July 17, 2015

It Takes a Village to Raise a Company


Bringing together two companies – their products, customers and partners – is no easy feat. However, the most challenging part is uniting two groups of people and two cultures as one, as is the case at Extreme.

Despite these hurdles, over the past 13 months, all 1,407 Extreme employees have been working hard to come together and create a world-class organization – one that fosters collaboration, leverages talent, and creates a cohesive, winning environment.

With input from employees at all levels, we embarked on a systematic culture transformation, with the objective of unifying legacy Extreme and Enterasys under the One Extreme initiative, despite historically being competing companies on opposite coasts.

We’ve defined and communicated a new people strategy, re-structured roles in the organization, hired new talent, began to lay
the groundwork for a revised employer value proposition and, most importantly, we’ve taken small steps towards finding a wayfor all employees to connect and live our culture day in and day out. We also took a look at our total rewards strategy with the goal of incenting behaviors that drive culture and empowering employees to act and recognize those who embody and exhibit company values.

Competition in the networking industry is growing increasingly fierce, and our company has a burning platform for change. Our employees are hungry for it. Everyone at Extreme Networks eagerly wants to be part of a winning team, and our recognition as an HR leader in this year’s American Business Awards reaffirms that we have successfully started to execute on that longer-term vision.

I was recently interviewed by Norman Rice, EVP of Global Marketing at Extreme, to reflect on everything Team Extreme has achieved together since last February. Below is a snapshot of our conversation.

NORMAN RICE (NR): What were the biggest opportunities you saw when you joined Extreme last February?
KELLEY STEVEN-WAISS (KS): When I joined the Company, we were six months into the integration process with Enterasys. There were some real challenges with the leveling of employees, the lack of an internal communications function, no clearly aligned core values between the companies and a sales organization that was fractured.  From a culture standpoint, we had a lot of work ahead to bring these two organizations together.

NR: What have been your biggest challenges?
KS: Besides the cultural integration of the Enterasys acquisition, we had and continue to have a lot of broken processes.  As most leaders know, you can’t run a service organization if your processes become burdensome for your Customers. I would say my biggest challenges are on HR Operations and driving the culture transformation. Both are critical in turning around the Company and setting us up for long-term success.

NR: What would you consider your biggest accomplishment?
KS:  I see the building of the One Extreme infrastructure and messaging as the biggest accomplishment. In order to drive change, you need to understand the components of the “system” that will drive culture—organization structure, communication, core values, leadership and process.  All of these are important and take work. One Extreme created the scaffolding for us to begin the journey of systemically and strategically transforming our culture.

NR: Why do you think culture is so important for an organization like Extreme?
KS:  We are a small company in a very competitive industry. To stay relevant, we need to rely heavily on what differentiates us and it’s clearly our Talent. People are what truly make a company Great, not just products, operations or process.  We have GREAT people that have years and years of putting our Customers first and, if we’re able to leverage all that Talent, we can be unstoppable – not only will we retain our existing Customers; we’ll attract even more!

NR: What was the most surprising discovery you made along the way?
KS:  I was most surprised by how challenging it is to create a message platform and initiative that translates across the complex and diverse cultures we have at Extreme. We may be small, but we’re very spread out.  You can’t underestimate the difficulty in creating a truly inclusive culture when you spread 1,400 people across more than 40 countries.

NR: What’s one piece of advice you would give to other organizations undergoing a cultural transformation?
KS:  Don’t expect too much too fast, celebrate small victories and treat it like a marathon. Cultural transformation is not for the faint of heart and it’s not a sprint. It requires a lot of endurance and commitment. It’s a 3-5 year endeavor, at least.

NR: How do you see your work impacting the company’s new solutions-based strategy?
KS:  It’s very simple—we get the right PEOPLE in the right place and doing their BEST work for our Customers. Then, we take good care of those PEOPLE by making Extreme the best place to work!

About The Contributor:
Kelley Steven-WaissEVP, Chief Human Resources Officer

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