Continuous Learning: Get out of your comfort zone, but on a schedule that fits your lifestyle

Get out of your comfort zone
Get out of your comfort zone…

To put it simply, you have to get out. Out of the office, out of the house—you have to get out of your comfort zone. Our global connections let us learn anywhere, but there is nothing like the conversation after an interesting presentation as people descend on snacks or a sunny patio. If you can’t afford, or aren’t invited to major industry events, you can still get connected to local groups or associations like Rotary Clubs and Chambers of Commerce, as well as more topic-specific clubs. Many cities now hold regular networking meetings coordinated through organizations like Network After Work. I am always fascinated, and often humbled, by the people I meet. I usually go to an event with a question in mind, or a hypothesis I want to research — sometimes the best question is just: “What brought you here tonight?”

…but on a schedule that fits your lifestyle

I have two very personal thoughts about events. First, local events need to recognize that people have families. Rather than starting at 5pm, they should consider starting later so people can get home, share time with their children, eat a meal together, and then go out after the children are asleep. My Lean-In Circle starts at 8:30pm in recognition of this need and this reality.

 While you have to balance priorities between work and family during a regular week, when you travel, your priority should be to get as much out of that trip as possible.

The second event thing for me is using travel as a time to meet people and connect. When I’m traveling, I run on a different schedule, so I leverage that to go to everything I can and to meet all of the people I can. I don’t think it is a good use of your time to go to an event, paid for by your company or yourself, and spend all of your time in a hotel room working or watching television. How many opportunities do you have to meet and interact with dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people who can provide you insights, potentially buy your product or add value to it, or to just hold a good conversation? While you have to balance priorities between work and family during a regular week, when you travel, your priority should be to get as much out of that trip as possible.

Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots

Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots

Continuous Learning: Patiently connect the dots

If all you do is execute all day—go from one thing to the next to get everything done—you may miss one of the best learning opportunities that humans can experience: reflection.

As I understand it, our brains, through dreams, are made to reflect and organize, hone and emphasize our experiences. That is a passive experience. I think it is important for people to take the time in areas they want to explore, in areas where they want to learn, and think about and trace out the relationships between the different aspects of the concept. Are there gaps? How are these things similar? How are they connected? Is there some causal relationship? Or even—do some of the ideas not fit at all, and if not, why did I think they fit in the first place?

When you watch police shows that put the detective in-front of a wall covered with pictures and notes, an image where long-lengths of string connect faces to fact, what you are seeing is a very visceral, physical way of connecting ideas. That kind of organization can be used for anything you want to explore or solve. But it doesn’t have to be physical; many tools—from electronic cork boards to mind maps—can help you think about ideas more inclusively and holistically.

You do, however, have to make time to do this kind of analysis.

In my current job I keep Fridays open for meeting people who don’t regularly work with me or for me. I use the time when I’m not meeting new people to brainstorm and to think about how things are related.

I come from a Latin culture, where not all meetings and situations are planned. In my current job I keep Fridays open for meeting people who don’t regularly work with me or for me. I use the time when I’m not meeting new people to brainstorm and to think about how things are related. I think of this as an aspect of diversity. Diversity in people by getting outside of those I know really well — and diversity of time by allowing myself to do something very different one day a week. I find that being perceived as a connector is also very positive for managers and learners, as it helps create a circle of trust and credibility that creates even more new dots to connect — even more opportunities to learn.

Continuous Learning: Working with mentors and giving back

Working with mentors and giving back

Working with mentors and giving back

Learning from mentors

I love learning and some of my best experiences come from mentors. Some large companies formalize mentorships, and that is okay. I tend to like finding people I respect, and once I get to know them, I ask them to become a mentor. Some people have been my mentors for years, some of them are new—and some I have lost in job transitions. I am always honored to be mentored, regardless of the length of time, or just while I’m working at a company. To have someone take interest in your life and career is a special thing.

One of my great mentoring experiences was with the person who hired me at Microsoft. He threw all kinds of things at me that I needed to learn. I learned by stretching, sometimes reaching beyond my comfort zone. He set very high standards. It wasn’t enough to learn something, I had to master it.

As much as he was giving me this opportunity to learn and stretch, perhaps the most important lesson I learned was that I own the perception of what ‘good’ means. Other people can define good performance or good learning, but they are defining it for themselves, not for you. I learned I have to be satisfied with my own work, and no one can give that to you. Praise from others is great, but as you move up the organization, the pool of people to praise you gets smaller and smaller, as do the opportunities to greatly exceed expectations (because expectations are set pretty high!). So you need to define what good means to you…and you have to learn to appreciate your own accomplishments.

From a mentor at Oracle I learned that when things get intense, you need to remain calm. As a leader, amping up negative emotion or stress just makes things worse. One of the best skills of a leader is self-awareness — a sense of how others perceive you. When things get intense, step back and ask how other people might be reading your behavior, and act the way you want to be perceived, even if inside you are just as scared or angry as those who work for you. I am not saying it is easy, but by working hard to create stronger mental muscles, persevering will help you reach standards you set for yourself!Working with mentors and giving back

Learning, meeting standards, satisfying your own sense of accomplishment…none of that means anything if you burn yourself out, and burn out those around you. You have to control your hours. You have to have compassion with yourself — in making mistakes and learning, it takes time to do the things you love, and be with those you love. Learning and execution have to be sustainable or your successes won’t last long, nor will your career.

Giving back – learn by contributing

I find being a mentor one of the best learning experiences, because those I mentor challenge me, often without even realizing they are doing so. People have such wide range of experiences that they see even common things through lenses I can’t even imagine. So when they share their ideas and perspectives their questions and insights, I’m always amazed at what I learn as I’m sharing my own perspectives.

I was at a big Microsoft sales meeting and a person came up to me and said that I helped him grow and get a new job in the company. He didn’t tell my boss…it was a private conversation. But I felt very fulfilled.

Working in a Connected World

Working in a Connected World

Working in a Connected World

Much of my team doesn’t work in my Silicon Valley location. They are distributed throughout the United States, in cities like Seattle, and around the world, in countries like Mexico. And we have partners and customers in many countries. I could not do this job without this wonderful, very dedicated distributed team.

I grew up professionally working as part of a distributed organization. For about 10 years neither my manager nor my team was located in the same place.

In the past, most jobs required, or at least were perceived as requiring, physical co-location. If you got a new job, you moved to where the job was located. But today, we not only have the technology to connect and collaborate globally, business models have changed so there are benefits to creating a distributed organization.

Before I get into my observations about working in a connected world, I have to say that I moved from Europe to the US for one of my jobs because it required me to be in the same time zone; I did not move for personal reasons, but later found a job and a location where my family decided to live. And on that move, I did something I never thought I would do. I bought my new home without ever personally visiting it.

Attracting and retaining talent

In places like the Bay Area, it is very expensive to move people to this area, and it is very expensive for them to live there. If you find the right person, and they are very connected to their local community, why uproot them and bring them someplace new and make them re-establish their lives. Perhaps more importantly, they wouldn’t have to adjust to new levels of spending on mortgages or rent. If they live someplace with lower costs, a new job with a salary increase would really improve their disposable income, which is a good retention tool and very positive for the economy.

Some people may want to move because they want to live in the area where their company is located, but it is becoming less necessary since companies are more distributed and current technology makes it unnecessary — and I think, letting people live where they want, near their families and friends, helps them transition to the new job faster, and it also helps distribute the company brand. If you have volunteer programs or matching contributions, those can go to local causes for remote workers, and that will connect you with them and enhance their connection to the community. I find that people will stay in their jobs longer if they feel connected to the company and to their local communities.

It is particularly true when you are determined to have a diverse team and bring more women onboard. The importance of having a strong support system around you can be a primary reason why women prefer not to move geographically. In addition, when a woman moves for a job, almost 100% of the time, her partner also needs to move, and aligning two careers is much more difficult. By allowing flexibility of where both partners work, you support diversity.

Retaining people, however, doesn’t just happen. It requires a good design for engagement.

Staying connected to the company: Designing for engagement

engaged team working in connected worldYou have to think about people in a very personal way when they work remotely. You can’t just drop into their office and ask how things are going. You have to set expectations for yourself and for them. And those expectations you set for yourself are a promise. If you set up regularly meetings, you can’t cancel them, or the remote worker is not going to feel important or needed. And you have to make it clear that their participation is also a promise. Be very cautious about people who don’t meet and just say, “everything is OK,” because it probably isn’t. The one thing that you can be sure of in that situation is your communication isn’t OK, and you don’t have visibility into what that person is thinking, the challenges they are facing — and they don’t have access to what you know about the company, questions you may have or ideas that would be better expressed by voice and video rather than by e-mail.

Ensuring transparent visibility on key milestones across the company is critical. ‘Over’ communication on important milestones is better than ‘under’ communication.

Building and maintaining trust – Micromanagers not wanted!

Engagement is the first level of building a trusted relationship. You are trusting that someone you don’t see everyday is doing his or her job, and they have to trust that you are looking out for their interests, keeping them in mind for interesting assignments and creating open channels so they can attend the meetings they want to attend. Your confidence in their ability to do their job remotely is very important. If you do have someone who isn’t delivering on their commitments, that is a problem, but it is a problem if that person works locally or remotely. I don’t think trusted, engaged remote workers are any more or less likely to do their work. If you build the engagement models and create a reciprocal trust relationship, people will do good work regardless of how far they are from their manager.

Going back to key milestones, and any other information you think everyone must know, that information needs to be posted in a common place, even shared in a traditional weekly report. Transparency promotes trust at the same time it keeps people focused on outcomes. It is important that managers share the goals, but don’t micromanage all of the details, trying to control everything. That does not promote trust because micromanagement, by its very nature, suggests that the person doing the micromanaging doesn’t trust those he or she manages. It is also very hard to micromanage at a distance, so those who want to micromanage should avoid managing distributed teams.

The technology of distribution

People around the globe - working in a global world

It is important to support distributed teams with good communications technology. I use tools like SharePoint, WordPress, Skype, and of course, e-mail. I like to see people, but I also want people to work effectively and not feel like they have to have the team working with them simultaneously, so collaborative portals, blogs and enterprise social tools can be important. I don’t want to specify what is best for your organization, but I will emphasize that you should choose a set of tools, use them yourself as a leader so that others will use them, and try to master them so that you can be effective. Too often organizations buy tools and don’t use them as well as they could, which results in communications friction. I like to encourage people to use the best technology for the moment, and to take the time to use it well.

Leveraging time shifters

Time shifting is a very important element to relationship building, and it is also a good place to think about employees in a personal way. If you have a night owl working for you, for instance, perhaps they are the right person to work with Japan or China late into the West Coast night of the United States. They might rather get up late and work that way, than to get up early and put their sleep deprivation on the company. Find times that you overlap, or perhaps occasionally time shift yourself to synchronize with a time shifted worker.

Facilitating gatherings

There is benefit from bringing people together. I sponsor meetings a couple of times a year where we bring everybody together to discuss the company, our strategy and investments and to hear from each of them personally — and for them to build their own relationships. This isn’t inexpensive, but I think it is necessary. It reinforces connections, builds connections for new people and creates a touchpoint in time and space that helps people feel like they are a part of something bigger than themselves.

Future: Cities as talent hubs?

I think there are also some interesting models that cities should consider. Perhaps rather than attracting companies, they should consider becoming hubs for talent. This would require great technology infrastructure, good services like day care and community colleges that teach people how to collaborate globally, along with good access to an airport — think about that shift: being recruited by a city because they want your talent to enrich their community. Since the city is attracting great talent, companies look there for people who already know how to contribute remotely, and they know that they will have great connections and the ability to get to other places without too much difficulty.

This would also be great for cities because they would have the opportunity to leverage their local talent for improving their policies and infrastructure. It would be a very positive feedback loop.