Name: Kieran Desmond
Kieran Desmond is a Vice President at VMware, responsible for the Global Services Platform Experience through which he manages customer interactions for VMware Support. Kieran has in-depth knowledge of support operations and leading global support teams. He is passionate about technology and building great experiences for customers and all users that engage with technology to solve customer issues. Kieran joined VMware in 2006 and has taken on many challenges over the years.
Prior to VMware Kieran spent 14 years at EMC spending the majority of his time within Technical Support visiting customer sites deploying the latest and greatest features. Kieran also spent time within EMC Symmetrix R&D as a software developer developing tools to help diagnose product issues.
Kieran lives in West Cork Ireland, a beautiful part of the world with his wife and three children.
I had a great time interviewing Kieran. We have known each other for a few years and have worked really closely for the last couple. This interview was completed remotely as Kieran lives and works in Ireland. Although he has lived and worked in the United States, you will hear throughout his answers how his experience working in Ireland, remote from headquarters, has shaped much of the way he operates. The experience and skills that Kieran has in building relationships have been key to his career success. I think you will really enjoy the summary below and the full interview when it is turned into a podcast shortly.
What are the most important factors you consider when hiring someone?
The answers that great managers have provided to this question all have a common theme. It is not really about the basic skills that are required to be successful in a job. It is about something more fundamental. Kieran’s answer was along a similar vein.
First of all, I guess there is still no single factor. Assuming you have a number of candidates and each individual has the right skills and experience – for me after that it comes down to attitude, passion, and energy.
Also important is the connection you make during the interview… Do they have good body language, is there’s the right level of enthusiasm and so on?
Kieran took this further, providing a bit of a retrospective on the people that he has hired and why some were successful.
Looking back over years of hiring people into the support organization. We brought in some people who maybe didn’t have the right skills, but we were thinking ‘we have got to take a chance on this person’ because they had the right attitude. They are the ones who really excelled when they came in.
Who was your most effective boss, and what made him or her stand out?
Kieran is very strong in building relationships. When he talks about his most effective boss – he noted that they all have been very different. But the single most important aspect of an effective boss is the relationship.
For me, the most important aspect is the relationship that you have and your ability to bounce questions and to think things through with your direct manager. Those meaningful one-to-one discussions help drive alignment… with what’s next or where we should go next.
What was the most difficult transition that you made in your career?
Kieran focused on two significant career transitions. The first is moving from an individual contributor to a manager, and the second is moving from director to senior director.
The first time going into people management. This can be one of the most challenging jobs of your career because most the time you’re coming from a peer to now you’re the boss and that can be a challenging environment to be in.
I guess the second one I would say would be when I moved from director to senior director. At a director level, then you need really be in command of the business and working with the team to drive the business forward. When you move from that role (to a senior director), you’ve got directors reporting into you. You need to recognize they need to do the same. You can’t be interfering in their business to a deep extent. What you need to do instead is drive clarity of what needs to get done, leaving them to figure out how to go about it. That is where… people grow and learn.
How do you approach helping someone with their career development or path?
Kieran plays a key role as a coach or mentor, helping his employees take ownership of their career development.
One of the things that we’ve done recently within VMware Global Services is to leverage what we call the GROW Model (What is your Goal?, What is your current Reality?, What are your Options?, What is the Way forward?). I really like the model because I think it really frames things very well. It is about having an open (career development) conversation. The conversation needs to be driven by the employees. You are more of a facilitator asking questions…asking questions… asking questions. The questions are intended to drive clarity and ownership by the employee of their career development.
Kieran also leverages tools to support this process. One that he pointed out is “Strengths Finder”, by Tom Rath (http://www.tomrath.org/book/strengthsfinder/). This is an assessment that provides visibility into what you do best and how to develop your greatest talents.
I think “Strengths Finder” is another aspect that really helps. It was amazing the first time we went through that as an organization. It helps you to understand an individual’s strengths so that you can best leverage them.
What tools and tricks do you use to find work-life balance?
Kieran has a couple of significant challenges in finding work-life balance. The first is, he is in a support organization. When a customer needs help, you are expected to jump in and help them. The second is, working from Europe when headquarters are in the United States, there is a significant time zone challenge.
In Europe, it is challenging. The end of the day here is the start of the day in the West Coast so naturally, there’s going to be a lot of email traffic and meetings in the evening. I leave early in order to get home before the meetings. That way I get a couple of hours before the meetings start up. Things like that, I think can certainly help.
The other thing that I tend to do, certainly over the weekend, is avoid sending emails, particularly to the team, because some people will feel an email has an SLA of 30 minutes. But when I do send an email I stress – ‘I don’t need an answer until Monday or Tuesday or sometime early next week is fine,’ just to set the right expectations.
How do you go about building relationships with your peers and other leaders in the company?
As I mentioned earlier, Kieran is an expert in building relationships. Some of this likely came naturally as he is very social. Some came from his experience working remotely from headquarters.
First of all, common objectives or common challenges are a great way to start because ultimately there’s a desire on both sides to solve this challenge, a problem or whatever you are faced with as a business.
You can’t beat meeting someone face to face, no matter what you do over the phone, you’ve always got a certain amount of just a body language connection that’s missed, and that’s certainly the other thing an e-mail is (lacking), you don’t see tone in email.
I think once you know people outside of the office – stories about their life. That’s really where a relationship is started and then they tend to stand the test of time.
As a leader working in a remote location, what are the one or two biggest challenges that you have faced and overcome?
Kieran covered some of the challenges of being in a remote location – in his earlier answers, but he went on to clarify.
Well, the time zone – (now) there is the challenge!
We do need to get together. We just need to spend focused time just brainstorming. What you can accomplish, maybe in two or three hours together, is miles apart from what you can accomplish over the phone. It would take probably 2x, 3x longer (to do the same on the phone as in person).
He talked about how important it is to get on a “quarterly cadence” with key partners and stakeholders in the company.
Setting up these quarterly goals review sessions … so at least there’s that rigor … keeps you focused on what is important and not everything else that tends to come into our inbox on a day to day basis.