Lessons Learned When I was fired by Carol Bartz

I admire Carol Bartz, the new CEO of Yahoo. A week or so ago I sent an email to reporter Kara Swisher who has been covering Bartz at Yahoo about the time I wasfired by Carol Bartz. Swisher published it on her blog here.

I was in my early 30s and had never failed at anything in my life. I had a Computer Science degree and had been a programmer at Boeing and Sperry Univac. I had managed groups at a small Medical Information System company and at Digital Research, the makers of CP/M the fist PC operating system. I had taken a job at a young Sun Microsystems as a manager of the US Answer Center, the group that supported all of Sun's software products. My organization consisted of 35 fantastic people. But all was not sunshine and roses. After two years Sun was growing quickly and I had grown my group to well over one hundred people. On top of that we had just released a new Operating System, Sun OS 4.0, and it was full of bugs. the Answer Center was overwhelmed with  calls and we were failing. I was failing.

A sales person went on a customer call and the customer used the speaker phone in the middle of the table to call the Answer Center. He was put on hold for over 30 minutes. We had a lot of very angry customers. These customers were paying big bucks for their support contracts. It was so bad that when I met a new VP of Sales at an all hands meeting he said  "So you are the eye of the storm." … not a great way to be known. Although I was in way over my head and didn't know what to do to get out of this mess I liked Sun and wanted to stay with the company. It is was an amazing company full of amazing  people.

So when Carol Bartz was named the new VP of the services organization and she scheduled a meeting with me I was not really surprised when she said "Marion, we are not going to take you out and shot you but you are not going to doing this job any more.". She said it directly and with compassion. I had to find a new job. Luckily I found one at Sun. But as I said earlier I was devastated. I cried for a week.  I was totally knocked off my feet.

For years after this experience I spent time thinking about what I could have done differently, what I should have done to succeed. Even though the support situation was an enormous mess and pretty much all of the management in the service organization was replaced there had to have been a way to succeed. 

It is a measure of the magnitude of this experience in my life that I am writing this post today. I thought I would share with you my lessons learned from the experience.

Lessons learned

  1. Sometimes good people have to go – I probably  could have been coached to success and I know some of my peers who were fired could have been successful in the Bartz organization, but what was needed at that place and that time was focus, action, and a clean slate. By cleaning house Bartz sent a message that could be sent no other way. At the time I didn't think anyone could be successful in service at Sun but Bartz was and her first step was to start fresh.
  2. You need a team who will work together as a unit – At the time I had two people, Sharon and Bernie, in my management team who hated each other. They were each good people but together they drained energy from the team. I should have got rid of one of them. We needed a cohesive team focused on results and working on team building defocused us from working on solving our problems.
  3. Measure, Measure, Measure. You Manage what you measure. – We had a horrible home grown call management system with virtually no reporting. I should have hired someone to just focus on reporting and then we should have managed to the results. Everyone including product development should have been able to see the spike in calls and the reason for the spike.
  4. Ask for help up the line. – When I asked my boss for help he said he didn't know what to do. I should have taken my metrics to his boss  and his boss. It was not only my problem but it was everyone's problem. They needed to help own it.
  5. Always have a war plan – In hind sight I realize that we were under attack. I should have had a war plan in my drawer developed by me and my staff that we could pull out if there was a big buggy product release. Having a plan is very important.
  6. In time of war treat the situation like a war – I tried to manage my way through the problem in business as usual mode. Instead we should have been in war mode. All hands on deck, calling for reinforcements, putting other priorities on hold while we repelled the attack.
  7. Leadership – I should have called an all hands meeting and asked people to rally around. Everyone needed to know that we were at war and everyone needed to go above and beyond. I needed to lead the forces. Lincolnesque war time leadership was needed.
  8. Communication – The whole company needed to know that we were at war. Much later in my career at Sun my boss (he came from the Department of Defense) had daily red alert calls that all the VPs attended. Most people hated these calls but they did the job and focused on our failures. Support calls. are failures and we should have been treating them as such and making sure that the root cause was identified and eliminated.
  9. Life goes on – Even though this experience seemed like the end of world to me at the time. It wasn't. My daughters still went to school and grew up to be wonderful people. I got a new job at Sun and eventually became a Director in Sun's iWork Group. I had ups and downs but I fondly remember my almost 20 years at Sun.

I'd be interested in any ideas of perspective any of you who read this have.

Capitalism must be Humanized

I subscribe to 164 feeds in Bloglines. It is almost impossible to read all of them and stay current so I have created my A1 list that I always enjoy reading and always read first before any other blogs. There are 11 blogs on my A1 list.  One of the blogs on my A1 list is Speak up by Richard Edelman. Edelman is president of the world’s largest independent public relations firm.  He only posts occasionally but his posts are always thought provoking and he is such a good communicator that you can understand why he is as successful as he is.

In his latest post Edelman discusses the role of PR in the future and how it fits into the way markets are changing and communications is evolving. I especially liked the paragraph which he introduced with a quote from futurist Andrew Zolli, “the consumer must be treated differently, allowed to become part of the
“experience economy.” He believes that capitalism must be humanized”. This is at the heart of what I believe about successful customer support and is part of what I hope to create and deliver at Intuit.