Life tends to provide us with defining moments, those glimpses of our soul that can sometimes be embarrassing, scary, or simply add clarity to who we are.
One of my glimpses came at a Texas Hold’em party. My wife was invited to the party and I essentially was her date. I knew the host, but she was my wife’s friend so I was the tag along. Other than the host, I knew one other person out of the 30 couples. I work with Dave and we share a common interest – running. I run with him at lunch time on occasion and we share our stories of glory. That night, he said something to me that really resonated – he said that he will always be known as a runner – it defines who he is. I thought about this for a moment, and then thought about how many times I had been introduced to people as a runner. I don’t know why – people just introduce me that way. Maybe they do it to explain why I’m so skinny, or why I eat so much. I’m not really sure, but people who know me like to introduce me as a runner.
Dean K. had one of those defining moments in his life as well. He describes it in his book (“Ultra Marathon Man”), when he was at a low point in his life and he was out drinking. Eventually, he ended up with a woman, not his wife, and ‘nearly’ had an affair (yea right…). So, he ran away from the situation, literally. He ran through the night and ended up in some other town. He called his wife in the morning to pick him, and then went on to become an eccentric and talented ultra-marathoner. He was always a runner, but never knew it.
The irony of my story is that I stopped running 3 years ago. I equate it to one of my guilty-pleasure heroes. Many years ago, I read the Vampire series by Anne Rice, and I was enthralled by the Vampire LeStat, until Tom Cruise destroyed the character. At one point, LeStat is left to die in the dirt, a shallow vampire in the shadows. He literally buries himself in the dirt, and somehow manages to stay alive by getting enough blood from the maggots and occasional mole that pass his way. That’s how I feel about my running right now – I’m still a runner and stay alive by the occasional 5 or 10 mile run that I’ll squeak out from time to time. But gone are the days of the consistent 40-50 mile weeks, and gone are the days of the ritualistic long run on the weekends. I am the vampire runner, still surviving, still able to pull off the occasional race, and (thankfully) still able to stay skinny.
So as I reflected about my running persona, I also reflected about organizational dynamics, partially spurred by re-reading the book ‘Good to Great’. One of the greatest challenges for a company is to maintain excellence – there are a handful of Great companies who continually demonstrate double-digit growth despite external conditions and despite market trends. A more challenging assignment is how to take a Good company and make it a Great company – that is the key premise of the book. Now this book was written before the time that Sustainability has become a board room topic – companies today must be Great and must also be sustainable in every definition of the word in order to survive and in order to grow.
I do not directly influence the direction of SAP as a great company. My observation (after 6 years) is that SAP is a great company and will continue to reinvent itself to maintain that level of excellence. I do influence my industry within SAP however. I want our group to be known as the BEST industry within SAP. I am proud of what we have accomplished, the innovative programs we have in place, the level of collaboration we have with the field and with other groups within SAP. I want us to always be the pilot, to launch the new Jive platform, to create the Mobility for Industries platform, to define in-memory (HANA) use cases, to be the model for Best Practices. It’s not easy to maintain that level of excellence – we must always push forward with new initiatives, some of which will fail.
At my core, I am a runner and I will always be a runner. Maintaining my level of performance has not been easy or sustainable, but I know I will return. As a community member, I am always involved and try to set a direction for my township, my school, my church or my scouts. As an employee, I am proud to be part of an excellent industry that continually pushes the envelope. So the challenging question is who are you? What will your legacy be? Can you transform your organization from being good to being great?