As part of my responsibilities as COO of IBIS, I manage our competency requirements with Microsoft. So, together with Andy Vabulas, the owner of IBIS and Bill Forsyth, the President, I was right in the thick of the recent changes to the Partner Network.
We moved from something like 10 competencies to 3 (with one more planned before end of Q1) and also received our Manufacturing and Distribution industry badges. I’m proud we can do this in a sustainable way, mostly because we are only a 65 person firm so having that kind of depth is a testament to the focus our team has on continuing education and development.
Here are my thoughts on the changes:
- I believed that the “old” Gold was relatively meaningless, so I am happy to see the new “beefier” Gold requirements. If we spend time with clients helping them understand the effort it takes to hit the requirement, we have a good chance of making it meaningful in the sales cycle.
- I’m happy to see that MS is finally requiring certifications from the selling side of the channel. I think seeing pre-sales and sales staff spend a little time in training and testing will help overall quality, at least with respect product knowledge.
- I loved the inclusion of SureStep (pardon me, “methodology”) as part of the certification. I’m a fan of SureStep (because I no longer have to maintain a custom written methodology) so getting this in the cert set is good for me.
- I wish they had set the revenue commits higher AND created a better “Associate” or “Referral” program to better create an incentive for smaller and larger partners to work together. Ideally, I would have like to see encouragement of LifeStyle partners to align with a reselling partner just like systems integrators buy from LARs. Today, instead, I am seeing large consolidators come into existence whose only role in the life is to create conglomerates of small partners. Selfishly, I would have liked to see IBIS as one of these but perhaps allowing non-selling consolidators to, in essence, be a LAR is better than having large partners (who are trying to please clients) distracted by such a role.
- The site transition, despite all the prep work they did, was really rough. We got through it okay, but it took at extraordinary amount of my time to push everything through on deadline.
- Lastly, I really, really wish they had kept the consulting certs simpler.
To the last point, for both CRM and ERP (using AX as an example) you have multiple cert tracks (application, configuration, installation). MS required six separate people, used in no other competency, to pass the required exams in each track but did not require, say, 6 full blown MCTIPs, 2 in each area. The latter, for me, would have been easier to manage and, in fact, what we did was just ask everyone to get their MCITP on the most recent version and then make certain we had all the various tracks covered.
In summary, for us it was a good, but time consuming change. It will be interesting to look back in a couple of years and see what unintended changes this creates in the partner channel.
Almost every Q4, I end up in discussions involving comp plans for line management and consulting staff. And, in every case, I find myself either saying “Leave it be, it works fine right now” or fending off efforts to finely tune tactical behavior via bonuses. And, every Q4, I usually find myself on the opposite side of the table from everyone since the standard management mindset logically assumes that if you pay people to do something, they do it. The problem is I never believed that assumption is valid: I work hard to please clients, not because I get paid on client satisfaction (which actually is a component of my plan), but because I get intrinsic benefit from doing so (put simply, I like solving problems and being engaged with clients). And, in my experience, the best consultants (most knowledge, most effective with clients, most revenue) are not trying to maximize billed hours, they are just doing what they think is really cool and they love doing it. So, the most difficult part of these conversations is never being able to properly, or with adequate support, articulate why I think these “logical” changes don’t make sense.
Well, finally, I have someone else in my corner.
In “Drive:The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us”, Daniel Pink outlines his theory of high performance and satisfaction (in life, work, family, etc). In short, his theory is 1) that we are operating in a paradigm of extrinsic (external, carrot and stick) motivations for performance – he calls this the Type X management and behaviors – and 2) these rewards, which most business spend thousands of hours developing, tuning and managing actually are harmful to the intended effect because they destroy our sense of purpose. He instead suggests modeling Type I (for intrinsic) management behaviors to allow your team the ability to exercise a sense of autonomy over task, allow them to better develop mastery in their role and, thereby develop a better sense of purpose in what they do. His theory and book are based on seemingly significant research conducted by various psychologists and behaviorists over the last 80 years.
How would this look in our industry?
First, we’d stop paying on revenue billed or hours billed. Instead, we’d pay a slightly above market salary with good benefits.
Second, we’d retool ourselves to set learning goals rather than performance goals. So, rather than saying “Pass the SQL Admin test” we’d focus our goal on “Develop expertise in SQL Server, inclusive of SSIS, SSAS and SSRS.” Passing the test may be part of this, but not the end goal.
Third, we’d develop a culture that supports mastery of knowledge and application thereof, including public respect and acclaim, rather than just picking out for reward the highest billers.
Fourth, we’d find time, each month, to let everyone take one day to explore something of interest to them. Work related, of course, but not directed to a specific project, customer, billing code, etc. Basically, we’d let them play with cool ideas to whatever extent they wanted for that day (by the way, Google and several other very successful companies already do this).
Finally, we’d focus ourselves as consulting leaders on attention to the people on our team rather than just focusing exclusively on billed revenue or hours.
Read the book for more details – if you just look at this post, you won’t get the full impact of Pink’s book. For the rest of this first half of the year, I’m going to talk to consulting staff about this and see what their take is on it.