Skype Journal Interviews Josh Silverman: The Way Ahead – Managing the Skype Team Culture

skype_logoThis is the third in a series of posts resulting from an interview last Friday with Josh Silverman, Skype’s recently appointed President. In this post we talk about Skype’s value set, getting the business side right while benefiting from the experience and skills of the current employees and the role of product marketing.

joshsilvermanskypecomphoto2crop150pxIn the last post we talked about the major issues Josh has identified for addressing along with a strategy for employee empowerment to reduce the complexity of decision processes while driving towards business success. But a critical requirement for employee empowerment is the need to establish and communicate a sense of core values that flow throughout the company and make employees more comfortable in making decisions, especially with decisions that may involve some risk. As a follow-on question to our discussion of employee empowerment I asked about the need to drive a value set through the company. Josh’s response:

Skype has a great set of values. Coming into the company I’m very humbled by what they’ve accomplished, what a great culture and values we have. I want to make sure we nourish and respect that. So some of the values I see are:

  • thinking disruptively and differently about problems, not just incrementally innovating
  • wanting to have an impact on the world
  • caring a lot about what we do for people and doing that globally
  • a big desire to win
  • a big desire for excellence
  • a passion for the customer

Those are qualities that I would hold dear and want to make sure we nourish as we grow.

We then went on to the “people” challenges of getting the business side right while building on the inherent passion of the current employees.

I think everyone at Skype would agree that we, in a very short time, in about a year, hired over 150 people into marketing, product management and [other] non-technical functions. [We] essentially evolved those functions from scratch in a year. Given the pace of change at Skype, we needed to bring a lot of that expertise into the company. Of course, the challenge is that, when you grow that fast, making sure everyone knows what their role is and how to do that well … training … getting a common culture … takes a little bit of time. So what I’m focused on now is clarifying the accountability of all those business roles.

By the way, to your point about ‘we have a lot of passionate technical people’, I couldn’t agree more. Often time the best ideas come from that team. It is my belief that what the product and marketing organizations need to do is understand what problems the customer needs solved, and then to work together with engineering to think of the most creative, best way to solve that problem, hopefully better than anyone’s ever thought of in the past. If you’re doing an “ok” job of that, you’re understanding the articulated needs of the customer – like I can’t pay easily enough … it takes too long to download … I can’t configure my devices . If you’re doing a great job, you’re understanding the unarticulated needs of the customer .. things like “I’d like to be able to call anyone in the world for free” …

We then got into a short discussion about the role of the product manager as the mediator managing a balancing act between the user market and the engineering and design teams:

… It is not the job of the product manager to come up with the solution; it’s the job of the product manager to quarterback the design team and the engineering team and the marketing group together to come up with the world’s best solution. I think engineering and design play huge roles in that process.

Next: The Skype Platform …

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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