Better know an Exec, part 0 (the introduction)

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2012/01/03 07:01 -05:00, original URI:

This blog will have some "name dropping" in it, due to its nature. ignore it, they are all just people! :-)

During Microsoft's annual poll, there is one set of questions that traditionally has answers given by many people that give a wide variety of answers -- and not always positive ones. 

The kinds of results are ones that teams want to work on, to improve.

The questions relate to our executives, the leadership team -- our leaders: whether they understand our work, the needs of our customers. Whether they have a plan, whether we know what that plan is, and whether they are delivering on that plan.

Now I'll admit that my own answers have overall trended neutral to negative on these questions over the years.

And although management takes such concerns seriously, and gets execs in front of us to talk about the future and plans and thoughts, these efforts didn't do much for me.

I mean, it can be cool to have my group -- WWLI (Windows and Windows Live International) -- bring in people like Windows Live Corporate VP Chris Jones or Windows Corporate VP Julie Larson-Green or Windows and Windows Live President Steven Sinofsky. And every one of those talks was interesting.

But to my view there are real limitations in the approach:

I was a little frustrated, realizing that I was complaining about things that my own management was taking seriously -- but that were not in effect actionable for them.

Bringing in leaders from unrelated parts of the company is way outside of reasonable just to have random company strategy concerns of people like me assuaged, after all.

In short, I was wasting everyone's time.

Well, not just me, since I was not a lone voice bringing down the average. But I contributed to it.

Now I know some Microsoft execs and leaders even read this Blog from time to time, but that would just be for them to learn about my me and thoughts, not the other way around.

I was stumped.

Then I thought back to the exec interactions I had in the past, the ones where I felt like real connections were being made, that gave me confidence in what these people were doing.

Whether it was formal situations like meeting with Corporate VP or Windows Devices and Networking Technologies Chuck Chan to talk about the need to get in Windows Quality Gates updates.

Or less formal situations like chatting with Corporate VP of Windows Development Jon DeVaan after MSKLC got an honorable mention at an Engineering Excellence awards ceremony where he talked about why he stayed so involved in EE efforts.

Or talking pointedly to Chief People Officer Lisa Brummel about my concerns about what struck me as both technical and marketing flaws in the approach that was being taken with the health care changes, and hearing her candid thouhts on the subject.

And several other interactions -- with Terry Crowley and Jeanne Sheldon and Rich Kaplan and Richard Mcaniff and Tod Nielsen and Mark Russinovich and Wael Bahaa El-Din and Brian Valentine and many others -- about a wide variety of topics (professional and occasionally other) that all have just one thing in common.

Each time I had the chance to have a direct (even if at times brief) conversation with an exec about an issue that was important (to me, and sometimes to them) and observe their unscripted reactions, and to get glimpses at their thought processes, directly.

I can't say I always agreed with each one of them every single time. But overall I had more confidence each time one of these interactions happened. I felt like I knew them better from than than from any of the large group events.

Longer interactions were even better than short ones given the risks around boilerplate coverage of some issues, but all provided some insight.

Some value.

And suddenly, I knew what I had to do.

All I had to do was spend extended time with some leaders, some executives -- to see them do their work and make decisions and such. Enough time that I could come away from it all feeling more confident about the direction of the company and the people running it.

Or if not, then at least feeling like there was good reason for lack of confidence!

Easy, right? :-)

As it turns out, it has proven so far to be easier than I thought it was, thanks to the MS Auctions from the Giving Campaign!

When the dust cleared and the auctions closed, I got a great email from a frend/colleague:

Heard that you cleared up and got 5 (?) leaders time through auction site, huge congrats that's quite a feat!!

Anything you want to get out of it or you just want to have some fun?

Well, I answered, maybe just a little of both. Plus it was acually six if you include an amazing dinner (which it tured out she was also at, as luck would have it), and even all those didn't include some of auctions I lost in!

Painfully obvious realization: when you aim for 12, winning five doesn't feel nearly as impressive. But had I won then all, my manager might have to step in to talk about all the time I was missing fo my actual job over the next few months. :-)

Anyway, perhaps it is important to not be quite so greedy -- and to sincerely appreciate the afforded opportunities thmselves.

And to share what I can of them with you!

And thus begins this journey.

My journey.

Our journey.

A journey to better know our execs.

You can perhaps think of it as a non-parody salute to Stephen Colbert's Better Know a District¹, and a way for people who are just as curious to delve into this area² to have the opportunity to live vicariously through me. And to gain some relevant insights, and at times perhaps to also be inspired.

That was my true goal here -- to b inspired. I'll let you decide whether I succeeded, as I discuss one leader at a time.

Starting in if not my next blog then a blog coming up very soon, I'll give the first part of the series....



1 - (and probably less entertaining, but he has better writers and larger budget!
2 - though pethaps not as willing to go to the same lengths!

cron22 on 3 Jan 2012 2:55 PM:

That is very interesting indeed.  For one thing, there is one thing I hate with a passion, and that is receiving scripted responses from people; anyone, not just people of high rank.  

John Cowan on 7 Jan 2012 10:29 AM:

What about when scripted responses are simply correct?  That's why we have FAQs, after all: to avoid having to make scripted responses all the time.

Michael S. Kaplan on 7 Jan 2012 2:54 PM:

And that part is fine -- but I tend to think of sincere leadership as being that which is not phoning in the bullet points -- and that is what scripted responses can feel like....

Jenny on 9 Jan 2012 9:59 AM:

LOVE that you had a great time Michael, you really capture the culture of accountability that exists in CSS!

Enjoyed Canlis :-) Look forward to hearing your thoughts there.


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referenced by

2012/01/11 Better know an Exec part 2 (Quality time with Rich Kaplan, his wife Karmann & 13 others)

2012/01/09 Better know an Exec, part 1 (Hanging with Marlena Werder + her skip & skipskip level!)

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