Friday, 26 August 2016

Part II - Building A Cloud Professional Services Practice – The Sir Alex Ferguson Way

In Part I we looked at Sir Alex Ferguson’s model for Manchester United’s first team squad during his tenure. In Part II we now lift the lid on Certus operations as Richard Atkins, EVP Oracle Cloud Services and myself explain how we have copied Ferguson’s blueprint to build longevity and a delivery capability as the company scales.

As Sir Alex says “From the moment I got to Manchester United, I thought of only one thing: building a football club. I wanted to build right from the bottom. That was in order to create fluency and a continuity of supply to the first team. With this approach, the players all grow up together, producing a bond that, in turn, creates a spirit”.

Well at Certus we didn’t want to build just a single delivery team, we wanted to build a great company. To do that we needed to build and implement a system that would not only develop talent and create opportunities and experiences for our people but build long term value for both the company and for our customers. This is very different from the days of Oracle E-Business Consultancy models with on-premise implementations and a room full of contractors.

The Certus Model – You Learn, You Lead, You Teach
When I first floated the Manchester United blueprint for success with the Senior members of Certus they first all laughed. Then I “told” them (not something I do very often) to think laterally and how it could be applied to a professional services company such as ourselves. In-fact what this story demonstrates is true collaboration because in no more than a few days Richard had created our own version of the model. Richard’s job is fundamentally to deliver our underlying delivery capability by ensuring we have not only recruited the right people but they always have the right skills and knowledge to look after our customers. As a consequence he needs an operating model that continuously looks to develop and challenge our people.

When Mark first pitched the idea all he wanted to do was talk about Manchester United and Ferguson’s model. As none of us really follow football, and don’t really care for United we had a good laugh. But he gave me the context and from that I could see after only a few hours how this could be applied to Certus. Within 48 hours we had pitched the concept to the entire company at the quarterly company meeting looking for feedback which was positive. People could see for the first time how their own careers would now develop over time and how we were going to build the company – and this was what got people excited”. Richard Atkins, EVP of Oracle Cloud Services, Certus Solutions

Just like Ferguson, who would recruit per cohort within the squad (see Part I) to provide positional coverage in depth, something the American’s refer to in professional sport as the “Depth Chart”, we do exactly the same. Our model consists of three cohorts:
  • You Learn – the Certus Academy (100% employees 0% Associates)
  • You Lead – Primary Delivery Capability (80% employees 20% Associates)
  • You Teach - the Masters (100% employees 0% Associates) 

So how do we go about Recruitment – The Rules of Our Game?
The model has to be fed and we are no different from any other company in trying to source the right candidates – personnel referral (always has the edge at Certus); direct applicants; and recruitment agencies. But more importantly, just like in football, we scout and target people we would like to invite to join the company – we are very big on this. However all our recruitment has to match against the three cohorts; positions required and coverage (depth chart).

Do We Ever Break The Rules?
Rarely, but we do it. If someone we view has the potential we are looking for comes available we will naturally enquire regardless if a given cohort is fully staffed. People do not join Certus just because of the salary we offer it is about being given the opportunity to be part of something that we are building and be given the opportunity to truly innovate and deliver positive change to our clients business operations with the latest leading edge Oracle Cloud technology. As we only do Oracle Cloud, this alongside our reputation, makes us an attractive proposition. In fact it differentiates us from our competition.

The model, however, keeps us true. If you had eleven Cristiano Ronaldo’s on your football team you would lose the game. A team might be made up of individuals with different skills, but to become an effective delivery unit they need an ability to trust each other, leave their ego at the door, and focus on the task in hand. Team’s win games not individuals; and equally in our business teams win and deliver Oracle Cloud solutions enabling positive change to our customers. All of which requires leadership at every level of the organisation.

The Shortfall - Use of Interim Labour – Our Associates
Let’s put this into context with another quote from the maestro “The first thought of 99% of newly appointed managers is to make sure they win — to survive. So they bring experienced players in. That’s simply because we’re in a results-driven industry. Winning a game is only a short-term gain—you can lose the next game. Building a club brings stability and consistency”.

Well a Professional Services company is in the same game and needs exactly the same outcomes "stability and consistency". You cannot achieve this by just using teams of contractors. We are in a results-driven industry and if truly you want to maintain the industry reputation of the like Certus has "of being the best" we have to ensure we have no failed implementations and we have happy customers. So at times we need to bring in experienced players to supplement our delivery teams. However the key element here is that the associates we use MUST share our values and represent us as a company. They have to put the company first and not themselves. This is the key thing we are constantly watching.

An individual’s performance, associate or employee alike, reflects not only on them as a professional but also ourselves as a company. Certus is all about building long term value for all those involved so we look after our staff, employees and associates alike, as they will look after our customers. But our standards are high 
and if we do use a associate you have to have the right skills and the right attitude.

Drawing a parallel again to Ferguson and the use of loan players – notably Henrik Larsson, a prolific striker filled in for 13 games (and 3 goals) during 2007-2008 season for injury cover in the top tier (“You Teach”). After 3 months Larsson departed having made his mark with club and fans alike. (we loved him!) – However the point here is that Larsson was a known proven quantity, possessing skills in abundance and when called upon he delivered.

The agencies will all say - "we get it!". But do they? Really? - The number of individuals who have credible consultancy and Oracle ERP and HCM Cloud skills around that puts them in the "Henrik Larsson" category is a very very small number. Just because someone has 15 years+ Oracle E-Business Suite experience doesn’t mean they can just transition to Cloud. Equally just because you have just done 2-3 Cloud implementations doesn't make you an expert. The reality is from our experience very few can in-fact make the jump. Oracle Cloud requires Consultants with a new set of skills, of which they have to be continually updated as the product is constantly moving on every 6 months. This is no longer a technical job of the likes of old. Contractors have to stay current in the Cloud, otherwise their value diminishes quickly.

Interim labor allows us short term resource elasticity in the middle cohort, it is not a base that allows company growth and expansion.

New Blood Needs a New Model
New blood needs a new model, hence why we feel Ferguson’s blueprint works for all of us involved in the company. True cloud consultancies have to operate differently, the delivery model is different, the cost base is lower, massive flexibility is required and customer expectations are also different. The next generation has to come through an academy like structure and that is what the model facilitates in a controlled environment. Cloud appeals to the next generation so the model naturally allows for opportunities for apprentices, graduates and 2nd jobbers alike.

Lets Not Forget The Working Part Time Mum's
Certus was initially built using part time working mothers (see -, the new model still supports this and they remain an important part of our workforce and equally slot into the cohorts the same as a full time employee.

So we can’t finish a piece like this without a quote from Sir Alex himself - “Football, bloody hell” – What’s that got to do with Oracle and Certus? – well we just told you! This post just became mandatory reading for those who want to come and be part of our story.

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