company and individual performance?
LW: Metrics for measuring company and individual performance have been around for a long time, and the best-run companies that I’ve worked for have tended to be the most metrics-centric in their approach to management. But I still find that many individuals don’t think enough about measurement and metrics – they might say “We’re going to be more responsive to requests from the Sales Ops team next quarter,” but they draw a blank when I ask “How will you measure that so that you can see if you achieved it?” They don’t know, and they quickly realize that without metrics, any improvement is going to end up just being opinion-based which is ultimately not nearly as useful. Of course, it doesn’t need to be some over-engineered, heavyweight measurement system where the tracking becomes as much work as the task itself. They need to find easy-to-track ways to move from opinion, emotion, and subjectivity to real quantifiable metrics.
PM: Sometime the value of information is lost in presentation – in the board room, the sales call, or at the conference. What advice do you have to deliver information with maximum impact?
LW: I’m an engineer at heart. For me, whether I’m looking at metrics that are just flat numbers in a spreadsheet, or a flashy, animated, 3D chart on an iPad, I’m still focused on the numbers and the decisions that need to be made. But I think I’m in the minority. Other people interpret, internalize, and react to information differently based on how it’s presented. I think tablet computers and good mobile apps are really setting the standard for impactful information presentation these days. It’s to the point that you see companies using tablets in their advertising – even when they’re selling razors or minivans – they show a picture of their razor or minivan rotating in 3d on a tablet because they believe these devices really get peoples’ attention. They’re harnessing the “wow factor” of those devices and there’s no reason people shouldn’t tap into that same dynamic when presenting or delivering corporate metrics and information.
PM: There is an old saying that one of the keys to individual performance is to make sure you prioritize and “take” vacation, because nobody gives it to you. Where are you going to take the family on vacation this year?
LW: I’m married and have two kids who are 8 and 5, so we’re going to go to Santa Cruz and hit the boardwalk. We love the rides, but it’s also right on the beach so they can run around and play in the waves. For a five year old, running in and out of the waves is just as exciting as any roller coaster.