Monday, January 14, 2013

OWL: Getting More of What you Want in Your Career: Patty Azzarello

Patty Azzarello, author and coach, joined our Oracle Women's Leadership talk on Risk Taking today to help us learn how to take risks and still enjoy our lives.  If you're enjoying your life, you're actually better at your job!

She tends to break things into 3 categories:
  • Do better: Are you thriving? Are you having impact?
  • Look better: Are you invisible? Being invisible is not a good thing.
  • Connect better: Do you have the right support?  If you're the only person that cares about your career: that's a big risk! And not a good one :-)
In order to do better you need to really get better about assessing risks, and stop worrying about looking foolish. There are risky career behaviours we all do that stop us from taking the right risks.

Early in her career, Ms. Azzarello had turned a project team around, taking a seemingly doomed project to a successful outcome. At the end of the year, when she went in for her performance evaluation and big rewarding raise, her boss had to let her down - nobody knew who she was. He couldn't get the raise for her.   If nobody knows what you're doing, it's difficult to get rewarded for it.

You need to realize something very important: the things that come easily to you are the things you're good at. Build on those strengths, people will be impressed.  We all only have so much energy to spend on our improving ourselves, so try to focus on what you've already got a knack for.

Be your brand - who you are. That does require you know what you're good at doing and aware of your strengths. Don't apologize for who you are and let other people know!

Ms. Azzarello reminded us that we can tune our jobs to suit our strengths.  I've done this myself many times over the years.  I'd been in the same position, on the org chart, for about 10 years... but had done at least 7-8 distinct jobs.  Sure, you still have to do the tasks you don't like - it's called work for a reason, but tune your job so you do more of what you love and less of what you hate.

When you get blocked at work, never blame your failure on the fact that your boss is stupid. Could be very career limiting. :-) Instead, use the voice of others - win others over to your side, get them to help you convince others.

You need Ruthless Priorities. Do FEWER things! [Note: I really need this!]  Think about it: what adds the  most business value? how bad is it if you fail or don't do this thing at all?  If something really cannot be dropped, prioritize the important things - protect them and do them. Get famous for doing important things, not for being busy.

[Note: that last paragraph seemed to be directed to me! see my recent post on out of control email... is that really my number one priority? Will I get an Oscar for reading it all?]

But, doing the right things yourself is not enough. You need the right team. The best project with the wrong team is just not going to be successful. Get people in the right jobs, delegate power and let those people be amazing.  A really smart person in the wrong job will be miserable and won't be productive.  They won't have the opportunity to be amazing.  Give it to them.

A risky behaviour Ms. Azzarello  has seen too many times is people avoiding clarity to avoid conflict. Big ambiguous fuzzy goals do not get action.  You need clarity - that might lead to conflict, but it is necessary for action.

Being invisible and ignored can kill your career in its tracks.  Put yourself out there, make sure your boss knows what you and your team is doing. There's a balance - you need to be visible without being annoying.  Steer away from shallow publicity - every little thing does not need to be announced, but excellent work should be shared.  Make sure your work is relevant - which may require translating what you do and why it's important into lingo someone outside of your immediate team will understand.

Ms. Azzarello gave us a great example of this. Gartner surveyed CEOs for their top 10 priorities and the same companies' CIOs for their priorities. She put the lists side by side on the screen, and there was only one common *word* between the two -  "business". She then made two new lists that combined the two separate ones. The CEO priorities were the headings, and the sub bullets were the CIO priorities and, combined, they made so much more sense as a cohesive strategy for a company. I could actually understand the CEO priorities when I saw technically relevant items underneath.

Ask your boss for their business initiatives, listen to their words and fit your projects into their initiatives using their words. Use this in real life! Magic :-)

Back on the visibility topic - She notes being shy is okay, but being invisible is not. She, herself, is an introvert on the Meyer's-Brigg's scale, yet she's on stage talking to us. It's performing - not presenting.  I do that myself. I am very shy (really), but when I'm somewhere I need to network or when I need to do a presentation - I act as if I'm someone that does that thing.  I love acting, so I just apply it when I'm presenting - I'm pretending to be someone that enjoys presenting and that does a good job.  Now, is my acting good enough to cover it?  Not always, but the more I practice the better it gets. :-)

Another risk Ms. Azzarello talked about is the experience paradox.  That thing where women will explain how if they aren't perfectly qualified for a job and they will talk themselves out of a position, when a man will often say, "Sure, I'll do the job" - even if they are actually less qualified than their female equivalent.  Someone once told her: Every CEO was a CEO for the first time in their lives at one point. You sometimes have to dive in and learn on the job.

Finally, and I've heard this so many times in the last 2 years: get a sponsor.

I really enjoyed this talk and hopefully can take a few things away from it and apply at least one or two in real life.

How well do you do about delegating and prioritizing? Any tips or suggestions?

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?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Resolutions: Email and writing more

I haven't really done resolutions in a few years, besides little fun thing, like ... well, do more fun things! For example, in 2011 it was take a trip to the Grand Canyon, and we did!

I wasn't going to do any this year, either. But, after reading Meg Bear's post on email management, which was in line with earlier email advice I'd gotten from Rich Burridge, I realize I really have to get my email under control.

I've been notoriously bad about this for years. Since the new year rang in, I have deleted half of the emails from my personal account, which only has a web interface so it's a tedious process to find irrelevant and unwanted emails.  My personal email box is now down to 1000 messages (66% of my quota). That's good - it's a start.

But, my work email... boy. It's bad.

It was a mess when I worked at Sun. I tried many mail readers to see if it would help, finally settling on pine - which is, at least, quick and dirty and easy to delete things.  Alas, my Sun.Com inbox still swelled up to 4-5000 emails.

Determined to not let it happen again, I declared "email bankruptcy" in February 2010 when we became Oracle employees.  My INBOX is still there, and I've occasionally gone and dug something out of it, but it's mostly ignored.

Things started off really well at Oracle. I switched to Thunderbird, which had better folder support and integration with Oracle's Beehive infrastructure. I kept my inbox down to just "to-do" type items, under 100 messages, for many months. Then I went on vacation. So, then I was keeping it around 300 messages. Still, totally manageable.

Then, I got busy on some projects. Then, more travel. Then, I became a manager. Then, I was involved in a very intense project to migrate our Sun defects from the Sun priority bug tracking system to the Oracle Classic system. That involved many subteams and hundreds of emails coming into my inbox every day, along with my normal workload.  In the middle of all of that, I got my appendix out.

Now my inbox is hovering around 6000 messages.

I am missing things. People send me emails with weird subjects that I delete without reading, only to later find out that the message contained a specific question for me. Things I really want to respond to are quickly buried, never to be seen again.

Filtering doesn't work, as I never open the folders those things go into (though, it was useful for me to then go and unsubscribe from some aliases when I realized I could live without those updates).

Now, how do I get out?

Even trying to keep to the "zero-inbox" going forward isn't going well. I routinely have 8-10 emails left at the end of the day that require too much time to reply to (like review a large document) or require action very soon.

So, those of you that do zero-inbox, did you ever have such a hole? How do you escape?

For 2013 I'd like to practice better email hygiene.

Once I get my email under control, I hope I'll have more time to write here.  For example, I've been tasting many outstanding beers lately, but no time to write them up.

Help! :-)