I had the pleasure to interview Mark Robinson,
co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Kimble Applications.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
As co-Founder and Chief Marketing Officer of Kimble Applications, I have more than 25 years of experience in the IT industry as a serial entrepreneur. I started my career in management consulting and moved on to Oracle where I was able to witness first-hand their rise from start-up to software giant. I’ve founded various consulting firms throughout my career including Kimble where I am responsible for business development, channel management and market analysis.
Based on your personal experience, what are the “5 Things You Need To Know To Successfully Manage a Team”. (Please share a story or example for each, Ideally an example from your experience)
- Hire people who have the potential to do your job better than you. I’ve seen too many situations where people are scared to do this and indeed do the opposite. You are only as good as the quality of the team you recruit. In my case, one of my business partners has worked for me as an employee in the last three businesses I founded. For this business, he is now a co-founder and the CEO.
- Never blame people. If someone makes a mistake, then it’s an opportunity for them to learn from it. If people are frightened to make mistakes they will never get the chance to learn from them. Learning from mistakes helps a company evolve. Strive to push yourself to your limits — don’t afraid to make mistakes as long as you try and learn from them. Have goals and take ownership for achieving them. You need determination — but the goals need to be aligned with your company goals. It’s about identifying patterns in the way you and others do things that are successful so you can replicate.
- Decision making is a two-step process. Listen, analyze, and learn first and then decide. Listening to the other person’s point of view is one of the best ways to learn and make smarter decisions. You shouldn’t worry about getting your way as long as the decision-making process is fair.
- Encourage your team members by rewarding them when they are seen to be going the extra mile to be helping their colleagues to be successful as well. A past CEO of mine from my Oracle UK days gave the analogy that the company was like a ship. Your part of the ship could be doing really well but another part could have sprung a leak — but unless you helped plug the hole then you’d all sink. I guess you could say recognising or admitting there is a hole in the first place is important too and that seems to fit with don’t hide the fact that there is a problem to fix and also try and help others to fix it.
- Walk the walk — don’t just talk the talk. Being a successful leader means leading by example. You want your team to feel passionate about what they are doing and empowered to make decisions, but if as a manager you aren’t showing the team your passion and curiosity, they might not be successful. Show them you’re a part of the team, not just the one running the team.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
When we started our company and moved into our then very small serviced office, we found out that the local telecoms provider couldn’t get us a connection to the internet for 3 months. But, we found out that the restaurant next door’s wi-fi could be picked up without a password. We never told them. Even though we eventually moved away to new larger offices we still go back and eat there regularly — so much so I think we are probably even now.
How do you synchronize large teams to effectively work together?
Set financial and MBO targets to drive cooperation. Too many people set targets and payment mechanisms which encourage people to do the opposite. When I worked at Oracle in the late 80’s and early 90’s we used to sell software to global companies, but we compensated the country who sold the deal. The behavior this drove was that other countries were reluctant to help support roll-out of the software to their individual countries — from the customer perspective, this didn’t go down too well, and from their perspective, they just bought the software for all their countries!
I’m also a fan of regular stand-up meetings, particularly when managing global teams who may not often meet in-person.
What is the top challenge when managing global teams in different geographical locations? Can you give an example or story?
My advice would be not to have teams aligned organizationally by geography (or at least as their primary designation). In reality, even people working within a single geography often work virtually or are not in the office every day. The concept of having a geographical affiliation is based on the days before technology allowed us to communicate in real time and with virtually low-costs, so the only way people had to communicate was face to face. As a result, we continue to have organization structures based on geography. For example, the previous business I founded was a professional services firm — we started an operation in India. We deliberately organized as teams of matching skills and not geography. We were told that companies with offshore operations like India had high attrition rates. With this approach we ended up with lower attrition rates than in our onshore based people! Often people will bring offshore people to their onshore business as part of an induction, but we also encouraged our onshore people to visit offshore too — this made people much more aware of local culture and built strong working relationships — so a worthwhile investment in the medium term.
What advice would you give to other CEOs or founders to help their employees to thrive?
I always say to my employees: I would love for you to work for me forever. But if you don’t, wherever you end up in your career I’d like to think that you will always look back at your time at my company and be able to say that what you achieved working at my company gave you the stepping stones to further your career. In my opinion, employees need to focus on adding at least a new line to their resume every year and if they don’t, then we are not developing them, or they are not challenging themselves enough, so as managers we need to set them up for those opportunities. As part of this I think you need to make sure that you create a culture where people are promoted for what they do for your customers and not for some internal facing recognition — a zero-politics type of approach.
Most times when people quit their jobs they actually “quit their managers”. What are your thoughts on retaining talent today?
For me it’s about people making sure they are adding skills which are valuable to your customers. It’s about making yourself more valuable externally rather than playing the internal politics. You need to create a culture in your managers that you recognize talent for what they do for your customers and not how much they brown nose you personally!
For me “playing politics” is when people don’t say what they mean or are scared of raising issues because they think it will be beneficial for their careers — rather than thinking what is good for the company. If you don’t get this right, too many people will pretend to operate in your interest while operating in their own.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d like to encourage more successful entrepreneurs to divert their time to helping young people set up their own businesses. In the ‘old’ days you could go to your local bank manager, ask for a small loan to start up a new business and then they would mentor them along the way. That doesn’t exist anymore as banks are centrally controlled with lots of red tape to stop this. Too many entrepreneurs I speak to are focused on putting their energies into being non-execs and investors in large business rather than looking at the next generation of entrepreneurs who might need a relatively small investment and could really benefit by the mentorship — these are the people who can then create jobs for others. It’s tough for young people to get on the first rung of the work ladder and I think we should try and help more.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My philosophy has always been Harvey-Jones’ quote from when he was asked how to motivate people: “You don’t need to motivate anyone, you just need to make sure you don’t demotivate them. No-one goes to work wanting to do a bad job, we just put so much red tape in their way that they give up trying.” In my experience, when you grow it’s inevitable that you will need to put more constraints on people, put more formal processes in place. But I’ve always tried to see it from their perspective before I sanction a change. However well-intentioned a new process is, it’s all too easy to unintentionally put something in place that demotivates people. Think how you would feel.