When it was Eric Schmidt's turn, he must have done a pretty good job. His efforts were impressive enough to Google cofounders Larry Page and Sergey Brin to convince them he was the CEO to take their company into the future. But entrepreneurs and CEOs alike will tell you that the kind of job Schmidt took on is not easy. It’s easier to start a new business or project than keep an existing one going. To correct your course when you have already started, when you realize mid-race you’re not heading in the right direction, is more complicated.
So how do you reinvent yourself?
I am facing this challenge right now, and you may be, too. I love what I do and I’ve built up a lot of great momentum, but I realize I am not on my ideal path. I want more time with my kids. I want colleagues. I want greater purpose to drive my work.
Schmidt's challenge, before he joined Google, was of another level. He was CEO of Novell, a storied enterprise technology company that dominated the network operating space at near-monopoly status (it was even starting to challenge Microsoft's DOS and Office products), until suddenly Microsoft, Apple, and Linux stole the wind from its sails by integrating into their operating systems much of what Novell was charging for.
That narrative may be one you recognize. Things are going well, and then they aren't. You want to launch a new strategy to get rid of the bad, but without throwing out all the good things you have going on.
Schmidt never got to finish the job. He left Novell in 2001 to join Google.
Today, the challenge of reinventing Novell rests in the hands of Bob Flynn, an IBM veteran with 33 years in the IT business. Last week I had the opportunity to talk with Flynn about how he has attacked the challenge of reinvention. If you ever find yourself wondering what it might take to reinvent your business or career, give this a try:
Step 1: Clarify the situation. What has changed that requires a reinvention? The changes could be external or internal. For Novell, Flynn noted there were several key trends forcing Novell to reinvent itself including the consumerization of IT (in other words, your IT department allowing you to connect your iPhone to your corporate email) as well as a proliferation of new devices. For me, my changes revolve around birthdays: My kids are growing and I want to eat dinner with them more often. I celebrated my own birthday on Tuesday and realize I want more purpose in my work. What has changed for you?
Step 2: Assess your assets. Novell has an incredibly strong brand name with IT departments, a brand associated with networking. They have a substantial sales force and continue to generate $300 million per year from their core, a legacy product more than 30 years old. Flynn’s strategy is to leverage these assets, building on the advantages they provide, and working hard to protect them. I believe I have three core assets: my IP (four books, research, a training program, etc.), my relationships (readers, consulting clients, conference organizers), and my skills (speaking, writing, consulting). What assets do you want to protect and leverage?
Step 3: Listen for needs. Flynn's first months as CEO were spent connecting with customers, asking "What do you need from us?" He directed the sales staff to do the same. The results were a bunch of ideas Novell could build on—the company has some exciting new products launching soon as a result. For example, they’ve developed a product that allows users to securely access files anywhere, any time, on any device, and a product that allows mobile workers to print from any device to any device anywhere. The needs drawing my attention are around people using business and capitalism to solve global problems and the desire for everyone to outthink any problem life lies in our paths. What needs are calling you?
Step 4: Define your strategy. To move into action, we need a clear set of priorities. Novell adopted three: send a strong message to current clients that the company will continue to support them; seek out new customers and requirements outside of what we do today; and leverage our core competencies. I’m working on five defining strategies: clarify and connect with my message; surround myself with people who inspire and motivate me; keep my plans simple; finish my PhD; and focus on my speaking. What are your priorities to reinvent your business?
[Image: Flickr user Adam Brill]