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

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2012/01/09 07:01 -05:00, original URI:

It all started with Better know an Exec, part 0 (the introduction).

My very first opportunity to pursue my new quest started with Marlena Werder. I'll cheat and point to this blog for background info:

Marlena Werder heads Commercial Technical Support for Microsoft, and she has been doing variations of this job for over 17 years with the company. If any enterprise—big or small—around the world runs into a problem with a Microsoft product, it’s Werder’s teams’ responsibility to find a solution. She is charged with driving the global strategy for CTS and managing teams based throughout the United States and in India

In my life prior to working for Microsoft I was a consultant working primarily with Visual Basic and Access.I was an MVP and worked a lot virtuallly with the Product Support teams in Charlotte and Redmond. And then later as a vendor and eventually a full time MS employee, I would have episodic contact with people who work in support and developer support. So I [naively] felt like I had some insight into the space she worked in.

Boy, was I underestimating things. :-)

Marlena ends up in several different parts of the worrld on a regular basis; though based in Charlotte, she also made it to Redmond regularly and she runs a team in Bangalore as well. She left the location up to me, though I delegated it back to her since I knew she'd be the best judge of when I'd have the greatest opportunity to learn.

And must admit, she picked a doozie!

Now as a non-manager, I have never had to be as heavily invested in the mid-year as others, but when you run a big org contained within an even bigger org, the rules can change a bit....

The offer came from Marlena's Executive Assistant:

Marlena will be traveling out to SEA on Monday, Nov. 28th and then will be participating in the CSS LT Sync Meetings (Barbara Gordon’s Direct Report quarterly f2f meetings) Tuesday through Thursday.  Marlena already took the liberty of checking with Barbara to see if it would be ok for you to shadow during one of these days, and Barbara loved the idea…if that interests you.

Goodness! It definitely interested me. :-)

We settled on day 3 of the Leadership Team meeting, which would allow me to spend the day not only shadowing Marlena

but being able to oberve her boss CSS Corporate VP Barbara Gordon


-- and even a little time in the last meeting of the day with her boss's boss Corporate VP of World Wide Services Kathleen Hogan

 with the main goal of the meeting to put together the mid year report heading to Chief Operating Officer Kevin Turner.


 So this day was going to be putting together a review of everything that on org of 8,000 people do to contribute to what an org of 17,000 people do, all so it can be reported up to the Chief Operating Officer of the company.

And a chance to shadow one of the main VPs involved for the day!

I suddenly realized I got a shadow day worth even more than I realized!

It started off bumpily, because the meeting was at the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland, which was not on the small list of hotels that MS shuttles are supposed to be going to. It was only with Marlena's direct intervention that an exception was able to be made, but the way the incident went I think everybody realized there would have to be some changes to the process over at Shuttle Services....

I realized I was witnessing something that I sort of subconsciously assumed but never really internalized or had to deal with, previously: that when VPs notice problems, the likelihood of people involved working hard to provide solutions is greatly enhanced. It's good to know a VP!

Anyway, Marlena and I met in the Woodmark lobby, and headed over to the meeting room. We exchanged info about each other so each of us knew generally what the other one did. I found her to be engaging and friendly, and this impression continued throughout the day.

This was in and of itself an interesting thing, because as I've mentioned before, anyone can be nice for a little while. No one who isn't genuinely nice can fake it while interacting for a whole day.

At the very beginning of the meeting Marlena introduced me to the room, and let everyone know about the Giving Campaign Shadow Day.

This led to many different people in the room coming up to me and introducing themselves throughout the day, which was also pretty interesting.

A lot of the meeting related to various smaller groups who had met in the prior two days reporting out what they had realized and discussed and decided. Much of it was being covered in the context of sides we were reviewing -- information that was set to be rolled up into a  presentation going to Kevin Turner, eventually.

Everyone in the room was (obviously) aware of this. And as we reviewed the message being crafted -- about what had been accomplished, what would be needed, I was struck by several things:

In short, what I saw was a veritable buttload of accountability, and of people who had no interest in avoiding it. They owned what thwy owned - and they owned up to it.

I was impressed.

Now everyone in the meeting was frank and direct about issues and I saw/heard a lot more than I could ever have ordinarily seen. I can't talk about them because obviously it is not stuff I can disclose. But there is one bit I wanted to talk about in particular, because it left a huge impression on me....

There was one particular bit that involved a difference between a projected amount something would cost and the actual amount it would end up costing.

And everyone in the room was aware that it would be an issue.

This wasn't the bit that really impressed me.

I mean that was plain old accountability, which I admit is cool.

But what really impressed me was that they weren't trying to take the "easy" way out, just show that the plus outweighed the mnuses and call it a day.

I mean, that would have  been understandable.

They didn't want to use the good work to buy them out of the situation.

Which is not something I would have necessarily had confidence in every Exec or Leader I have ever worked under in the past.

No offense to any of them, of course! But this was something I got to witness, which is not always the case!

I found myself feeing a little jealous of the people working under Barbara.

And under Marlena.

They may not know it, but they were in a position to have a degree confidence in what the Leadership Team, the Execs, above them were doing to protect those under them that one seldom gets to feel!

As an additional thought, tI thought about he fact that I missed the big SMSG "shadow 3 execs" item, which I think went for over $7000 by the the auction was over. If I had won that, and if everything lined up right, I would have chosen Kevin and perhaps had the opportunity to see hiw thuis played out from the other side. But the odds of me shadowing Kevin on that particular day even if I won? Not likely, I'd guess - so provably just as well that I lost!

Anyway, in the last meeting of the day,  we went around the room and each person had a chance to say what they got out of the three days.

ome people focused on subgroup meetings they had to miss while sittung in other meetings Other talked about improvements from previous LT meetings.

When it was my turn I knew I coukd do neiter of those - I hadn't been at th previous dayes, or the previous meetings.

So I promised to not report to the IRS Marlena's claim that the Shadowing value was worth just $1 when it clearly ended up being worth considerably more.  :-)

I'm just a litte sorry I lacked any particular skills that would make me as appealing to her org as her org was to me!


And I did learn there was one member of the group that had trouble with my Nikon:


But I treasure the pictures nevertheless. The first one is the LT and me, the second is Barbara and Marlena and me. Does PhotoShop have a way to unblur pics? :-)

And at the end of the day, in keeping with item #3 in What I'd do with my 'Microsoft 20% time', I briefly talked with Marlena about my feelings regarding Microsoft corporate matching? It's time to raise the roof..... And the various Execs and partners I have already talked to. Shd admitted it was not an issue she had previously considered but hat it made sense and she would think about it further. I suspect the fact that I was putting my money where my mouth is about giving may hav3 wlped my case as well.

I'm spreading a lot of seeds on this ssue; perhaps one of them will at some point sprout!

I am incredibly grateful to the CTS VP (and new Facebook friend of mine!), for giving me an inspirng day, and restoring a faith that I wasn't entirely aware I had, or lost: that there are in this company powerful people who protect their own and who really care about customers!

Thank you Marlena Werder. Let me know if are ever lookng for for an entirely unqualified Chief of Staff who knows a couple of things about World-Readiness!

Abyway, we promised to stay in touch and said goodbye, and I headed out of the Wodmark.

My full day was, incredibly, far from over.

I had a dinner date at Canlis

But that'll have to wait.

For another day.

And another Exec.

in perhaps another blog.... :-)

John Cowan on 9 Jan 2012 7:57 AM:

Yes, but what your Loyal Readers want to know is ...

Were there any MichKa fanbois at the meeting!

Or perhaps that will be revealed in the next post?

Michael S. Kaplan on 9 Jan 2012 8:03 AM:

No commemt. :-)

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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)

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