Q&A with Pancho Davis, Director of Human Resources, Rackspace Hosting

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Pancho Davis is the Director of HR at Rackspace in San Antonio, Texas, USA where he leads the HR Business Partner and HR Generalist team. He has been with Rackspace almost 9 years and started in the Training and Development organization before helping form and manage the Rackspace Engagement team. He served as an HR Business Partner for 4 years prior to taking the leadership role in 2012. During his time at Rackspace, he has seen the company grow from 600 employees, primarily in San Antonio, to 6000 globally. Rackspace has been recognized around the world as one of the best places to work receiving honors from the Sunday Times Best Places to Work (# 7 in 2013), Great Places to Work in Greater China (#12 in 2013), Great Places to Work Australia (#27 in 2013) and the Fortune 100 Best Places to Work in the US (#29 in 2013).

Q‘Fanatical’ customer support is the mantra at Rackspace. What impact have your engaged employees had on your customer experience? Is your ‘fanatical’ customer support mantra a direct result of your people engagement?

The idea of Fanatical Support at Rackspace preceded any of our formal thoughts around employee engagement, but it didn’t take long to recognize that engaged employees fuel our ability to provide great customer service. We believe as a company, that if we take care of Rackers, they will take care of our customers. For Fanatical Support to be more than an empty marketing phrase, we need employees who are willing to volunteer their best every day. That means more than being responsive. It means taking the time to understand what the customer is trying to achieve with their technology, taking ownership of the results and ensuring that issues are completely resolved. To achieve this, you have to have engaged employees who are willing to give extra effort to make sure the customers are provided outstanding service.

QHow important are ‘soft’ skills to nurturing employee engagement? In an industry where technical expertise and soft skills don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand, do you find you have to work harder to find managers with a more ‘personal touch’?

Numerous studies have shown that an employee’s direct manager has the most impact on that employees engagement. With that being true, soft skills such as communicating effectively, setting goals, coaching, correcting and recognition are critical regardless of whether someone is in a technical or non-technical role. We have some great managers who are technical or lead technical teams, but they are not as numerous as those outside of technical roles. One of our biggest challenges is finding technical people who have the desire to lead. Often they would rather stay in the technology they are working on for fear that a move to management will put them behind in such a fast moving industry. The other challenge is that often our technical Rackers want to be managed differently. They may not want or need the “softer” side of management, so understanding how any employee, whether technical or not, wants to be managed is key.

QWhy do you think Rackspace has remained a staple on employee engagement awards lists such as FORTUNE’s 100 Best Companies and Sunday Times’ 100 Best Companies to work for? What do you think has made you stand out from the competition?

I’m sure there are lots of reasons and it probably changes year to year and varies whether you are in are US office or one of our International offices, but I believe one constant is our commitment to our core values. What we hear about more than anything else on our engagement survey is how much people love the culture and our commitment to treating fellow Rackers like friends and family (one of our core values). As a companies we have had some tough years, but we have remained on the Best Places to Work list. I believe that while many companies say that their employees are their biggest asset, we try hard to live that out in how we treat Rackers and try, not always perfectly, to live by our core values. In addition to being rooted in our Values, many of our engagement initiatives are driven by Racker feedback. We try hard to listen to Rackers both formally through our semi-annual survey and also through informal feedback groups. When employees feel they have a voice in the direction of the company and the culture, they are much more likely to buy in and be engaged.

QWith talented technical employees thin on the ground, and your business expanding, can you tell us a bit about how your Open Cloud Academy has helped you source the right talent for your brand? And how have your current employees benefitted from the Academy?

What I believe we have done well as a company is ‘build’ talent where there are scarce resources in the market. We have done this in the past when we struggled to find System Administrators and we continue to do this with OCA. Open Cloud Academy is program that has been funded in conjunction with the City of San Antonio to help create a pool of technical talent in the city. The program is not necessarily meant to train Rackers, but we have hired roughly 50 people or close to 50% of the OCA graduates so far.

QAs director of HR what would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment? And, looking ahead, what do you think are going to be the biggest drivers of employee engagement in 5 years time?

At the moment, our biggest challenge is finding and keeping great talent. This industry is incredibly fast moving and there is always something ‘newer and cooler’ to be working on and with technical talent in such short supply, one of our biggest objectives is to be an employer of choice for the best technical employees. This is why creating a great culture and having engaged employees is critically important. There are always companies willing to pay more money, companies with better benefits, etc., but hopefully Rackers believe in our mission are actively engaged in our culture and that, more than anything is what keeps them here. As far as trends for the future, having the ability to be more flexible around the when and where you work could be a big driver for engagement.

QManagers account for at least 70% of variance in employee engagement scores across business units, according to Gallup – and bad managers can bring down a business. What key qualities do you think managers need to engage their teams, so a company’s employees are motivated to go above beyond, reaping rewards for the business?

There are a number of qualities that make a manger great and help them engage their team members and as I mentioned before, it probably depends on the employee, but two that are key at Rackspace are communication and coaching. Full Disclosure and Transparency is one of our Core Values and Rackers want to know what is going on in the business and want their managers to communicate with them on a regular basis. Along with communication, Rackers want their managers to partner with them and coach them as they progress in their careers. This coaching can take the form of career development or it can be performance feedback. As much as anything, Rackers want to feel like they are growing and developing in their careers and want to be successful. Without good, continuous feedback and coaching this can be difficult to achieve.


What’s next?

You can hear about these topics and many more at our next HR Vision conference.

HR Vision is the elite, boutique style event, where HR leaders gather to discuss core business strategy.

Visit www.hrvisionevent.com to discover the next upcoming conference date and venue most suitable to you.

 






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