Tag: team

Winning an AWS Award

AWS Market Disruptor award

An initiative I spearheaded within the company received the prestigious AWS Market Disruptor Award this year.

In the past, I worked on internal improvements like engineering processes, DevOps procedures, and exploring nascent technologies like Flutter. Our attention this year was on generative AI, a hot topic among industry leaders.

The first thing we did was use Amazon Code Whisperer to boost developer productivity. Our initial focus was on internal applications for employee efficiency and process optimization. Our AWS account manager and CEO convinced us to consider how generative AI could benefit our clients.

In a stroke of luck, one of our retail clients asked about using AI to identify objects in photos. For retailers and brands, this was a big deal. Mega-brands use planograms to arrange products on shelves. Compliance with these designs usually requires manual verification at every location, a laborious process.

We used Amazon’s AWS image recognition models, trained on popular products. We didn’t solve the planogram challenge we set out to solve, but we identified products and matched them. Identifying products from photos taken at varied angles and light conditions was challenging enough. AWS awarded us a Market Disruptor Award for our innovative solution.

Success is often a lagging indicator of skills and processes.Our recent win is not just a reflection of what we’ve done recently, but also what we’ve done all along.

We’ve built a culture of experimentation in our company over the years. Each year, we survey the emerging waves, trying to catch up and build upon them, curious where they might take us. This annual pursuit has become a well-oiled machine, streamlining the process of discerning which waves to chase, what kind of proof-of-concepts to construct, and how best to determine their utility for us and our clients. The AWS award is the culmination of everything we have done so far.

Happy to end the year with an award.

Talent Development with One-Page Profiles

An idea from a book can transform your life, either by giving you a new perspective on an old idea or by giving you a brand new perspective on something brand new. One such idea is worth the time and money invested in a book.

One of the ideas that shaped my approach to talent development came from Jack Welch’s Straight from the Gut book nearly two decades ago. This idea has helped me develop my team members.

Welch suggests managers create one-page profiles for each member of their team. The top of the page should have the person’s name, a photo, and a grid assessing their potential and performance. Performance measures a person’s contribution to a project, while potential measures their competency. It’s critical to look at both. If someone lacks potential, they should be improved or fired. If an employee has potential but is underperforming, they may require coaching and training.

Below the grid, list the individual’s strengths and weaknesses. You can add accomplishments, teamwork skills, and other relevant factors in free-form text. Update this one-page plan every year to track progress.

Managers must evaluate where each team member falls on this grid and give them feedback and training plans.

I’ve been using this method for my team members since I read the book. I’m forced to evaluate everyone’s abilities and performance. The method helps identify the root cause of someone’s struggle-be it emotional issues, misunderstandings, or personal concerns-and opens up a dialogue. Knowing team members’ abilities in detail helps me grow them.

If you manage a team, try it. You and your team will benefit from it.

Embodying company values

A lot of companies have vision statements and say their cultures are based on values. They might even hang those vision statements in the office. Many of these values are so generic that they can be used by any company. Even companies with very specific mission statements and principles might have trouble articulating these values, let alone living them every day.

Amazon, however, comes across differently. They’re known for their leadership principles. When candidates apply, they’re tested on how well they adhere to these principles. I coached a candidate to get into Amazon, so I know how rigorous the hiring process is in validating leadership experience. I’ve often wondered if these principles just exist on paper or if they’re actually part of the culture. I got my answer recently.

As a CTO, I come across sales leaders and sales-support leaders from numerous organizations, both large and small. Compared to others, my partnership with Amazon stands out. Two people I interacted with from Amazon Web Services (AWS) exemplified customer obsession, a core Amazon leadership principle — Anisha and Sanjeev.

Let me give you couple of examples.

Few months back I got an email from Anisha, introducing herself as an account manager, my initial instinct was to dismiss it. I often receive similar messages from various partners, and more often than not, their goal is simply to sell more services rather than genuinely helping me. Typically, when I inquire about specific services, I’m directed towards documentation that I’ve already read. Despite this, I decided to reply back to Anisha due to our substantial dealings with AWS.

I replied with two requests:
• Information on AWS’s new ML services
• How these services can help our developers as well as our customers

To my surprise, within 15 minutes Anisha responded with an offer to call me or set up a demo session with her technical team. Impressed by her helpful and immediate response, I provided her with my phone number, and she promptly called me to discuss how her team could assist us. Note that this was without any sales pitch.

Eager to explore two issues—how our employees could use ML models and what we could do for our customers using ML—she scheduled a meeting with a technical architect, Sanjeev. He agreed to conduct a session on enhancing developer productivity through ML and addressed the questions of my tech team for nearly an hour. I have never seen my team members so enthusiastic in any training sessions. That would’ve been the perfect moment to sell us Code Whisperer licences, but Anisha generously offered free licenses for three months so we could test the service ourselves.

Curious about their other offerings, I inquired about additional services we could utilize. Both Sanjeev and Anisha explained different services that we could use for solving a problem we were trying to solve for one of our customer. Once the problem and scope was clear, without hesitation, Sanjeev offered to build a proof of concept (POC) for us. However, I insisted that as a services company, we should be the ones to build it and asked for his assistance instead. For the next four weeks, Sanjeev dedicated himself to weekly calls, discussing the intricacies of the problem we aimed to solve, our approach, and the services required.

By the end of that POC period, we had successfully completed it and presented it to our customer – who was delighted with the outcome. Throughout the entire four-week process, there was never a sales pitch; their focus was solely on helping us build what we needed for our client.

Sometimes it felt like we were their only customers, even though I know that is not true. Whenever I expressed my gratitude, Anisha replied, “customer obsession is ingrained into us.” Both of them manifested customer obsession – a key leadership principle at Amazon. Anisha even nominated our solution for an AWS award. We won.

It’s refreshing to see employees embody and live by company values. After nearly half a year working with them, I’m still amazed by their unwavering commitment to customer satisfaction. I’m curious how Amazon instills leadership principles.

Only honest feedback fuels growth

You must get feedback to grow in your career. But we Indians often avoid giving honest feedback. I was lucky to have a mentor who gave me brutally honest feedback. Once, I joked about how scary it was to hear his feedback. Something he said really stuck with me: If I care about your growth, I’ll give you feedback. If I don’t, I’ll stay quiet.

If you want your team or mentees to grow, give them honest, specific feedback on what they’re doing right and what needs improvement. If you don’t, you’ll limit their growth because they’ll keep making the same mistakes. They might never see these mistakes unless they discover them through self-reflection, which can take a long time.

Give someone honest, timely feedback if you care about their growth. That’s the only way you can fuel their growth.

Mercenaries, misfits, and missionaries in an organization

There are three kinds of employees in any organisation – mercenaries, misfits, and missionaries

The mercenaries are transactional. Most of the time they are great at what the company wants them to do, but they’re only in it for the money. If another company offers them a little more, they’ll switch. There’s only one thing they love and are loyal to – money.

There will always be misfits in an organization, no matter what management does. Misfits may come in as misfits or evolve into one. When there is an urgent need, hiring a misfit might be the only option, even if the management knows that the person is a misfit. There are times when existing employees become misfits. A company might change direction as it grows, or a person’s personal situation might change and they become misfits.

Lastly, there are missionaries. They not only bring passion and competence to work, but also rally teams to accomplish impossible missions winning awards and appreciation for the team. They can go out there and find the best talent.

Treating all three equally is a huge mistake.

Missionaries don’t always demand privileges. Failing to appreciate them and not taking care of them well would be deadly. They’re proactive and have agency, so they have valuable connections outside the company. It’s easy for them to get a job. The only reason they haven’t moved on is because they still believe in their mission.

Every company needs mercenaries. You can’t eliminate them. You’ve got to manage them. They know what they’re worth and will demand money and privileges. You have to engage them on their terms and satisfy them because they have skills and competence.

Get rid of the misfits as soon as possible. Your company culture will deteriorate if you’re complacent in dealing with the misfits. They’ll breed and bring more misfits.

This post was inspired by one of my favorite books, Blue Sweater. Jacqueline Novogratz, the author says in the book, “it is said that three kinds of people come to Africa: missionaries, mercenaries, and misfits.”