You have to make an important business trip that involves driving through heavy traffic. You jump into your brand new company car ready to set off, only to discover things are not what you expected. There is no steering wheel in front of you. The familiar pedals have gone too. In their place are some strange buttons and a small screen that can only display four letters. The traffic around you is building up and it’s time to get moving. Ready?
As a product manager back in the early 80’s I used to tell this story to illustrate the huge impact that new digital technology was having on the technicians who depended on their industrial measuring instruments to manage their production processes. Gone were the familiar switches and knobs. In their place, tortuous menus and confusing messages. Faced with the daily telephone calls from users struggling to ge their heads round all this new functionality I realised there had to be a better way to operate this technology and started to experiment. Making the complex simple proved to be a winning formula for this product line, and it’s a passion that guides me to this day.
It was exciting to be driving a new technology and good for my career too. As I began to work more closely with the commercial managers I was puzzled at first to find they did not really seem to share my enthusiasm for these wonderful products. Then I was hit by a blinding flash of the obvious. What they wanted to know is how this would help them reach their sales goals. I had to adjust my focus and start talking about the things that would help them achieve success. That was another key insight that sits deep.
My first experience to carry full P&L responsibility for an organisation was a baptism by fire. I was asked to clean up the mess left by two failed General Managers before me just as Europe headed into a period of recession. Tough decisions were inevitable and I needed dependable data to help guide me. It was challenging to get all the insights that I needed and that’s when I really discovered the true loneliness of leadership and realised that each discipline within an organisation has its own unique language and way of thinking.
Hard work and enthusiasm are key to success, but not enough on their own. To reach the top of your game you really need good teamwork. Just like in sports that means each player needs to know what the game is and understand the rules. When I was given an the opportunity to build a new pan European operation for a manufacturer of infrared thermal systems I found we always performed best when we had good processes in place, supported with metrics that the teams owned.
In subsequent roles I continued to work on good processes, extending from services and operations into the more challenging areas of salesforce management. I found it hugely rewarding to see directly how the efforts of our teams were directly driving the sales successes. We found ways to track the take up of new offerings from the earliest introductions to customers, through lead generation and all the way along the pipeline to order conversion. My focus moved more and more into development of the metrics and tools – mainly using excel where I had to get my teeth into macro programming to achieve what I we needed.
My last role in the process automation field involved setting up a new service to help food producers optimise the operation of their production plant. As part of this I needed a way to display key metrics in an online portal. It was during this period I first worked with the team from Interworks and was introduced to Tableau. I fell in love with Tableau. How it took data and made it beautiful but moreover gave it meaning. Meaning that could be used to make decisions rather than the time spent pouring over numbers and a decision hurriedly being made on a best guess.
Working with InterWorks was an effortless experience. I was impressed by their professionalism and enthusiasm throughout the project, so much so that I joined their ranks in October 2013. Since then I have become the companies 7th Accredited Trainer, delivered training all over Europe and India and had the pleasure of working with a broad range of clients providing consultancy and proof of concepts. I’ve always enjoyed helping people professionally. To impart knowledge and see that person hit their potential is a great feeling. It’s one of the reasons I’m a flying instructor in my free time and why InterWorks is the best place I can imagine being.