Editorial

Being a strong female technology leader

Women in technology face unique challenges. We’re often outnumbered by our male counterparts and occupy a lower percentage of highly-technical jobs. Silicon Valley reflects this disparity. According to the Huffington Post, women make up 30% of Google’s workforce, but only hold 17% of the technical jobs. Only 10% of tech jobs at Twitter are held by women.

I’m privileged to work with an incredible array of female technology leaders who bring creativity, critical-thinking skills, a diverse life perspective, strong technical & communication skills, an awareness of self, and a strong team-building focus to their jobs every day. But these female technology leaders are often judged differently than their male peers. They’re caught between a paradox of conflicting cultural norms and gender stereotypes commonly referred to as the double-bind dilemma. Leaders are expected to be direct, decisive, and tough. But gender stereotypes call for women to be kind, nurturing, and “nice.” How can a female technology leader be direct and decisive while also being a kind nurturer?

Last month I was part of a conversation on gender in the tech workplace. We had some incredible dialogue, with wide-ranging opinions on where we are and where we’d like to be. Some advocated for a future where we don’t “see” gender in the workplace. Others sought to recognize the unique skills and abilities everyone brings so we can celebrate our differences.

Bottom line: We need to encourage growth and talent across ALL our workforce. Whether you’re a female technology leader, an aspiring mentor, or an ally that wants to support growth and diversity in the tech space, you have valuable insights to share.

Want to know how you can help? Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Build mentor relationships. Seek out (or become) a mentor. One of the most powerful mentor relationships I’ve had was with a senior leader who was 15+ years ahead of me in her career. She shared her journey and personal stories of obstacles she overcame and how people helped her career along the way. If you’re a male technologist, seek out a female mentor. Be inquisitive and ask questions about her experiences, background, and strengths.
  • Connect with interns. I’ve participated in high school and college-level internship programs that provide real-world job experience. These interns are just starting out in their careers, and it’s amazing the unique perspectives they bring. Have coffee with these students, ask questions, and see how they view your workplace. You’ll gain an amazing perspective.
  • Support and empower other women. I’ve joined women mentoring circles at several of the companies I’ve worked for, and they’ve provided an amazing opportunity to grow my network and broaden my perspective. Making time to connect with and listen to women’s experiences is incredibly rewarding…and the network connections made can help with future career opportunities.
  • Build alliances & invest in advocates. If you’re focused on advancing your career and getting that next promotion, start forging relationships to help you along the way. Build alliances with other leaders that see your potential and achievements. These leaders can serve as advocates for you in your career growth.
  • Create a strong personal brand. Your personal brand is the impression you leave behind and the reputation you have at work. That personal brand includes both your strengths/achievements and the things your peers say when you’re out of earshot. Gain a clear view of your personal brand by asking others for feedback. Then decide if your personal brand reflects who you want to be. If it doesn’t, you have an opportunity to evolve.
  • Seek opportunities. Take the leap and reach for that tough assignment. Lean into work opportunities that stretch you. Focus on creating value for your customers, and don’t be afraid to share your wins with your peers and leaders.
  • Believe you can do it. Speak up. Raise your hand. Be heard! If you suffer from meeting regret, it’s time to lean in and start sharing your thoughts. If you suffer from negative thoughts, script out positive messages for yourself and repeat them several times a day. Tackle the feelings of imposter syndrome and don’t stop to wonder if your work (or your ideas) have value.
  • Give (and seek) candid feedback. Have you ever received performance feedback that included comments on your strengths but gave you nothing to work on and improve? Many of us find it easy to give positive feedback but hard to give constructive feedback. Seek out peers who will tell you like it is. And give the gift of authenticity to others. We can’t change what we don’t see…and you need people in your life that will tell you the good (and the bad).
  • Call out poor behavior (and then let it go). Many of my fellow female technologists receive blatantly inappropriate feedback. We’re told our clothes were distracting and took away from our presentation. We’re told to stop posting selfies on Twitter because “no one wants to be distracted by that.” We’re given job feedback or speaker feedback that is focused on our looks instead of our content or achievements. And in many cases, we’re told to stop coming off as being “too intelligent.” If someone gives you this type of feedback (or you see it occurring in the wild), call it out. And then dump the feedback in the trash. Don’t let poor behavior go unchecked, but don’t take it on and carry it around with you.

 

Meeting regret: Overcoming the fear of saying the wrong thing

Earlier this week, a mentee approached me with meeting regret. She didn’t regret what she said or did during a recent meeting. She regretted with she didn’t say–the answer she didn’t give and the details she didn’t provide. Her fear of saying the wrong thing led her to say almost nothing.

Most of us will be saddled with meeting regret sometime in our career. We may ruminate for a few hours or a few days over what we wished we would’ve said or done, but then we’ll move on. Those with chronic meeting regret face a much greater challenge. Conquering chronic meeting regret requires us to push through our fear again and again until it becomes less palpable.

So how do you push through that fear? Here’s a few ideas:

Reframe your post-meeting commentary
When my mentee approached me, she was focused on how she’d messed up during the meeting and let herself down. Self-criticism is a powerful weapon that can inflate fear and spur on the cycle of meeting regret.

I suggested she change her post-meeting commentary. Whenever she started the “I messed up” internal dialogue, I advised her to recite this sentence aloud:

“I didn’t answer that question as well as I would have liked to, but I’ll do better next time.”

It may sound stilted or overly formal, but studies have shown this type of cognitive behavior therapy is very effective for re-training our thoughts and internal messaging.

Give yourself a re-do 
If you can’t stop ruminating about the meeting and what you didn’t say, find a quiet spot and give yourself a re-do. Replay the meeting in your mind, but this time say out loud all the things you wished you’d said during the meeting. This clever trick gives you the opportunity to practice saying what’s on your mind. And hearing yourself saying things clearly and concisely trains your brain to believe you’re capable of delivering a strong message. The best part is, you can take as many re-do’s as you like. Practice until you’re happy with your words and delivery.

Practice meeting gratitude 
Take a few moments after each meeting to reflect on how you did. Instead of looking for things that didn’t go well, look for the good. Maybe you asked a question you’d normally have been too scared to ask. Or maybe you contributed to the conversation in a new way. Write down a few words about what you did in a gratitude journal. (You can even create a section in your OneNote notebook to store these moments of gratitude.)

Bottom line: If you look for the bad in your own performance, you’ll find it. By focusing on the good, you’re opening yourself up to improved possibilities.

Seek feedback
We’re often our harshest critic. One easy way to ensure you’re getting an unbiased perspective on your own performance is to gather feedback from others. So find a few trusted colleagues and share with them the effort you’re undertaking to overcome chronic meeting regret. After a big meeting, send your trusted colleague(s) an instant message or an email asking them to give some feedback on how you did. Their perspective will usually be kinder (and more realistic) than your own.

2019: A blogging year in review

person-holding-a-sparkler-in-macro-photography-3264533

It’s one of my favorite blog posts to write–the year in review! At the end of each year, I dedicate a post to recapping some of my favorite (and most popular) blog posts. Here’s my look back at 2019.

Posts published: 30
Blog views: 64,031
Blog visitors: 44,551

Top posts of 2019 (based on user views):

My favorite posts of 2019:

2018: A blogging year in review

2018-abstract-art-285173

Late last year, I was challenged to write and blog more frequently on SharePoint/Office 365. It started as a five-week effort: write five new blog posts in five weeks. The writing didn’t concern me (I was an English & Journalism major; writing comes naturally). I was worried about coming up with meaningful topics to write on. I dove in and managed to get five posts written by the five-week deadline. I congratulated myself for the effort, relieved to be done. But after taking a couple of weeks off, I realized I missed it.

This year, I extended the model. I wasn’t sure I could manage a blog post per week, so I set a goal of publishing three blog posts per month. The results exceeded my own expectations! Here’s my 2018 blogging year-in-review:

Total # of blog posts in 2018: 43
Total # of words: 20,629
Average words per post: 480

Just like my five-week challenge, I was certain the biggest obstacle was going to be coming up with topic ideas. But here’s the thing–the more I blogged, the more topic ideas I came up with. There were only a couple of times this year when I was stumped for a new topic to blog about.

One of the biggest surprises this year was popularity of individual blog posts. Turns out I’m often a bad predictor of which posts will resonate with readers. I had to learn to write and publish without pre-judging whether a given post would be deep enough, technical enough, useful enough, etc.. At the end of the day, readers will determine the relative merit of each post. There’s no point in me trying to predict the outcome.

Some blog posts took on a life of their own, generating a great deal of interest. A prime example was my Ignite 2018 post on The importance of Community Managers. I wrote the post in less than 30 minutes (a very quick turnaround by my standards) and wasn’t sure it was deep enough to generate much attention. But the content resonated with the Office 365 community, and it was one of my most-tweeted blog posts of 2018.

I also had to learn to be ready when imagination struck. New blog post ideas can spring up anytime–while driving to work, grocery shopping, talking with other Office 365 practitioners, etc.. I learned to take a few seconds when imagination struck to jot down blog ideas when I had them. I’ve sent myself emails, left myself voice memos, created draft blog posts with a brain dump of ideas, etc. The methodology doesn’t matter–I just need to capture the ideas when I have them.

I’ve also been amazed how quickly (and how slowly) some blog posts come together. My post It’s not about the technology. It’s about the use case was written in 10 minutes after recording REgarding 365 debate #4: Org-wide Microsoft teams. Other posts take an inordinate amount of time and effort. I wrestled with Disruption vs. Value: Keeping your Office 365 Initiative Afloat for 10+ hours before I was happy with the results. While I hate the wrestling process, the outcome is always worth it.

So what am I planning for 2019? I haven’t set a formal goal yet, but want to maintain a frequent pattern of publishing new posts. I love the interaction with readers via Twitter, and have learned to love the writing and review process. Blogging frequently keeps me engaged in learning about Office 365, user adoption, and enterprise governance. It makes me a better employee, a better community contributor, and a better Microsoft MVP.

I’m signing off for 2018 with a summary of my top blog posts (by user views) and my favorite posts of the year. I hope you enjoy them!

Top posts (based on user views):

My favorite posts of 2018:

Insert yourself here: How to find your (SharePoint) niche

Every day my high school English teacher danced into the classroom (yes, she actually danced) and with all the theatrics of Shakespeare declared “I can’t believe they pay me to teach the classics!” I thought she was plum crazy. Even as a high school senior I knew you worked to live. You did not live for the opportunity to work.

After 15+ years in the job market, I’ve softened my world view. If I won the lottery next week, I truly believe you’d still find me out here talking about SharePoint. Yes, I’d probably be talking about it part-time and on my terms. But things that interest me today–things that drive my passion, my curiosity and provide that feeling of accomplishment–will still be relevant and necessary, even if the monetary driver behind them ceases to exist.

How can I be so sure? Because SharePoint provides a perfect intersect for me. It is the point at which my abilities, my interest and my agenda (or mission) converge. It serves as the hub or epicenter of my time, energy and focus. If you’re fortunate enough to find yourself working at such an intersection, you’ll find that you’re happier, more fulfilled and more productive.

How do I know that SharePoint is a perfect intersect for me? Because I’m good at it, I love doing it and my organization needs it. It’s that simple.

venn01

A few years ago I went through a team-building seminar. There was a bevy of small-group activities, feel-good moments, etc. One element that stuck with me, though, was the Venn diagram the facilitator drew on the board. She challenged all of us to hone in on a part of our jobs that we loved, that was critically important to the well-being of the company and that we were naturally skilled at. The message was clear: if you can find such an intersect, you should devote ALL your time, attention and energy to it. This is your perfect sweet spot. It is the area that provides you the most fulfillment and the company the most benefit.

Here’s why SharePoint bubbled up as my intersect point:

  1. I am good at calculating SharePoint’s value or Return On Investment (ROI). I have a proven methodology for quantitatively and qualitatively capturing this data and telling the “value story.”
  2. I love learning how to build solutions that reduce or eliminate the “soul-crushing, spirit destroying” work that people hate.
  3. Companies/organizations need these solutions. It improves their speed-to-market, reduces their overhead and helps them engage their employees at a higher level.

The bottom line

We need a litmus test for jobs. It doesn’t need to be complex, but it needs to measure 3 critical elements: skill set, enthusiasm for the work and the driving business need it fulfills. The work should add direct value and positively impact the organization’s bottom line or strategic focus. But it should also hit a high note on your own personal “happy meter.” Think about it–how many jobs are essential to the business but fail to ignite someone’s passion? And how many people have things they’re passionate about doing, but fail to find an organization that views that work as essential?

If you’re not in a job that’s nested within this intersect point, it’s time to do some soul searching. Can you make a business case for building your perfect role? Or is it time to move on?

How SharePoint Chose Me!

I’m thrilled to welcome (and introduce) a new SharePoint business blogger–Edith Young. Congrats on the new blog, Edith!

Edith Young

I recently read a great blog post by a fellow SharePoint enthusiast titled “How Did SharePoint Choose You?”. Here’s a link to that post: http://quest2b.typepad.com/my-blog/2013/04/how-sharepoint-chose-me.html

Because I found it so intriguing, I thought hey, that is a good topic to blog about! So here is what I have to say…

SharePoint does have a way of pulling you in… it’s like a gravitational force that can’t be reckoned with or even stopped. I myself started working with SharePoint in 2007. My initial experience was using it as a document repository, moving files from a shared network drive into a document library. I then moved into how to use metadata effectively… creating columns with the information about what kinds of documents were being housed in the library… then there were views, what if a Project Manager only wanted to see project management documents or a Business Analyst only wanted BA docs…

View original post 111 more words

Going for broke: An editorial on how to become a SharePoint speaker

HEvery few months, someone approaches me at a conference and asks how I became a SharePoint speaker. I never know how to respond. It’s not that I mind the innocuous question; I just don’t think my evolution as a speaker is very interesting. As I stand there trying to form a pithy response to the “how did you get here” question, I get flooded with tactical follow-ups: How do you get on a conference agenda? How do you decide what to speak on? Where do you come up with your material? How do you get to travel around the world speaking at these events? And how can I do that?

The logic behind the question makes sense. If you want to learn something new, a good way to start is building a couch-to-success plan. You find someone to emulate, learn how they succeeded, replicate their strategy (with a few tweaks if necessary) and voila! You succeed.

Or not.

Becoming a SharePoint speaker is hard–much harder, in fact, than it was just a few years ago. And there’s no magical methodology for success. So asking me how I became a SharePoint speaker is really the wrong question. The right question is much more personal–it is about you, the expertise you have, the story you can tell and the audience you are meant to connect with.

I started attending local Twin Cities SharePoint events in 2008. At the time, many of the events and sessions were designed for technical audiences (IT Pro’s and Developers). I attended sessions and gleaned what I could, but quickly realized that I was not the target demographic. My goal wasn’t to learn all the technical aspects of supporting a robust SharePoint implementation. I wanted to learn how I could exploit SharePoint to make my business run faster.

Was I interested in becoming more involved in my local SharePoint community? Yes. Was I interested in speaking at national events? Not really. My first priority was connecting. I wanted to find other SharePoint people who had the same burning questions I did about business valuations, information architecture and user adoption.

I started small, applying to speak at a local SharePoint Camp. And I spoke about what I knew–how to implement SharePoint as a business automation tool and calculate its return on investment (ROI). People were excited to hear my story, and we connected. One presentation led to others and eventually I was asked to speak at the Best Practices Conference.

I used my time at conferences wisely–connecting with others in the community and learning as much as I could. And yes, I was star-struck when I met many of the SharePoint gurus that I had conversed with over Twitter and followed on EndUserSharePoint.com. But I also saw what set SharePoint community leaders like Lori Gowin, Ruven Gotz, Cathy Dew, Laura Rogers, Dux Raymond Sy, Mark Miller, Bill English, Wes Preston and Virgil Carroll apart. Yes, they all were knowledgeable about SharePoint and were natural presenters. But they also had unique skills and knowledge sets. They focused in different specialty areas and supported one another. None of them took the same path to success, but they were all successful.

The SharePoint community is a community. Relationships are important. And the best relationships are forged on curiosity, common questions and give-and-take learning. So if you’re interested in becoming a SharePoint speaker, go out in the community and connect with other SharePoint-ers. Attend a user group meeting. Ask a question. Volunteer to sit on a discussion panel. Invite a fellow attendee out to lunch so you can learn about their background and how they use SharePoint. Then expand your reach even farther–attend a regional SharePoint Saturday event and offer to work as a volunteer. Attend or organize a SharePint. Open a Twitter account and start following and tweeting other SharePoint-ers.

Once you’ve started connecting with others, it’s time to share what you know. Apply to speak at an upcoming user group meeting or SharePoint Saturday event. Start a blog. Offer to host a SharePoint discussion group at your office. If you are willing to share what you know, you will find people who want to listen and learn from you. And yes–if you have a message to share that resonates with others, you may just find yourself on a conference agenda somewhere…

Tuning out the SharePoint naysayers

Sooner or later, all SharePoint enthusiasts encounter the scariest of creatures…the intelligent, the opinionated and the immoveable naysayer. These naysayers exist at all levels of the organization and persist in deriding SharePoint without provocation or apology.

SharePoint enthusiasts fear naysayers for several reasons. First, we fear the naysayers will tarnish SharePoint’s image. Yes, we’re used to defending SharePoint against the typical anti-Microsoft rants. But these ideological rants rarely touch on or impact day-to-day operations. Naysayers present a more immediate threat. If the naysayers are vocal, sharing their anti-SharePoint mantras with project managers, executives and line-of-business folks, they can taint others’ view of SharePoint.

Naysayers can also block the use of SharePoint within key business units by simply refusing to adopt the platform. A few well-placed naysayers can cut off avenues for success, making user adoption a challenge.

But by far, the most insidious and debasing fear is that the naysayers are right. What if the naysayers see something we’ve missed–a fatal flaw in SharePoint’s design or a new Google Docs feature that will change the collaboration landscape? This fear can be crippling, and in that moment the naysayers can be like kryptonite for SharePoint enthusiasts. But remember, kryptonite only hurts if you’re Superman.

Here’s the reality: naysayers can’t really hurt SharePoint. Yes, they can be vocal in their opposition. And yes, they can make us work around them. But their greatest threat isn’t what they can do. Their greatest threat is the impact they have on us–the SharePoint enthusiasts. When we encounter a naysayer and start wringing our hands, we give away our power. And when we spend hours and hours of time trying to build out collaboration features to make the naysayers happy, we bear a huge opportunity cost.

I often talk with users that are struggling to “earn” the approval of their SharePoint naysayers. They work like trojans to try and build the perfect SharePoint site or solution for their naysayers, only to find the bar inextricably raised at every turn. No matter how far they come and how great a solution they build, it’s never quite enough to win the naysayers’ approval. They ask me what they can do to help turn the tide and win over their naysayers, and I always say the same thing–STOP!

Stop trying so hard. Stop contorting yourselves to try and become what others are looking for. And stop chasing after users that are not interested in what you (or your SharePoint platform) are offering. If you’re implementing SharePoint correctly, you should have a healthy pipeline of users requesting your SharePoint help and expertise. Why waste your time on the naysayers? Driving effective user adoption is about building tools and solutions that people want to use. Naysayers (by definition) don’t want what you’re selling. So stop trying to sell to them.

If you focus 100% of your time and energy on the customers that want to adopt SharePoint, you’ll be a success. And if you have a methodology that really works, SharePoint will start spreading like wildfire in your organization. So let the SharePoint wildfire run its course…sooner or later, those naysayers will sound pitiful deriding the virtues of a tool that has been embraced (and extolled) by the entire rest of the organization.