5 lessons I learnt as the CEO of Avanade
- Posted on August 27, 2019
- Estimated reading time 4 minutes
This article was originally published in CEO Magazine.
Celebrating my 10th anniversary as CEO of Avanade, the leading digital innovator on the Microsoft ecosystem, has provided many opportunities for me to stop and reflect. Not just about where the last 10 years went, but also on the seismic changes in technology we have witnesses and its impact on the way we work, live and interact; on the highs and the lows of the business; on the people who have crosses my path; and of course, on the many lessons I learnt along the way.
Set ambitious goals—for the company and yourself
The stories of small companies with big ideas that surprise and disrupt pillars of industry are legendary. I firmly believe that to avoid the dangers of complacency, it’s essential to rally the team around a few big and very ambitious targets. In 2015, Avanade launched a five-year business strategy with the objective of doubling our business and shifting our work with clients to be 75 percent cloud and digital-based by 2020. It proved motivating and unifying both for the strong and talented leadership team that helped conceive it, and for our broader employee base who were hungry to prove it was doable. (As to whether we accomplish that goal, we’ll have to wait until 2020, but it seems well within our reach today). On the personal side, it’s equally important to set ambitious goals and fin the support you need to take risks. That truly is the best way to move out of your comfort zone and grow as a leader.
Think through difficult decisions with compassion
When I first joined Avanade, I had the good fortune to work closely with our founding CEO, Mitch Hill, who was one of the most thoughtful, compassionate leaders I have ever worked with. About 18 months into the business, we knew we had a tough decision to make about a struggling office overseas. After spending days at the location talking with everyone who was involved or would be affected, Mitch and I took the difficult decision to close the office. However, as part of the closing agreement, Mitch made sure every employee had a way to move forward. I admired his ability to balance the welfare of the team with what was right for the business and strive to do the same myself.
Manage the noise
I’ll be honest. Like everyone else, I struggle to stay on task amidst a swirl of emails, text, meetings and social media. I’ve learnt the hard way that I need to protect my time. Each day I select three things I want to achieve. It may seem like an over-simplification but prioritizing just three things really helps me achieve more by keeping my focused and helping me push through the myriad of distractions.
Similarly, I don’t subscribe to the idea that just because the business is 24/7, we must be too. In my opinion, creativity, innovation and engagement come from employees who are happy and know they can take the time they need to switch off. As a leader, it’s important to demonstrate positive habits and respect them in other people. For instance, I always plan my vacations ahead of time to make sure I take the time that I have earned, and I encourage my team to do the same. During the week, no matter where my travels take me, I try to be home for my Saturday morning tennis game. And I unplug in my rose garden, where change happens at a different place than it does in the technology world.
Embrace talent wherever you find it: culture eats strategy for breakfast!
How do you get an organization from where it is today to where it wants to be in the future? By surrounding yourself with people who have a growth mindset and the kills and ideas that complement, stretch and challenge your own. I remind my team that “culture eats strategy for breakfast,” meaning that without creating and nurturing a strong, diverse, inclusive company culture, made up of people with unique talents and perspectives, it’s hard to successfully execute your strategy. At Avanade, our culture has been the bedrock of our 19 years of success and creating a workplace where everyone feels comfortable being their true selves is one of the things I am most proud of.
Enjoy the ride
I get my energy from being with the people of Avanade. I like hearing ideas, getting feedback and working together to accomplish something bigger than any of us could do alone. For me, it’s not just about spending time with Avanade leaders, but also connecting with our teams across the globe in a variety of different ways. When I travel, I often host a town hall event or make a point to pull together a smaller “connect with” group to talk about whatever is on their minds. If people comment on one of my messages or ask me a question via email, I reply directly. I work hard to connect with our team in unexpected ways (and yes, that includes our tradition of sending April Fool’s messages) and I find that I always come away with renewed energy and motivation. It’s also a great way to learn what’s really going on in the business.