Call 650 361 1902 BLOG | CONTACT

Learn from the experts

Practical advice from our expert consultants


Next Step - Blogs

Next Step invites you to follow along with our expert consultants as they discuss the ongoing market challenges that face us today.

Just Jump In to Achieve Success by Next Step |   posted: 03/25/2015

“When changes are too big, they may be too overwhelming,” said registered dietitian Ellie Krieger, author of “Small Changes, Big Results: A 12-Week Action Plan to a Better Life.” “People don’t want to start, or they don’t know where to begin so they don’t at all.”

Small lifestyle changes are easier to achieve and maintain. When successful, they are more likely to become habits and can lead to increased self-confidence.
“Most successful goals or changes are things you can literally check off and say, ‘I did this,'” Krieger said. “If you say, ‘I am going to eat better,’ you can’t track or net that goal. But when you set and accomplish small, tangible changes, you get an immediate sense of gratification, and that is self-motivating.”

So whether you’re looking to improve your finances, health, fitness or relationships, focusing on frequent, achievable little goals will lead you to success.

Start now by taking a moment to answer the following questions:

  • Think of 3 team members or peers.
  • What will you START doing in order to most effectively achieve your goals?
  • What will you STOP doing to give more time and space for success?
  • How can you adapt your management style to gain greater motivation and success with your team?

What really drives commitment? by Next Step |   posted: 03/11/2015

For successful productivity growth, employees need motivation, confidence and willingness to succeed. A critical factor to achieving each of these is clear communications from the leadership team.

In order to lead effectively and maintain a positive environment, the leaders’ communications need to provide the appropriate level of Guidance and Encouragement:

  • Guidance
    Refers to providing information about the task, assigning responsibilities, indicating deadlines, instructions about how to do the task, etc.
  • Encouragement
    Refers to traits such as encouraging, expressing confidence, dealing with conflict within

Leaders know when and how to apply both of these traits appropriately to gain employee motivation, confidence and willingness to grow into a success.

What kind of a leader are you? by Next Step |   posted: 02/25/2015

Autocratic Leader:

  • An autocratic leader (boss-centered) is one who tends to centralize authority and derives power from position, control of rewards and coercion. The autocratic leadership style is considered the classical approach where much power and decision making authority remains with the manager. Employees are neither consulted nor allowed to give any input but are expected to obey instructions without any explanations. This type of leadership is used in situations where the task is relatively simple or decisions have to be made quickly. This leadership style can result in low staff morale and has been greatly criticized during the past 30 years. Some studies say that organizations with many autocratic leaders have higher turnover and absenteeism than other organizations.
  • Autocratic leadership is best applied to situations where there is little time for group decision-making or where the leader is the most knowledgeable member of the group. Normally this style should only be used on rare occasions. To gain more commitment and motivation from employees, you would best adapt to a more participative leadership style.

Democratic Leader:

  • Contrary to the autocratic leader, a democratic leader is one who delegates authority to others, encourages participation, relies on subordinates’ knowledge for completion of tasks and depends on subordinate respect for influence. Democratic leadership is participatory with authority often delegated to others. The democratic leader keeps his or her employees informed about everything that affects their work and shares decision making and problem solving responsibilities. This sort of leadership can produce high quality and high quantity work for long periods of time. This is because employees enjoy the trust they receive and respond with cooperation, team spirit and high morale.
  • While democratic leadership has been described as the most effective leadership style, it does have some potential downsides. In situations where roles are unclear or time is of the essence, democratic leadership can lead to communication failures and uncompleted projects. In some cases, group members may not have the necessary knowledge or expertise to make quality contributions to the decision-making process.

What is Your Management Style? by Next Step |   posted: 02/11/2015

Whether you are a ‘people manager’, project / program manager or simply a manager of your own destiny, you probably demonstrate one of the following four “Situational Management” styles:

  1. “Directing” – This hands-on style is appropriate for leading novice employees, who need specific directions and constant oversight.
  2. “Coaching” – A team coach is useful for the advanced beginner, who has learned a few basics, but who may feel “disillusioned” about real opportunities for making personal progress. The coach provides firm direction and grants the employee a limited amount of autonomy in low-stake scenarios.
  3. “Supporting” – The seasoned, but cautious, employee is a capable performer who lacks confidence. In this scenario, the manager is a cheerleader who provides feedback and encouragement. This role is also effective in dealing with burnt-out, disengaged or “de-committed” workers.
  4. “Delegating” – Office superstars, like employees who are good rainmakers, are “self-reliant” and confident in their excellence. Delegate authority to them and encourage their independence.

The highest performing managers recognize their own styles and are able to adapt their approach when working with others who might respond and perform best under a different leadership style. This can be termed ‘situational leadership’.

By applying a ‘Situational Leadership’ approach, they drive successful business outcomes through a flexible approach that is custom-fit for each situation and for individual employees. This leads to higher level employee motivation and organizational results.

Do I Lead or Manage by Next Step |   posted: 01/28/2015

“Are Managers Always Leaders?” being a manager is often a part of the Leader’s role but the Leader’s role goes far beyond the role of the manager. In a high performing organization, both roles are critical but it is important to distinguish the difference between those chartered to manage and the organization’s leaders.

Some of the guidelines include:


  • Set clear goals, provide clear directions, support people as they need it, delegate and empower followers, give feedback on performance, have a flexible leadership style.
  • Recognize the need to motivate, inspire, and empower their teams to achieve organizational goals
  • Leaders inspire loyalty and are able to energize an organization
  • Drive and impact strategy and vision – gaining commitment to it from others


  • Know how each layer of the system works and guide others to follow the direction of the leader.
  • Focus on accomplishing their organization’s tasks and capturing metrics/milestones/ while documenting and communicating progress
  • Lead an effort and implement the strategy

While they each fulfill different roles, ultimately both are critically important to an organization’s success!

Reaching the Goal for 2015 by Next Step |   posted: 01/14/2015

We all have great intentions at the beginning of the year. We at Next Step look forward to celebrating with you as you achieve your goals throughout the year! Over the next quarter, our blog will give you tips, insight and perspective which will support your success.

High-performing organizations understand the importance of setting clear targets for their employees and being sure all employees recognize the goal posts. That’s important.

In Alice in Wonderland, the children’s classic.

Alice reaches a fork in the road and is uncertain about which turn to take. The smiling Cheshire cat offers to help and asks: “Where are you going?” When Alice replies: “I don’t know,” the cat responds,“Without a destination, you can’t get far … it doesn’t matter which turn you take.”

Unlike Alice’s situation, when leaders establish a CLEAR VISION AND GOALS employees are able to see the signposts and milestones. Well-defined targets and values shape the leadership activities of a company or a team. A “compelling vision” provides a set of parameters and provides the employees with insight into:

  1. The corporation’s business purpose (Does this purpose map what I care about?)
  2. The company’s long-term vision (Does this vision map to what I think is important?)
  3. The organization’s guiding values (Can I relate to this organization?)

Clearly stated values are important to your company and your team and your customers. So situational leaders use a flexible approach which is custom-fit for each situation and individual employees.

Cloud Data Breach & What You Can Do by Next Step |   posted: 09/02/2014

A few days ago a group calling themselves hackappcom posted a proof of concept script on the popular code repository called Github that would allow for a user to attempt to breach iCloud and access a user account. This script would query iCloud services via the “Find My iPhone” API to guess username and password combinations. The problem here was that apparently Apple was not limiting the number of queries one could make, allowing attackers numerous chances to guess password combinations without the fear of being locked out. The result was some Hollywood actors had their personal photos leaked online.

This incident has unfortunate consequences for the victims. This has also been a great wake up call to clean up your password practices and improve your personal security. There are few basic things you can do to increase your personal security:

  1. Enable two factor authentication on your iCloud account.
  2. Once this is enabled a user would receive a four-digit SMS message with a code to input in addition to their password.
  3. Use a strong password. Many people use the same password for multiple logins or use one that is “easy to remember”. You’d be better served using a password such as “IZYcq7XO9agP4[PBj+a.” or  a pass phrase.


For companies
Rather then taking a “one-size- fits-all” approach to security, without actually considering how the technology will fit into the your operations, business need to make sure they’ve conducted thorough risk analyses. Following are some of the questions you should ask:

  1. What safeguards (physical, technical and administrative) are being used to secure your information?
  2. When was the last time a provider included an assessment of its cloud provider in its own risk analysis?
  3. What happens if the cloud vendor suffers a breach — who cleans up the problems?

You’ll also want to perform a risk analysis for your own facility, to make sure there aren’t any vulnerable areas on your end that could expose your organization to breaches.

You should also keep records of the weak areas you find and what steps you’ll take to prevent breaches.


A Fresh Take on Accountability by Next Step |   posted: 01/29/2014

How Leadership Style Can Build Capacity

In today’s world many leaders struggle to understand what accountability really means: is it simply holding people responsible for their defined obligations – or is it something more?

Accountability is undoubtedly one of the signs of a great leader. Harry Truman’s famous statement “The buck stops here,” epitomizes both the ultimate simplicity and the profound importance of accountability.

Your understanding of accountability determines your response to crisis.

What is your style when a crisis strikes and a project is at risk?

When disaster strikes, a project is at risk, and customer experience is on the line, leaders are highly motivated to do whatever is necessary to fix the problem. After all, you are personally accountable for everything that happens within your business, and you don’t want to give your team the impression that you are hiding out in your office until the storm passes.

But how do you respond to problems in a way that builds organizational capacity?

The answer can be found in your leadership style.

Many leaders are action-oriented and want to step in personally and immediately resolve the issue. While it is crucial to address problems quickly, it’s also important to include your team members in the solution.

Here are five ways your leadership style can help build more accountability and capacity in your organization:

  1. Share the big picture
  2. Focus on results and expectations
  3. Expect setbacks and learning curves
  4. Incorporate coaching and advising into your role
  5. Know the work and leadership styles of your team members

Visit our Publications page to download a complete Tip Sheet on Improving Your Company’s Accountability. Contact us to schedule your 30-minute complimentary consultation.

Increase Productivity through Contractors with Benefits by Next Step |   posted: 10/23/2013

Why hire a contractor?

As the economy improves, managers are challenged with matching the right skills to fluctuating market needs. Since the use of contractors allows companies to engage talent quickly and flexibly, the “contingent workforce” is growing exponentially. For many Next Step clients, having a pool of qualified contractors address requirements “just in time” provides a strategic advantage.

Attracting and retaining contingent workers 

According to the Freelancer’s Guild, one-third of the national workforce is comprised of contingent workers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports there are 10.1 million self-employed workers nationally.  These “freelancers” may contract directly with a company or work through one or more consulting firms or agencies.

Increasing demand for quality workers raises the question

How can a manager attract the best contractors, maximize their productivity and develop long-standing relationships with them?

Historically for many contractors, the challenge with contingent work has been the lack of “benefits” such as health insurance.

Through research conducted with our client, Teaching Artist Guild Next Step identified several benefit options that allow contractors to receive benefits – while working for various organizations.

Contractors with benefits 

One of the five options identified for US companies was leverage of the Affordable Care Act. Contractors (even those with previous health challenges) now have increased access to affordable health insurance that is not tied to an employer. Each state’s health insurance exchange website describes plan options and costs. For a small business (which might be comprised of multiple contractors with complementary skills) there are also new options available for coverage through the small business exchange (SHOP).

Other options available to the contingent worker either on his / her own or through an agency include:

  • dental and vision plan discounts through an affinity plan or third-party insurance company
  • clearing houses offering discounted health services
  • group insurance through membership in a guild
  • membership in a union or professional association
  • group plans for liability and other business insurance

Use of a contingent workforce can allow fast response to market changes, greater productivity and long-term company sustainability. Don’t let the question of benefits stand in your way of growth – contact us if you would like more information on options to leverage top contractor talent immediately.

Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution by Next Step |   posted: 08/31/2013

Technology sales success today requires a combination of business and technology expertise.  For many companies this means a team approach to the sale – with a business-focused account manager partnering with a more technical ‘solution focused’ sales counterpart who can best relay the product / technology features to the customer. solution architect

Skillful team selling and especially the role of the solution architect can be considered both a science and an art.

While there are numerous sales methodologies to select from to form the ‘science’ of sales, mastering the art of the team selling can be more challenging.  As a solution architect, you need to invest in developing your knowledge of the technology, business and most importantly your personal style.

Four Rules to Master the Art of the Solution:

▪      You are a member of the sales team – not the Account Manager or owner of the sale

▪      You must be Business Relevant

▪      You must be Technically Knowledgeable

▪      Know your audience

Remembering these rules of thumb will help you demonstrate your artistry and style.

Rule #1:  You are a member of the sales team:

There is not always love, drum circles, group hugs and special brownies between sales team members – especially customer focused Account Managers and pre-sales engineers or Solution Architects – in fact some SAs and pre-sales engineers tend to resent sales people for various reasons (and vice versa.)  In reality, it’s natural for a Solution Architect to be proud of their technical skill set.

However, it’s your job to perform as a member of the sales team assisting account managers in the sale of the products and services your company provides.  Without you to define, communicate and address questions about the technology solution to the customers’ needs the Account Manager can’t be successful.  Similarly without the Account Manager to identify opportunities for the products / solutions you provide and bring you into the sale, you can’t achieve your targets and goals.


Now that you’ve swallowed the fact that you’re a member of the sales team it’s time to enforce the fact that you are not the leader of the sales process with the customer.

Your job is to make sure that the product, service or solution the AM sells is relevant, effective, right-fit, and complete for the particular customer.

Often today, the channel organization / company is referred to as a ‘Trusted Advisor’ to the customer but that ‘Trusted Advisor’ is typically a two-person team. Both the AM and the Solution Architect know the customer well, understand their environment, and maintain a mutually beneficial relationship – but from different perspectives.

As the technology / product side of the team, you are responsible for the IDEA. That is to:

▪      Identify

▪      Design

▪      Evangelize

▪      Adjust

As the Solution Architect, you need to identify customer requirements, design a product set or solution to meet those requirements, evangelize the proposed solution, and adjust the solution as necessary for the customer. 

Rule #2: You must be business relevant

This is typically another tough thing to do from a product or technical standpoint.

Understanding business requirements and applying the technology to those requirements does not come naturally for most technology experts but it is vital to success.  Great technology alone has no value; the data center landscape is littered with stories of great technology companies that failed because they couldn’t capitalize by making the technology business relevant.  The same lesson applies to the Solution Architect.

To be a great SA, you have to understand both business and technology enough to map the technical benefits to actual business requirements.  So what if your widget is faster than all other widgets before it, what does that mean to my business, and my job?  A great way to begin to understand the high level business requirements and what the executives of the companies you sell into are thinking is to incorporate business books and magazines in to your reading.  Next time you’re at the airport magazine rack or your iPad looking at the latest trade magazine, grab a copy of ‘The Harvard Business Review’ or Fortune magazine instead to gain a broader perspective of your customers’ issues and questions today.

Rule #3:  You must be technically knowledgeable:

Maintaining an appropriate level of technical knowledge becomes harder and harder as more products are thrown at you, but you must do it anyway.   If you can’t speak to the product or solutions features and benefits without using slides or data sheets as ‘cheat sheets’, you might want to rethink your presentation or product knowledge.

Staying up-to-date is a daunting task but there is a plethora of resources out there for it.  Blogs and twitter can be used as a constant stream of the latest and greatest technical

information.  Add to that formal training and vendor documentation and the tools to be technically relevant are there. Most importantly, the best way to stay technically knowledgeable is not being afraid to ask and or say you don’t know when asked a question. Then find someone who knows the answers or the latest information and talk to him or her.

In return, openly share your expertise with others as it creates a collaborative environment that benefits everyone.

Rule #4:  Know your audience:

This may be the most critical rule to differentiate yourself, your Account Manager and company. Mastering this requires doing your homework and ensuring that your conversations, questions and solutions are relevant to each of your audiences. Before you join a call or meet with a customer, be sure you have reviewed their company information and history with your organization and learned as much as possible about their requirements and environment.

Before the call, leverage your Account Manager so you know the customers’ interests and pain points.

Based on this knowledge, you can ask good thought-provoking questions.  As the customer provides more information it’s important to tailor the questions and information you provide to that customer’s interest.  Any technical conversation should be a fluid entity ebbing and flowing with the customer’s feedback. 

Practicing the art:

Like any other art, team sales with a Solution Architect and Account Manager must be practiced.  You must study the products and services your company sells, develop your skills and constantly work on your communication.

By starting with general conversation about the customer’s company and market, and asking open-ended questions, you can most effectively identify, then drill down to discuss the needs and areas of greatest interest to the customer.  Through continued use of discovery questions the Solution Architect can respond to the product/technology needs of the customer.


Solution Architect

In the diagram, you can see the way the conversation should go with a customer.  You begin at the top-level big picture and drill down into only the points that the customer shows an interest in or are applicable to their data center and job role.  Don’t ever feel the need to discuss every feature of a product or solution because they are not all relevant to every customer.  For instance a server admin probably doesn’t care how fast switching occurs but network and application teams probably do.  Maybe your product can help save a ton of cost, great but that’s probably not very relevant to the administrators who aren’t responsible for budget.  Always ensure you’re maintaining relevance to the audience and the business.


The role of the Solution Architect must be honed and practiced.  It doesn’t come overnight and as with anything else, you’re never as good as you can be.  Build a style and methodology that work for you and don’t be afraid to change or modify them as you find areas for improvement.  The better you get at the art of your role, the more value you’re giving your customer, team, and company.

Adapted by Next Step from article by Joe Onisick of Define the Cloud, LLC