The Bay Area’s been abuzz about the Golden State Warriors’ decision to fire its winning head coach Mark Jackson. Recently, Golden State introduced Jackson’s replacement, Steve Kerr, a former NBA player with zero coaching experience.
What does a professional basketball team’s personnel re-shuffle have to do with high-tech? Golden State’s adopted a very Silicon Valley approach to management – the belief that collaboration yields better results than traditional top-down management. Jackson and Kerr, star players with no previous coaching experience, fit the mold of leader rather than that of traditional coach, a remote figure whose clipboard is often wielded as a shield. Success lies with the ability to motivate rather than dictate.
The same could be said of high tech. An effective manager creates an environment that encourages talented technologists to share and debate ideas. He acts as mentor and guide, bringing out the best in individual contributors while at the same time steering the team toward decisions that incorporate its most innovative thinking.
Explains Ajay Singh, Nimble’s vice president of product management: “We have to make technology bets long before customers are asking for a particular new product or feature. Collaboration mitigates that risk.
“There are lots of arguments and horse trading until we’ve reached consensus,” Ajay says. “That gives us a much better chance that the organization will pull in one direction.”
An effective manager frames those discussions. “There are always at least 10 times more ideas than we have the people to do them,” Ajay says. “Prioritization is extremely important. The must dos are pretty obvious. It’s determining what that next tier of features will be that is extremely difficult. It has to come down to how many customers will a particular feature benefit, and what degree of improvement will it offer.”
Jackson, and now Kerr, earned their credibility on the basketball court. Jackson was named Rookie of the Year when he played for the New York Knicks; Kerr was on five championship teams.
Jackson’s success as a player leant him the authority to guide players with the kind of confidence that comes from great talent. His results were impressive: Before Jackson, the Warriors had made the playoffs just once in 17 years. A year after he arrived, they were playoff bound, a feat they repeated the following season.
When Jackson’s friction with the Warriors’ owners led to his dismissal, they turned to Kerr, a man with an almost identical resume who is expected to adopt a very similar coaching style.
Nimble Storage’s technology executives, Umesh Maheshwari, Varun Mehta, and Ajay Singh, are all-stars. They’re veterans of the storage business, startups, and Silicon Valley. All three have the technical chops to lead strong-minded engineers. Like Jackson’s Warriors, Nimble Storage has had impressive results. Started in 2008, the company shipped its first array after only two years. It’s been one of the fastest growing companies in Silicon Valley history.
Collaborative management is challenging. It requires the ability to listen, to maintain perspective as you guide the group toward a common goal. You must honor the contributions of individuals while maintaining the cohesion of the team. We wish new Warriors Head Coach Steve Kerr the best of luck.