kool-aid

Corporate Culture

by dave on August 20, 2007


Welcome to Monday! (I think).  I was lying wide awake in bed last night and thinking about my last blog entry in response to Robin Harris.  While certain things irritate me to no end, bad assumptions about a company’s culture are a verifiable maelstrom of discord in my psyche. (Whew! that was a mouthful).  So, whilst I lay pondering, I determined to make this Monday entry somewhat targeted at people who view EMC company culture as being monolithic, Control Center oriented (great product, btw, but I digress), etc.

When I joined EMC, I was leaving 2 distinct employment “threads” behind:  a government job and a consulting job.  Obviously, the consulting job was the more freeing of the two since I was only answerable to myself for my success and failure.  The government job, on the other hand, was exactly the opposite: I was union, I was answerable to a veritable smattering of dollar-squeezing, penny-pinching supervisors, and I had to deal with judges who were as capricious as a bipolar cat.  Sounds like a lot of fun, right?

See, from the outside, people had the perspective that the culture in DSS (Department of Social Services) was all about how to “steal kids from worthy parents,”  screw over the folks who just couldn’t get it together, and disabuse the taxpayers of any solid notion that we were effective in what we were supposed to do.  The fact that we hired newly graduated workers and had a very experienced management staff (with hardly anyone between 5 and 15 years of service working there) was typically glossed over or elevated to the point of ridiculousness. The fact that there are TERRIBLE parents out there who don’t deserve the children they managed to procreate is completely missed. The fact that DSS, on a daily basis, SAVES more lives than it disrupts is missed. You’d think THAT would make the news. Instead, when the Boston Herald ran a story on DSS, it was invariably negative.  When Channel 4 ran a news brief on the Boston Herald story, they cherry-picked respondents who managed to talk out of the side of their mouths on what DSS was like.  Better yet, they were typically disenfranchised private sector workers who DSS had cut out of the money stream for services.  All told, just by observing the “news” and whatnot, you’d get the sense that DSS didn’t know and didn’t care what they were doing. (Doesn’t help that our latest governor decided to axe the best Commissioner in recent history; gee, THAT’S not a political move AT ALL).

The same observations made above hold true for folks who I’ve run across in the IT sector when it comes to EMC.  “Ah, you work for the Evil Machine Corporation….” or “Extra Margin Company” or “that monolithic IT storage company who can’t seem to actually compete on the grounds of technology so they buy out whomever they feel will enable them to compete” or “EMC doesn’t innovate like Company X; they just purchase their way to profitability and market control.”  The problems with these statements are numerous and, at the end of the day, aren’t even close to mirroring the company I chose to work for.

Like I stated previously, I came from a system perceived to be dishonest, overwhelmed, and completely chaotic. The truth is, my co-workers and direct supervisors made my experience.  They challenged me to grow personally and professionally and, along the way, we had a lot of fun.  I was stretched in my concepts of what constituted a healthy family and how the courts treat fathers AND mothers.  I was exposed to negative biases, hate speech, and bigotry.  I was in the minority of workers (being male) and I found out the hard way that I am responsible for what I say (which should’ve been learned in adolescence, but, I digress).  I was able to help, I was able to heal but I was also responsible for petitioning the courts to remove custody of children from their parents.  I learned the power of the spoken AND written word and the consequences of dishonesty. All these things were below the public surface, of course, so, they’ll probably never make it to the Boston Herald’s front page.  Why?  Because it’s much easier to find the errors, the cracks, the sore spots within an entity, than it is to find how they’ve helped, healed, or promoted positive change. Oh, and lest we miss the biggest one of all,  negativity sells.

We’re content to bash EMC for corporate buy-outs and schlepping our technology ruthlessly.  But, have you see the fundraisers we do for non-profit organizations?  Have you seen what we do to help educate our employees regarding their health, their retirement, their general fiscal/personal/whatever wellbeing?  Nah, that’s too blase, too boring for the daily record.  Really, who cares?  Well, I do.  I’ve got a wife and a toddler, both of whom I’m responsible for caring for, fiscally, emotionally, etc.  EMC provides a platform of growth and opportunity where I can cover these needs while allowing me the room to explore some of my desires (hey, I’ve got a blog now, right?). Anyhow, we’re getting off topic here.

Let’s go over some of the common areas of complaints with EMC that I’ve observed.
Consistently, and across all companies, one of biggest complaints is always regarding customer service.  Why?  I’d posit that it’s due to the stereotypical “pump and dump” style of sales methodologies used in corporate America.  Let’s face it, sales exists to move $$$’s, not move people.  You need to convert your target to your line of thinking in order for that person to buy your product.  Sound about right?  In that regard, your target ends up feeling a little jilted post-sales because he’s not getting the same amount of interest from Corporate that he did when you were getting him excited in pre-sales. If the customer is lucky they’ll have the same “touch” from post-sales that they did in pre-sales.  Historically, this has ALWAYS been a problem and is a legitimate platform to launch a complaint from.  As it stands right now, however, I’m happy to say that we’re working to assuage this issue.  The mechanism isn’t free to be discussed right now, but, it’s progressing and feedback has been good.

A second major complaint is really with the sales cycle in general.  Like I stated above, people get jilted by “pump and dump” sales methodologies. Period.  Historically, fiscally successful sales cycles have engaged in this practice since it statistically returns greater revenue in a short period of time. Additionally, the typical high-turnover rates in sales divisions often lends itself handily to this model.  However, as organizational psychology (even behavioural psychology) has made inroads into sales, a newer methodology of transforming the sales cycle has emerged.  I can only speak for the particular division of EMC that I’m in, but, in general, this cycle does play out more.  What is emerging is the concept of customer relationships, that is, the maintenance of the sales rep/customer role outside of quarterly blitzes, etc.  Additionally, by bringing other resources to the table (SMEs, TCs, Partners, etc.) you put faces to names and voices spoken over the phone and email. I used this approach consistently on the consultant level with the rewards of higher customer satisfaction, greater sales rebooks quarter to quarter, and generally just a better feeling all around the table.  Again, this is all a work in progress, but if it can be mirrored on the Fortune 500 level, I see great things in store.

A third (and often vitriolic charge) against EMC takes the form of either a “drinking the Kool-Aid” speech or a more PC-esque “unified message.”  I  guess the assumption can be made that there’s some sort of gro
upthink or mindfsck (pardon my mangling of the *nix command “fsck” there 🙂 ) going on at EMC.  Really?  Where?!?!?!?!?!  I think the most succinct response to this charge is stated by my friend Kartik here (in the comments section):

“My hypothesis is about EMC’s internal culture – our values are focus,
passion, a sense of urgency and a maniacal obsession with making our
customers successful. That is what we call our EMC DNA. Our corporate
stance is not created in a vacuum – it is hotly debated internally, and
converges through a very open process, always coupled with a strong
feedback loop from the field and our customers. We all believe in our
ability to help our customers succeed. The commonality you sense, I
submit, is in this common conviction, so its not so much a case of
saying the same thing, but saying it with the same set of values. Its
our shared common vision and passion.”

Are some people disillusioned by the EMC message after they’ve been here awhile? Sure. Happens pretty much anywhere.  Just ask Jeff Browning about the Kool-Aid at Netapp.  What makes some people different, however, is the willingness to embrace the EMC DNA and test, try, and prove it through daily work.  For some, the ontological discord causes by this is too great and they leave.  For others, it fits their teleology  and consequently, their worldview shifts to accomidate it (hehehe….I should write an article on the EMC Teleology sometime).  This isn’t some sort of conspiracy. If anything, EMC is very upfront in its values to its employees and it offers, time and time again, the ability to challenge and confront those things which don’t sit well, person to person.  Are all the challenges accepted? No. Should they be? No.  For a nice little illustration of this, I’d request that you watch “Bruce Almighty.”  During his “God phase,” Bruce gets frustrated with all the prayers being sent to his heavenly email box.  Rather than respond to each on individually, he simply gives a blanket “Yes.” Panic, of course, ensues and he comes to the realization that, if all prayers were answered “Yes,” a perfect balance would not be maintained.  Not saying that EMC is God (I’ve got my own faith that promotes a more personal God) but, the allegory should be consistent.

Anyhow, I’ve spent way too much time on this so, I’ll need to sign out.  Comments, while moderated, are welcome!

Cheers,

Dave

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