Change Is Never Easy: A Conversation With Darrius Jones, EVP & Chief Strategy Officer, Interim CMO A
Jones is quite a prolific writer who shares his thoughts on collaboration, business leadership and societal topics both on LinkedIn and Poly’s official blog. I had met Jones at the last Poly Analyst Day in October 2019. I only chatted with him briefly, mostly doing a mea culpa for not having covered Unified Communications in great detail over my career, but being much more interested in the broader collaboration and modern workplace.
Since then, I had been following Jones’s posts and I have appreciated his candor and willingness to have a dialogue on a wide range of topics from race to change in the workplace. When we spoke last week, I was eager to know how he thought Covid-19 had changed businesses and leaders. I was also interested in hearing his perspective on the role effective but empathetic marketing plays at this time and finally, what he wishes prospective customers and partners knew about Poly.
Jones is a believer that everybody can contribute to business success regardless of where they sit on the org chart. He calls this the “we all do dishes” attitude. He knows first hand what it means as, about five months ago, he added the role of interim Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) to his role as Chief Strategy Officer. Two big jobs to sustain, but an opportunity to both shape strategy and communicate it appropriately, it is certainly something to get excited about. This is especially true when the opportunity coincides with a time when strategy and communication have to be reassessed due to a life-changing pandemic.
Poly’s strategy, Jones explains, has always been centered on what he sees as the most significant learning to come out of the pandemic: people must come first! Whether you are talking about your employees, your customers, or your partners, the pandemic has pushed every business to first look at the human aspect of their relationships. Are people safe? Do they have what they need? How are they coping? These might not have necessarily been the questions Poly’s management asked themselves before Covid-19 reshaped every business across the world. Yet the sentiment of focusing on delivering tools that empowered individuals to collaborate effectively no matter where they were has been at the core of Poly’s strategy for years. As a matter of fact, it was the strategy of Polycom and Plantronics even before they became Poly. I have argued for a long time how putting people first ends up delivering better experiences and better products and ultimately making your product or service successful. Putting people first also helps to build trust, which is paramount considering the unique point in time we are in. Poly’s decision to be the “endpoint solution of choice” might not sound like a modern business manifesto. Still, it centers in its strive for excellence, for making the impossible possible, like putting a man on the moon. This drive not to settle for “good enough” is what Jones considers Poly’s best-kept secret as he points to how they drove some product decisions like the noise-canceling software now integrated into their solutions or the use of fabric on a video device.
This has been a particularly challenging time for Poly as a business that faced the new reality of the pandemic while also searching for a new CEO. The search landed on Dave Shull, who will be joining Poly on September 8. I asked Jones what he would like to make sure Shull learns about Poly when he joins, and without hesitation, he said: “Our customers come first.” He went on to articulate that while many usually say that the customer is always right, that is not really what the focus is for Poly. The focus is to put their customers’ success first and by doing so, they recognize their customers’ needs are always right. It is really about catering to their needs to drive achievement that will bring success in return. “Being laser-focused on our customers has been a constant for both companies as we went through storming, forming and norming as Poly.”
On top of Covid-19 and the social unrest, over the last couple of weeks the Poly community also faced the challenges of the California wild fires at its HQ location in Santa Cruz. I personally have friends who live in the area who pointed to the role the Poly campus played in helping displaced employees and the broader Santa Cruz community. Had I not had friends who shared that information with me, I would never have known. Being a company not prone to public preening seems the way Poly operates, which is admirable, of course, but made me wonder about how the company deals with the growing pressure to market corporate social responsibility efforts. Jones is not concerned about missing out on the publicity at all. His concern is on actually making a difference and starting with the communities Poly is a part of.
When talking about addressing diversity and inclusion, Jones has a very similar attitude. He takes me back to his original point that no matter what your formal role is within a business, you can make a difference and shares an example of how he tries to address inclusion within Poly. He mentioned a quarterly business review meeting, which usually has the sales and engineering team coming together. What he noticed by looking down the invite list was that because of the makeup of these two teams, there was a clear skew towards a male audience. “I could not change the makeup of those teams, but I could change the outcome of the meeting by adding the marketing team and, by doing so, adding women to the conversation,” said Jones. Looking at the gender breakdown within Poly in 2019, it seems like the number of women in marketing is only second to operations, both over 60%. Product engineering is just shy of 20%, while sales is just under 30%. There is no question these numbers need addressing, but as we know, it will not happen overnight, and we cannot just sit and wait till they do. Jones’s approach speaks to being aware of the importance of bringing a diverse set of people to the table so that your strategy from products to sales to marketing can be as inclusive as it can possibly be with the assets you currently have.
I want to end with the same words Jones used in his post “Where do we go from here” posted after the murder of George Floyd. I do this for two reasons: first, because I really believe this call to action drives Jones as a business leader. Second, because we should all consider making this our own call to action both in a work setting and a community setting. So dear reader: Be strong! – Be Accountable! – Be Curious! – Be Human!
This article was originally published on Forbes
Disclosure: The Heart of Tech is a research and consultancy firm that engages or has engaged in research, analysis, and advisory services with many technology companies, including those mentioned in this column. The author does not hold any equity positions with any company mentioned in this column.