Posts Tagged Culture

“Why I am leaving the best job I ever had”

The best job I have ever had — that is, the one in which I have felt most rewarded — was in being a mom. But I want my life to be insightful and impactful and intellectually stimulating outside of my home. The difficulty has always been finding balance between the two “M” words – Mom and Manager.

The expectation that a corporate work week is routinely more than 40 hours is challenging for any parent. Yet, I willingly give those hours because I feel passion and a sense of commitment to my colleagues and to the successful completion of work that enables a better workforce via technology.

I am not leaving the best job I ever had. But for MongoDB CEO Max Schireson, stepping down to do LESS and allow someone else to step up to do more was crucial. There is no shame in this – and I am personally applauding his choice — and his integrity and passion for life and family.

The question for each of us is how we will make personal balance work for each of us. And the realization we must all achieve is that the question is not just for women.

It is my hope that Max Schireson’s choice will not only inspire more dad’s to chose worklife balance, but more, that it will make it increasingly acceptable for women to be able to shift temporarily into a lower gear in order to achieve Mom-Manager happiness. Can we all “lean in” to that idea?

Max Schireson's blog

Earlier this summer, Matt Lauer asked Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, whether she could balance the demands of being a mom and being a CEO. The Atlantic asked similar questions of PepsiCo’s female CEO Indra Nooyi. As a male CEO, I have been asked what kind of car I drive and what type of music I like, but never how I balance the demands of being both a dad and a CEO.

While the press haven’t asked me, it is a question that I often ask myself. Here is my situation:

* I have 3 wonderful kids at home, aged 14, 12 and 9, and I love spending time with them: skiing, cooking, playing backgammon, swimming, watching movies or Warriors or Giants games, talking, whatever.
* I am on pace to fly 300,000 miles this year, all the normal CEO travel plus commuting between Palo Alto and New York…

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Shapes and Sizes

I was not a born leader. Well – not in the typical sense. I was not raised by parents who led me to aspire to being the President or even a manager. I wasn’t even strongly encouraged to go to college (although I wasn’t discouraged either). I was raised by parents who provided enough guidance to make good choices, and then let me try and fail and try again. When I entered the workplace, I entered as a secretary. (These days, we call these bright and invaluable experts “administrative assistants.”) When I received my college degree, I did it at night, while working full-time and while raising my daughters. I did not have aspirations to be a manager. I aspired, rather, to do interesting and intellectually stimulating work. I thrived on relationships I built in the business community and in learning about their thoughts, ideas and experiences.

Over the years, however, I found that my natural curiosity seemed to inspire others to dig deep, to find the right answers, to stop and question their own thinking or the way in which things were always done. And, ultimately, I was asked to lead.

I am enormously proud of all I accomplished. But – trust me – I didn’t set out with a personal roadmap. And perhaps because of that I am more aware of the possibilities that exist when individuals and organizations refuse to allow perceptions, sterotypes or expectations guide choices.

Forbes recently conducted an interview with Angela Yochem, CIO at BDP International. The title of the article is “Former Musician Turned Board Level CIO, BDP International’s Angela Yochem’s Unconventional Path To The Top Of IT”. The headline is attention grabbing. Why? Because we remain fascinated and surprised, when a declared right-brained person excels in a left-brained world.

The fact is that diversity of thought is essential to business success. Diversity of thought will not arise from hearing the same voices repeatedly.

Leaders — those who can guide others thru transformational change — come in all shapes and sizes.

“The collection of capabilities that a CIO must bring into that role is so much broader than it used to be” Angela Yochem says and continues “If you’re a technology leader, you’re the one proposing transformational technology opportunities.”

Transformational technology. Transformational implies an innovative and creative culture. I’ll have a second helping of that, please! And please serve it with a surprise side dish of mixed milieu.

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Seriously Perfect

In my early 20’s, I was incredibly serious about how others viewed me and whether or not I was being taken seriously. At a friend’s picnic, someone sprayed me with a hose and I was upset because my hair was ruined and my cute outfit had to be taken off to dry. Seriously.

I have been taking that perfectionist attitude to work too. EXCELLENCE demands getting it all absolutely 100% right – right? I mean, you agree, don’t you?

Here’s the thing that working in technology taught me: the 80/20 rule. Sometimes you have to sacrifice something to get to the bigger picture. If your budget is tight and timeline is short and only 80% of the business requirements will be met, can the 20% be handled in another manner?

For those of us who are perfectionists, this is difficult to accept. You have to step back and see the entire view. How much more money will it cost to do it “the right way?” And – as rapidly as things change in today’s world – how long will your “right” design be relevant? What are you really trying to fix? Really dig deep and work together to understand the core issue. Sometimes the answer to the problem is much simpler than you initially thought. Sometimes, there really isn’t an issue at all – but a perceived issue or a misguided process.

Most days I still dress pretty impeccably for work, believing in the mantra dress for the job you want, not the job you have. As I raised my two daughters, however, I cannot always afford to be as impeccably dressed as I would like. But, I’ve learned that it really doesn’t matter what my hair or clothing look like if I am not bringing quality and productive results to the table.

In a large organization, we’re all in it to make money — and not just for ourselves, but for the company. When the company we work for wins, we all win.

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Keeping It Real

Icy streams of water slide from my hand down my raised arm and sizzle to my bare thigh as I take a long swallow from my sweat-coated glass of iced tea. AAHHHH…refreshed. A breeze runs it’s long steamy fingers through my should-length bob. I inhale the scent of crisp, salty ocean air, mixed with coconut scented sunblock and I curl my toes into the cool depths of the sand.

I wish I were at the beach. But I’m not.

I am actually sitting in my Pennsylvania home, inside my study surrounded by sea shells and ocean themed art. A ceiling fan rustles my hair. So – aren’t you wondering about the sand?

I really do have sand in my study — a recent gift from my 24-year-old daughter — who brings her inner child to her job as a Fresh Foods Manager at Wawa every day and makes sure that I keep the same spirit alive myself. Chelea has been found singing in the deli, handing out Cowtails candy to a coworker who made her day or playing practical jokes on others.

photo sand2.

Your inner child is shorthand for your “authentic self”. The thing is, Chelsea gets up every day and brings her whole self to work. Her whole self prepares the food, makes the sandwiches, maintains the inventory, cares about her Wawa team, wants to be proud of the work she does, and wants to have fun while she’s doing it. Is there anything better than enjoying what you’re doing for 40+ hours a week?

Dress for success. First impressions count. Define your own personal “brand”. But the most important thing you can do for those with whom you work – and for whom you work – is to be authentic.

Keep it real. Stick your toes in the sand every once in a while.

sand

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Doing more than showing up

When I get ready for work in the morning – or even Sunday night before my work week starts – I do a little bit of mental preparation about the day ahead. What’s on my calendar? Who will need what from me? Should I research or read anything before a particular meeting?

The point is to show up prepared — prepared to contribute your best to whatever activity in which you will engage.

As I know from my daughter (http://www.blondeshavemorerun.com/) – but certainly not from my own experience – runners prepare fastidiously for every event – often for months in advance. Runners don’t just show up.

Recently, a Frontier Airlines pilot (GMA 7/9/2014) did way more than anyone expected in terms of showing up. He bought pizza.

In a rare demonstration of passion and commitment to one’s job, Captain Gerhard Brandner took his own initiative to call Dominos and order pizza for the 160 passengers and crew onboard a flight that was already two hours delayed and had been sitting on the runway for over an hour.

The little things are sometimes the big things. And in all things, the people you work with and for are the most important.

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Outsourced in Stilettos

The image of stilettos often conjures up the image of a femme fatale – a woman whose charms can ensnare others.  I was not that woman.  I ensnared no one.  I was more like Gracie Hart, tough FBI agent, walking cooly down the street – only to trip over her own heels.  Repeatedly.

To say I wasn’t prepared for the sudden change that left me managing everything almost overnight would be an understatement.  Before we started our application maintenance program (aka “outsourcing”) I was a supervisor of nine system architects – mostly focused on our solutions in the Americas – and managing a team that all sat in the same country, the same time zone, the same office building and floor where I sat.  Progress on issues or new solutions seemed – well – seamless.  We could yell over our cubicle walls to each other for a quick answer or walk down the hall a bit for a more in-depth technical answer from the guys who managed our middleware.   We learned constantly from each other.  And we had reached a level of technical and functional comptence that allowed us to execute flawlessly and fairly quickly without the burden of layers of procesess and handoffs.

Post outsourcing, I was the manager of the global team – the one in charge of 27 countries,  three remaining in-house team members and twelve outsourced staff members.  Post outsourcing, we all had to move from being collaborative learners to effective teachers.  Post outsourcing, we had to tune our ears to different accents, work to understand a different culture, and – with sensitivity and grace – make a team of outsourced workers feel at home with us — whether they would be working onshore in our U.S. offices or offshore in India.

Nothing could have prepared me for this adventure.  Most days were fraught with fear of the unknown.  We feared losing our own jobs next.  We were uncertain how to execute without the individuals that we knew would know what to do.  We were tired from stress and working longer hours to cover Europe and Asia.

In time, each of us – the four who remained — would all rise to the call of leadership.  I know I “played by ear” many days – unsure what to do or how to handle things. I made mistakes.  Lots of mistakes.  At the end of the workday, I’d abandon my stilettos for bedroom slippers and pajamas – and continue working at home.  If I just worked a little harder, a little longer, things would get better.  And in many ways they did.  It took a village. . . and the courage to be knocked off my stilettos more than once.

 

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Outsourcing, Uphill

First you cry. Well, I did.  I cried because we had a phenomenal team and the move to outsource our team’s work meant that what we had built together would be torn apart. I cried because colleagues who solved the worst of technical challenges with me, who worked day and night and weekends with me, who always had a laugh to share – even in the middle of the night when we were dead tired – who taught me everything they knew, who celebrated Christmases and weddings and births with me would be gone.

I cried for all the right reasons. . . and some lesser reasons.

I cried because the familiar comfort of a job I knew well was suddenly gone.   And that made me realize.  This wasn’t personal.  This was business.

In 2005, Thomas Friedman had explained that the world was, indeed flat.  The walls had come down and the economy would be different.  We would work differently.  I remember reading his book – with a gulp of  incredulous fear  – and then stuffing it away on my bookshelf as if, safely ensconced there, it couldn’t be true.  And here it was looking me smack in the face.  I had lived in a fabricated reality in which the type of work I did would never be outsourced – let alone to another country.  I had ignored the truths that Thomas Friedman spoke.

I had to move forward.

What we needed most of all was someone to talk about how to move forward. I had no ready answers. But I had the will to listen, to hear what others were saying — whether it was about the “new normal” or the old ways or how impossible it was going to be to transfer everything everyone knew in just five short months. We could have all fallen apart at that point – divided by anxiety, jealousy, fear.  But for the most part, the team remained intact, committed to delivering the same high quality results on this “project” as they had for every other genuine project.  With compassion and understanding, I listened.  I learned.  I tried to get answers for the team.  I improvised when I had no answers and we needed answers.  And I honestly said “I don’t know” when I had no answers.  But I committed to get answers.  What I tried not to do was to let any one person stand alone, be scared or feel hopeless.

Over the course of the next five months, I would host three retirement and five farewell luncheons, but not before the collective team left their legacy of knowledge  in hundreds of hours worth of recorded training sessions.  I was as proud of us as we dismantled as I had been in the early days when we first formed our team.  No – that’s not true.  I was more proud.

I was lucky to have worked with such talented, skilled people – people who managed this most difficult challenge of their careers with integrity, discipline and self-esteem.   They left in their wake an awakened leadership.

The United States is now well into the midst of a labor renaissance. The industrial revolution, the technological revolution – these are gone.   Textbook management styles that serve hierarchical organizations and mass production will not serve us well in the near or long term.

What I learned as I climbed the outsourcing hill was that there  was more than one way to scale the mountain.  What I learned was that being right-brained was not a technical handicap.  You see, creativity has its roots in diversity…diversity of thought and  culture and people.   And diversity is showing us the way.

The Uphill Climb - Adapting to Change

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