Let Your Fast Zebras Run Free (with a Vblock)

Let Your Fast Zebras Run Free (with a Vblock)

What makes an IT department effective and agile?  How can you let the stars on your team succeed while reducing gridlock and OPEX (operational expenses)?

Jon Katzenback and Zia Khan have an intriguing post at Harvard Business Review on fast zebras.  What’s a fast zebra?  I’ll let them explain:

Mark Wallace, former US Ambassador to the United Nations, has a term for people who can quickly absorb information, adapt to new challenges, and get people aligned in the right direction: fast zebras. They are the people who can skirt around or blast through the kind of gridlock found not only in the political spectrum, but in organizations of every stripe.

The metaphor is based on the fast zebra on the African savannah who survives a trip to the drinking hole by moving quickly while slower herd members fall prey to waiting predators. Well, organizations are sometimes like the savannah; to the new-comer, they constitute vast, unexplored areas fraught with hidden dangers. The fast zebras in both contexts travel the terrain swiftly to accomplish significant goals while the naïve ones run into the predators of red tape, unaligned incentives, and unmotivated teams.

Before I get into the Vblock concept, I want to take a step back and talk about the management issues here and add to them with my own experiences.

In one organization I worked as a part of a core team of a handful of “fast zebras”. I was the SAN admin, the server admin, and often the application engineer as well. The network team was readily available and we had the luxury of engaging them without a formal process.   While there are some drawbacks to such a design, we were able to attack projects with great speed and it was satisfying as well.

Suddenly we became a much larger organization and now we had to deal with a new model where there were rigid silos of responsibility and the fast zebras in the organization were told that they had to be “corralled” (that was the actual word used) and work within the new system and to NOT transcend across the silos.

If one does a Google search for “organizational management silos” you won’t see a lot of praise for silos – which management sometimes can be seduced with from an accountability standpoint.  Rather you’ll see posts about “breaking” and “tearing down” the silos, bridging them,avoid them, poking holes in them and even blaming CEO’s for their rigidity. (One of my MBA classes last year focused on organizational management and if I had my book handy I’d have a lot more great quotes!)

So what was the impact of the new siloed organization? We found that projects in general took 300-500% longer in the new organization. We had meetings to reclarify statements, specifications and then schedule even more meetings.  Think of the difference between telling the network or storage team to do “X” versus having an engaged partner in the initiative who understands the business and technical drivers.  Those of you who have built virtual infrastructures know just how complex everything from firmware to spindles to fabric can be in creating a solid infrastructure.   At times we even uncovered single points of failure that needed to be corrected.

Another area that amazes me is how some organizations can focus so much effort on their processes for regulatory compliance, but don’t focus on making those same processes effective for IT.  Even worse, real-world security can be an albatross when you pull back the curtain, but all the regulatory compliance appears to be solid and in order. It’s as if management can take solace in a regulatory interpretation of security while the effective security is a near-disaster lacking both standards and best practices.

Projects reigned and best practices became a luxury unafforded and with no silo of its own.  Compliance and structure over effectiveness.  Perception over reality.

Getting back to the topic, some level of red tape will be necessary for accountability and regulatory compliance but what are we really gaining by corralling our fast zebras?

Fast zebras are not mavericks. They do not seek notoriety for overtly breaking rules, and then start enjoying breaking the rules for the sake of being noticed. Instead, fast zebras are relentlessly focused on results. They prefer bending to breaking rules. They achieve results by using their fact-based knowledge of the formal organization complemented by insight into the informal organization. They often have no preference for either and view both simply as means to the ends.

So how do you let your IT fast zebras run free? Part of it is process and organizational structure of course. Rather than endless meetings and task delegation across silos, identify your fast zebras and empower them within your processes and reporting structure to transcend the silos and get things done quickly and with a consistent vision.

Another part of it is your IT infrastructure itself.  This is what I love about the Vblock and complimentary technologies like UIC and vCloud Director – not only are there significant OPEX reductions, but it helps to knock down the silos between networking, storage, server and app, while improving organizational agility.  Imagine if the application engineer can quickly provision a new multi-tiered application — including servers, networking, firewall rules and storage, mostly from a single console.

In an upcoming “Agility” series I will discuss CAPEX, OPEX, value and the need for agility, then obstacles to agility and then how solutions like vBlock, UIC and vCloud Director (and especially when all put together) can create exciting value and opportunity in new ways.

Leaders can speed up their formal machinery with the lubrication that fast zebras provide by planting them wherever agility, responsiveness, and innovative approaches are needed most. But sometimes what fast zebras do is so important that it warrants changes to the whole system so that fast zebra behavior is adopted more broadly by others. When a few fast zebras won’t do, and a herd is needed, leaders need to change the ecosystem of the organizational savannah. If they don’t, they run the risk of encountering their own unpleasant predators.

Your fast zebras in IT want to run free – it is their natural state. If they are herded, both morale and productivity will suffer – perhaps bad enough that your fast zebras may find somewhere else to run.

40 Responses to Let Your Fast Zebras Run Free (with a Vblock)

  1. Chuck Hollis says:

    Love the theme and message of the post — sounds like something I would write, only you’ve done it better!

    Keep up the good work — looking for more!

    — Chuck

    • Kevin says:

      Thanks Chuck! As a follower of your own blog I really appreciate the kind words. I’m hoping to crank out a weekly post over the next few weeks on agility/vblock/UIM, etc. which I hope will be both interesting and valuable. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: Is the Vblock a Monolithic Stack? | Blue Shift

  3. Pingback: The NoCloud Organization — Part 2 | Blue Shift

  4. I know this if off topic but I’m looking into starting my
    own weblog and was curious what all is needed to get setup?
    I’m assuming having a blog like yours would cost
    a pretty penny? I’m not very internet smart so I’m not 100%
    positive. Any recommendations or advice would be greatly
    appreciated. Appreciate it

    Geht nach Moeglichkeit auf jenem Beitrag … Deangelo Landau

  5. Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which
    blog platform are you using for this site? I’m getting tired of WordPress because I’ve
    had issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another platform.

    I would be great if you could point me in the direction of
    a good platform.

  6. Thiis is the perfect site foor everyone who really wants to find out about this topic.
    You realize a whole lot its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally will need to…HaHa).
    Yoou certainly put a fresh spin on a topic that has been written about for ages.

    Wonderful stuff, jusat great!

    Here is myy site: swiss luxury watches rolex prices

  7. Hi there to all, as I am truly eager of reading this website’s post to be updated regularly.
    It consists of fastidious data.

  8. Celina says:

    I’ve been paying attention to your web site for a time, but until recently I decided to submit at least a hey there.

    • Jayson says:

      Christmas Cookie Walk at Agape Church of the BrethrenDon’t have time to make homemade coieoks or candy for the holidays? Don’t like to bake? Have a last minute get-together and need dessert? We have the solution for YOU! Come to the “Christmas Cookie Walk” at Agape Church of the Brethren, 11610 Lima Rd. (between Carroll and Dupont Roads) on Saturday, December 8, from 9:00 A.M. to 12:00 noon. We will have many different varieties to tempt your taste buds. Some of the coieoks featured will be: holiday cut-outs, buckeyes, peanut butter blossoms, monster coieoks, and many more. We will also have a limited number of homemade Chocolate Covered Caramel Apples decorated for Christmas. Mark your calendars and get there early for best selection of these yummy treats at only $6.00/lb. Proceeds will be used for Women’s Fellowship projects and Outreach Ministries.In addition, holiday and gift items, handmade by Agape craftpersons, will be sold. A variety of wooden, quilted, knitted, crocheted, and “crafty” specialties are available with proceeds going to the Agape Women’s Fellowship projects. AND the youth group will be selling HUGE jelly beans as a fund raiser for their activities.Lots will be happening – hope you can join us! For more information call the church office at 260-489-6908.

  9. hello!,I love your writing very a lot! percentage we keep up a correspondence
    extra approximately your post on AOL? I require an expert in this space to solve my problem.
    Maybe that’s you! Having a look ahead to peer you.

  10. A little convenance on your allotment of these braindumps, could
    accouter you. Taking a training class sounds a good idea for your Cisco
    642-813 exam for it will not only teach you how to pass the exam but also
    some skills that will be rather useful ii your future career.

    Audience Profile of Microsoft 70-689 Certification.

  11. Knowledgeable, but interesting, as are many of your pages.
    I read through the archives over the past week, and I must say I
    think I’m found a new bookmark.

  12. No matter whether one uses the Pro – Form SPX 290 cycle trainer or an upscale spinning bike, we burn about
    500 calories or even more in one hour during an energetic spin bike ride.
    There are two kinds of stationary bikes to choose from: standing or lying down.

    There are so many choices it is enough to make the paintball player’s head spin.

  13. Somebody necessarily assist to make seriously posts I might state.
    This is the first time I frequented your web page and up to now?
    I surprised with the analysis you made to create this particular post
    incredible. Magnificent job!

  14. For most recent news you have to go to see internet and on world-wide-web I
    found this web site as a finest web site for hottest updates.

  15. Hello just wanted to give you a quick heads up.
    The words in your content seem to be running off the screen in Internet explorer.
    I’m not sure if this is a formatting issue or something to do with internet browser compatibility but I figured I’d post to let you know.
    The design look great though! Hope you get the
    problem solved soon. Cheers

  16. Pretty! This has been an incredibly wonderful post. Thanks for supplying
    these details.

  17. Actually when someone doesn’t know after that its up to other viewers that they will help, so here it occurs.

  18. cute dogs says:

    hello!,I love your writing so much! proportion we be in contact more approximately your article on
    AOL? I need an expert on this house to solve my problem. May be that is you!
    Looking ahead to look you.

  19. An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who had been conducting a little homework on this.
    And he actually ordered me dinner because I discovered it for him…
    lol. So allow me to reword this…. Thank YOU for the
    meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about
    this issue here on your internet site.

    • Asif says:

      Since there is so many fields of sileiaetpcs that I have a choice of, I still really can’t choose one. So I am going base on my personal experiences. My original goal back in high school and maybe even before that, was to work in a Neonatal ICU! I had a brother that passed before he had his first birthday from heart complications, and that year I spent a lot of time at hospitals with my parents. My goal the first couple of years was to work with babies just like him. That was until I had my own children, I would of still loved to have worked in that career field but the heart ache I would most likely endure when one of those babies did not make it home. I could not have handled!On to more positive experiences, I have worked with the elderly and Geriatrics interests me very much. Being surrounded with people that have lived a fulfilled life is so much more rewarding. Even though at times it is the ending stages of their lives, and it is sad when someone does pass. It’s less of a heartache to know that most of the time they are ready to move on. They are still very dependent on you and when you are able to help them with their needs that’s the most rewarding of all, plus you form a special relationship with the patients and their families.

    • roof could says:

      IJWTS wow! Why can’t I think of things like that?

  20. Hello, I log on to your new stuff on a regular basis. Your writing style
    is witty, keep up the good work!

  21. This is a good tip particularly to those new to the blogosphere.
    Short but very accurate info… Appreciate your
    sharing this one. A must read article!

  22. Today, I went to the beachfront with my children. I found a sea shell and gave it to my 4 year old daughter and said “You can hear the ocean if you put this to your ear.” She put the shell to her ear
    and screamed. There was a hermit crab inside
    and it pinched her ear. She never wants to go back!
    LoL I know this is entirely off topic but I had to
    tell someone!

  23. I am delighted that others remain to take their time for them to write down significant
    posts.

  24. Kristal says:

    Seriously, there is simply a lot of handy
    content in here!

  25. travian hack says:

    Thanks for another excellent article. Where else may anyone get that type of info in such a perfect
    means of writing? I have a presentation subsequent
    week, and I am at the look for such information.

  26. It’s hard to come by educated people in this particular topic,
    but you sound like you know what you’re talking about!
    Thanks

  27. Great beat ! I wish to apprentice while you amend your website, how
    can i subscribe for a blog web site? The account helped me a acceptable deal.
    I had been a little bit acquainted of this your broadcast provided
    bright clear concept

    Feel free to visit my site :: telecharger malwarebytes

  28. Incredible! This blog looks exactly like my old
    one! It’s on a completely different subject but
    it has pretty much the same layout and design.
    Outstanding choice of colors!

    Stop by my site – download for no good reason

  29. I have read several just right stuff here.

    Certainly worth bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how much attempt you set to make the sort
    of great informative website.

    Here is my web-site :: download frozen

  30. I like what you guys are up too. Such clever work and exposure!
    Keep up the amazing works guys I’ve incorporated you guys to our blogroll.

    my website … clumsy ninja cheats

  31. rea says:

    Whhen someone writes an piece of writing he/she maintains the thought of a user
    in his/her brain that how a user can know it. Therefore that’s why this post is
    great. Thanks!

  32. Aw, this was a really nice post. Finding the time and actual effort to produce
    a superb article… but what can I say… I procrastinate a whole
    lot and don’t manage to get nearly anything done.

    Here is my web-site; Ātrais kredīts, internetaguru.lv,

  33. Kelvin says:

    I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and entertaining, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the
    head. The issue is something which tooo few
    people are speaking intelligently about. Now i’m very happy I came across this during
    my search for something regarding this.

  34. Pingback: Why Microsoft? | Blue Shift

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *