May 1st, 2023, marks 23 years in business for Smart Dolphins. Another lap around the sun, as they say. Time for some reflection.
This was an interesting year (it’s never dull). Admittedly, a year ago, I had some sense of stagnation. Positive things were happening, but there was also a feeling like some important things (and people) were stuck in ways. I could see some wheel spinning and knew some underlying frustration existed. We lacked clear alignment and positive momentum.
It’s only been 12 months, and while there are always more challenges, I’m now feeling freer from the drag we had. We’ve built a more aligned culture. Today’s sense of positivity, progress, and alignment is substantially better.
The Pod (our team) agrees.
We do a bi-annual, comprehensive, third-party culture survey that I see as a critical report card for the company’s health. A year ago, we were better than 70% of the other companies – good, but relative to past surveys, some signaling that the team shared the stagnation I had on my mind. Good… but not good enough.
Last month we received our most recent culture survey results, ranking better than 82% of the 278 other participating companies. Booooom!
What happened? What changed? What worked?
Diagnosing and analyzing results in business is always tricky, especially for Smart Dolphins. We have a Core Value we call “Find a Better Way.” We’re forever trying to make things better. Sometimes this gets over-applied and becomes a fault. My fault. Sorry.
So in reflecting now and thinking about what we did right, I’m reminded of the saying, “I know half of our marketing works. I’m just not sure which half.”
That said, some things clearly mattered. About this time last year, we started emphasizing “People First.” Not a new idea and a little cliché. However, it gave us a simple principle and a practical tool for prioritizing. It changed things. We started our leadership planning sessions with in-depth Dolphin reviews. We also invested in building more advanced cultural systems. Our “fit radar” strengthened, and we made better people decisions. The Pod today is collectively “better people.” We’ve grown.
We also made tremendous progress where the rubber hits the road. We’re in a complex business, and leadership is essential to simplify and prioritize, but so much needs to be figured out and improved “in the weeds.” Most of our progress was from the grass root efforts of the entire team. Hire and keep great people, give them some alignment/direction, and then… get out of the way (and cheer them on)!
A big shout-out to our support team that blossomed in the past 6-9 months. What has too often been a high-stress, chaotic environment for our Support team, the script has been flipped. With strong, renewed leadership and an incredible core team, the Support Team culture has become the operational stability that has empowered our other departments to focus on their proactive essence. Support is never bored, but it is rare now that we’re calling in ticket-closing reinforcements or worried about imminent burnout. A huge thank you to this team for making this happen. It is now a home for many special Dolphins with a regular spirit of winning and progress. The culture here is alive, and a great place to be at Smart Dolphins.
This strength on the reactive side of our business has empowered tremendous progress and evolution in our proactive teams this year.
Our project team has also grown and matured. They have driven a tremendous amount of innovation during a time of technological change like none I can remember. It used to be just moving clients to a new version of a known technology, perhaps migrating an old server to a new one. This crew of tech gurus broke (and continues to break) new ground on what is possible. We are now taking complex organizations into Teams, SharePoint, OneDrive, and more and elevating how they work. We’ve gone from the server room to the boardroom. Our project team (and others) have taken our clients to a modern, flexible, and secure IT environment. And they make it look easy.
Our VCIOs, Virtual IT Managers, and Centralized Services guys have also driven incredible care and value to our clients while also rebuilding some of those stagnant systems in these areas. We’re much closer to our clients and empowering them to do more. We’ve improved our security offering and integrated automation and AI. We’ve had some newer Dolphins move to these teams and launch themselves into promising careers at SD. There is plenty more to do, but so much has been done.
Our training team (including the strong supporting cast) has come of age. Our weekly public training events have delivered an incredibly consistent value to our clients and business community for many years. Some significant innovations have emerged with our recent ModernTech workshops and the impending launch of our amazing new SkillsBoost platform. Most MSPs don’t do more than superficial training or salesy webinars. In contrast, Smart Dolphins could be mistaken for a training company. Driving our value to our clients’ “work layer” is an underrated part of what we do, but it is really the final mile of empowering our clients. Our training is fundamental to this.
Of course, a keystone to our success is the quality of our relationships with our clients. Many great local organizations extend us a whole lot of patience and commitment. I hope we don’t ever take that for granted. Maybe most of all, I’m incredibly grateful we’ve attracted clients who “get it”: IT is not just another business expense. Related, we’re excited to have recently launched our new Client Success team, further leveraging the value clients get from Smart Dolphins.
I’m grateful to find myself in a business that is so important to the world. Looking outwardly, there is plenty of evidence that good, modern IT is in demand. We’re adding new clients, bringing new pieces to our solution, and helping our clients grow (win-win).
Summarizing, I see this growing sense of our team’s caring, quality, and depth of impact. We’re building and delivering something better daily, and that progress matters to the Pod and our clients. It’s not always readily observable day to day, but stepping back, it’s remarkable – all the culmination of a 23-year journey. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for us. Let’s do this!