Red Condor: Becoming St. Bernard Software and The Executive Decision Cycle

Now that we were acquired and integration was happening, things began to evolve inside of St. Bernard Software. Changes were happening.

Even though the acquisiton was closed in August, the first real changes outside of pure integration didn't start happening until late in the fall. The first of these was both easy and hard. St. Bernard had two other Spam Filtering offerings and we needed to retire those. There were separate implementations for both an appliance filter and a SaaS Filter. The appliance was simple. New orders were just turned off. License Renewals continued on that product, but the lack of new orders would eventually kill it. With the SaaS offering, we were more aggressive. We decided to put a plan together to actively migrate customers from St. Bernard's Service to Red Condor's Service. We knew we might lose a few customers, but that seemed like a reasonable trade-off for turning off an entire product line. Both of these progressed and we got there without too many problems.

The bigger challenge came out of the annual planning cycle. There were a LOT of initiatives going on inside of St. Bernard. Perhaps a better way to say it was there were many planned initiatives. There were new products that were being introduced. There were changes in the Sales Channels. There were changes in the IT infrastructure (particularly the replacement of the CRM system). For a company just over 100 employees, there was a lot on the plate. This was effectively captured by our dashboard. Now, I have been part of building dashboards before and generally you want to keep track of 5 - 10 metrics at an executive level. We built a spreadsheet with over 30 columns of information to track. I expressed concern about this, but we proceeded.

I need to say a couple of notes here. I found this process at St. Bernard uncomfortable. I was very new to the team and didn't know anyone. Everybody else seemed to be in sync with one another. On top of that, they talked almost exclusively about the existing San Diego product (iPrism - a Web Filter). It seemed that the primary objective for the next year was aggressive growth in all the product lines. I talked to many of my peers outside the planning meetings with a focus on the large planned growth. I was told that this was the plan and that I should not mention my thoughts about reigning the number in.

One initial part of the plan was the introduction of a new product, by my team, early in 2011. This was a product that was an OEM product and our job was to integrate this product into our customer portal for customer provisioning and service activation. It took a LONG time to get information out of the company in an effective way, but by late in the year we got what we needed and got on with the job.

The plan that we developed was codified into a presentation and given to the Board of Directors. This plan was approved in mid-December. The end of the year was quiet, as Sales in San Diego has a big rush. In Rohnert Park, things moved along and we worked on the new product. We got ready to demonstrate the new product in January.

Then things began to blow up. When the company returned from the Holiday's something had changed. I didn't know what, but something was definitely up. We showed our initial new product demonstration and the product was immediately cancelled. I was stunned. We spent a bunch of time making this work and then poof. There was nothing wrong with the demonstration. It was just decided that this new product would not sell and therefore we shouldn't work on it anymore. On top of that, I was informed that our plan that was developed in December was too aggressive and that the CEO had already talked to the Board about changing it downward.

Now, I thought the plan was too aggressive but we were not even 2 weeks into the New Year. I am still not completely sure what happened, but one thing was clear to me - changes were made "inside the decision cycle". What do I mean by that. Every person in a company makes decisions on a daily basis. Results that can be measured out of a decision are in the future. The time-frame in the future is based on the position that the person holds and the kind of decision that it is. For example, my contention is that a CEO makes a decision today about a new product - the measurable impact is generally a year from today (assuming the decision is rational). What happens if a person in a company ends up changing decisions in a shorter time-frame than the decision can be measured, is that no progress gets made. This is what I mean by "inside" the decision cycle. Canceling a product before it is available to customers might be a correct decision because of market changes. But that didn't happen over a Holiday Break. This was a sign of more things to come.

Jim Sackman
FocalPoint Business Coaching
http://www.jimsackman.focalpointcoaching.com/
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