It is hard for me to believe that I have already been at Microsoft for a year. In some ways I feel that my entire career has led up to my coming to work here. I have worked for Microsoft partners my entire career before coming to Microsoft to work with partners. So now that I am on the other side of the fence, what lessons have I learned?
Have a Plan
As with most lessons in my life I get to learn them the hard way. This one is no different. I was very new in my role and attending an offsite leadership meeting. We were discussing the work we are doing with our partners and I felt that being newly from a partner I may have some unique perspective to add. As the meeting went on, I worked to develop my statement in an articulate way that outlined one of the challenges that partners working with Microsoft face.
When I worked for partners, the companies had a few hundred people working for them. When we developed a program or initiative we developed the plan, and were able to coordinate with the rest of the company to ensure that delivery was smooth. This is easy when you can walk down the hall and grab someone for a conversation. Microsoft is a global company with a countless number of active projects all in flight at a given time. The product group may be working to drive adoption of their particular project, the Marketing team may be working on programs to drive adoption based on our stated company goals, the sales team may be pushing a promotion to drive sales of a product or service, services, Premiere, and so on. You get the idea. There is no walking down the hall and coordinating these efforts. The challenge for Microsoft Partners is that we ask them to know about these things and help us bring it all to market. Many of these programs and initiatives have their own messaging, management portal, and lifecycle. It takes a full time person at a partner, maybe more than one, to keep track of it all to ensure that the relationship with Microsoft is successful and profitable for them.
As I condensed this problem into a single sentence and delivered it to this executive I felt proud that I was able to help shed some light on this issue. There was a problem. Immediately upon delivery I realized that I was not the first person to say this. If that was not deflating enough, it was the return question that drove my lesson learned. The executive asked me, “So how do we fix it?”. It was a simple question but one I was not prepared to answer, nor had I even given thought before I made my grand statement. They saw my blank stare and mercifully moved on with their Q&A.
The next conversation I had with my boss I told her what I learned right before she said it. When you make a statement or ask a question of someone, always be prepared with recommendations on how we might solve the problem. These don’t have to be perfect, but a starting point from which to work. It shows that not only have you identified the issue but that you have though of ways to help move the ball forward.
The lesson of Extreme Ownership didn’t start out with this name for me. It was a recent revelation. I was listening to the Tim Ferriss (Blog|Twitter) podcast with Jocko Willink (Twitter) where they was talking about his book Extreme Ownership. While I have just purchased the book and am not done with it the theme is that we must take extreme ownership of everything in our lives.
It has appeared to me that there is a lack of willingness in society to take responsibility for anything. This may have always been the case and it is not my intent to debate that on this blog but it an observation from personal experiences. This concept of extreme ownership is relevant to my fore mentioned experience at Microsoft. When you make a suggestion, you need to be ready to take ownership of that solution. There will be no one more vested to see that it is a success than you will.
The concept of extreme ownership goes far beyond problem solving and projects but your career as well. If you boss is not giving you the things you need to be successful, who’s fault is that? It is your fault. You need to take extreme ownership of ensuring that you have talked with your boss about the things you need. I have had a lot of discussion with my boss about what I want out of my career at Microsoft and I have taken it upon myself to make the connections necessary for me to begin working toward those ends. Again, you are going to be the one who is most invested in ensuring that you succeed. While this comes naturally for me , it does not for others. It is a skill, like many others that needs to be worked, developed, and sharpened.
Change is in the Air
Microsoft has seen some fantastic press of late because of things we are doing like Windows 10, Azure, HaloLens, Surface Book, and Surface Pro 4. While it is great for the outside world to acknowledge the things that we are doing, the changes that Satya has brought to Microsoft’s internal attitude can be felt throughout the company. I have worked with quite a few Microsoft employees before I started working at Microsoft. Before taking my role here I received a lot of advice about how things were going to be. While some of those things have proven true, I don’t feel the rigid attitude I was warned about. This may be the organization, boss, and role that I took but I have seen nothing but encouragement and openness to new ideas. As I mentioned before, you better be ready to own them, but we have adopted a growth mindset as a company and it is showing through many of the actions and attitudes in the company.
I Love the Campus in Redmond
The first trip I ever made to the Pacific Northwest was to take a client to an Executive Briefing on Microsoft’s Redmond campus. That was about 6 years ago and I have now been to campus many times. Every time I go, I find myself wondering around like a tourist. As a boy born and raised in the swamps of South Louisiana, the whole setting seems to have me awed. I walk around campus always leaves me energized not just by the scenery but the people working for it.
My first year at Microsoft has flown by and it has been an amazing ride. I have done some really cool work with people way smarter than I am. I have learned some lessons the hard way. I have found my place and a role where I can take the lessons learned and apply them to help other partners be successful. I am looking forward to continuing my work here and the adventures that await me.