Management

Frank Slootman: “no strategy is better than its execution”

“The board saw [the former CEO] taking Snowflake to the moon and believed Slootman could pilot the ship to Mars.” Frank Slootman is the CEO of Snowflake, and is one of the most well credentialled CEO’s in Silicon Valley, having taken two previous companies, Data Domain and ServiceNow to IPO. He has also written a book, called “TAPE SUCKS: Inside Data Domain, A Silicon Valley Growth Story”. If anyone is an alchemist, it is Frank Slootman. He has also written a helpful playbook, called “Amp it Up” (originally posted on Linkedin, now archived here).

What is the Frank Slootman playbook? Put simply:

“Bottom line: There is room up in organizations to boost performance by amping up the pace and intensity. Considerable slack naturally exists in organizations to perform at much higher levels. The role of leadership is to convert that lingering potential into superlative results. The opportunity is right under our noses but for some reason it does not enter the consciousness. This notion is not limited to business enterprises. We see in professional sports all the time how teams go almost overnight from losing to winning with basically the same roster, but different leadership. Call it what you want, the X factor, whatever, it is real. Anybody can dial into this, but not many do.”

There are many things that you can do with your time, but if you want your culture to stress something, at this stage of a company, it is speed and execution. More broadly, it is ambition, dynamism, and execution.
To encode this, Frank Slootman developed a specific set of values, with an acronym of “RECIPE”.
  • Respect
  • Excellence (“Steve Jobs who had just two classifications: it’s either ‘insanely great’, or it’s ‘total shit’. There is no middle ground, Steve took it away.”)
  • Customer
  • Integrity
  • Performance (“Stepping up the pace doesn’t just cause people to do things faster. They start doing things differently. They become more demanding of others. This is precisely what you want in an organization.”)
  • Execution (“INCREASE VELOCITY: When someone would ask me if he could get back to me next week, I would reply “how about tomorrow morning”? Change people’s sense of urgency.”)
Coming up the list of values is one thing, but getting them implemented is hard. According to Slootman, “becoming a value-led organization doesn’t happen automatically. We imported somebody else’s culture with every person we hired, and therefore had to undo a bunch of stuff. We called it “re-programming.” People learn culture based on what behavior they observe around them, good, bad, or somewhere in between. Aside from pointed, serious, and explicit communication, these values could only stick if our management team lived by them and forced compliance—people learn best by example. Values are abstract concepts until you have a live situation at hand; situations are an opportunity to drive compliance and demonstrate what you mean.”

 

Other great 2021 Frank Slootman Lightspeed India #MastersofSaaS quotes:
    • “I have never taken people out of their positions too soon, by the time that I realised, it’s almost too late…”
    • “When you win, they can’t hurt you. When you lose, they can’t help you”
    • “I’ve been through these processes so many times…. When I came into Snowflake I eliminated almost the entire management team”.
    • “As a young man I always thought that I could help or change or coach people, but that’s very rarely the case”
    • “Board members should decide they either support or not support the CEO. Don’t be in the middle ground.  Either you support the CEO, or you take them out of the role. The middle ground kills everybody”
    • “Most of my mistakes are in hiring… I’m very aware that people who look stellar on paper are sometimes complete failures”.
Thank you to Rob Straathof for his input into this post.

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