Friday, January 11, 2013

OWL: Risk Taking Panel

Oracle Women's Leadership group, OWL, brought us Risk Taking panel yesterday here on our Santa Clara campus with three esteemed panelists, Meg Bear, VP Oracle Cloud Social Platforms; Rodrigo Liang, VP SPARC Platforms; and Nandini Ramani, VP Java Client Development with Pamela Parish moderating.

Mr. Liang and Ms. Ramini both started out with a reflection of things that were happening during the Oracle merger and the risks they needed to take to get the best output for their teams and their own careers. With so much going on at those time, quick action was required.  From the continued momentum of Java and SPARC platform, I'd have to say some of their risks definitely paid off.

They all addressed a recent study that showed women regretted taking risks and what we could all do to be more comfortable about taking a risk. Ms. Bear noted that she didn't think women were weighing the downsides of the risks properly. Women seem to view the same potential of failure with more dread than a man would, and the panelists seem to agree: you don't know until you try it!

Ms. Ramini shared a lesson she learned while learning to ride a horse that her instructor gave her: if you've never fallen off a horse, how do you know what it feels like? Or that it will ever happen?

Ms. Bear noted the best opportunities she's had for professional development seems to have been when she was thrown into a situation she knew nothing about. It can be terrifying at the time, but she found those were the times she learned the most.  We shouldn't be afraid of making mistakes.  Ms. Bear recommended we all check out Seth Godin's blog, particularly his latest entry on mistakes.

Ms Ramini noted that for almost all women she knows would not consider it "risk taking" to make a brand new recipe for a large dinner, but somehow similar risks in the workplace that would have the same severity of consequences, have made her nervous in the past.  Fortunately, a manager years ago chided her for not speaking her mind in a meeting when someone was doing the wrong thing and she knew it, but was afraid to speak up and risk being embarrassed - said she hasn't shut up since. :-)

Ms. Ramini noted that when you do take a risk, you have to be willing to take "no" as an answer. When that happens, don't let that "no" be a forever no - just for that one thing.  Continue to take risks!

As a manager, the panel recommends helping to guide your team in taking risk. You can't constantly challenge the status quo and try to change directions of your team, that becomes tiring for all involved. They all agree to keep an open door for their teams and let them approach you with any idea, be a sounding board. Also, as a manager, you need to keep an open mind to these suggestions and be willing to change.

Remember to take risks when things are going well. While stated before, you don't want to change the status quo simply because you have nothing better to do - though staying still can be a risk, too.  Sometimes a little change is all that's needed to keep things on track or to even greatly improve the outcome of a project.

Ms. Ramini encourages people to work with others outside of your direct group, brainstorm, and keep your eyes on what others are doing - that's where innovation comes from.  You wouldn't want to be caught still using tcl/tk because you failed to notice the world had moved on ;-)

Mr. Liang noted that part of being the leader is about moving the group. It doesn't matter if you have great ideas if you can't get anyone to come along. It needs to be civil, of course. You can't force people to follow you - not in the long haul, anyways.

Ms. Bear mentioned that even being a risk taker, there are still times she's neglected to take the risk as soon as she should have. For example, she recently changed her role - something she's needed to do for a long time. While she was waiting for the right opportunity to come along, she could've perhaps pursued it in a different manner and made the change sooner.

Someone in the audience asked about making the jump into management. Ms. Ramini noted to make sure it's really something you want to do, as it's not for everyone. Talk to people who are managers, talk to people that know you and make an informed decision.

For career/role change in general, Ms. Bear said you need to convince yourself first that you're the right person for this new role, before you ask for it.  Find others that can help you ease into a new role, if that's a possibility.

Ms. Bear says she has seen women preventing others from making career growth, unfortunately, and pleads with all women to not do this.  Ms. Ramini hasn't seen this nasty behavior herself, but still noted that she tries to make sure that men and women on her team are given the same opportunities.

A great panel, followed by a great talk from Patty Azzarello - blog coming Monday. :)

Have you regretted not taking a risk?  What risk taking behaviour really paid off for you in the past?