“Today new job. Tomorrow the world!”
Hi there, welcome to Microsoft.
Whether you’re a new hire at Microsoft or taking on a new job, here’s some principles, patterns and practices to be more effective.
I learned a lot from 25 years at Microsoft, and I hope that some of these lessons can help you in ways you can’t even predict yet.
Ultimately I want you to be able to “stand on the shoulders of giants” to go further, faster, and change the world in ways you can’t even imagine.
These are lessons I learned from the school of hard knocks and they represent some of the best proven practices that have worked for others and have stood the test of time.
These are Proven Practices for New Hires
I mentored a lot of people at Microsoft into VPs, GMs, Partners, and I paid attention to the mindset, skillset, and toolset that mattered.
These aren’t just neat ideas or some random thoughts.
These are proven practices so that you get an amazing jumpstart and stack yourself for success.
Note that my list below is a limited, but prioritized list (I gave myself a 20 minute window to write with might.) I’ll drill into areas in upcoming weeks, depending on where there’s interest.
Mostly, I want to give you an amazing head start that I wish somebody gave me when I first started at Microsoft. Each piece I share with you here can turn into your greatest game changer, so experiment and enjoy your journey of growth and greatness.
So explore these ideas and proven practices with a Growth Mindset. The fundamental belief of a Growth mindset is:
“You can learn and you get better.”
My Career Philosophy
Some people are doing their jobs, some are climbing their careers, and others are finding their callings.
To put a bow on everything, before I dive in, I think of work as the ultimate form of self-expression.
As a friend would say, the key is to do more art – whatever your art is.
And I think of Microsoft as the ultimate dojo of personal growth. The common bond between Softies is smart people who want to build a better world.
Really, Microsoft is an empowerment company. And I am a big advocate for realizing your full potential, the Agile way.
See How I Think About My Career Growth.
Yeah, Microsoft can be intimidating. After all, it’s a tribe of some of the smartest people on the planet who want to change the world.
Imposter Syndrome is when you feel like a fraud and that you will be found out that you are not as competent as others, or your success, might say you are.
And you end up suffering from chronic self-doubt.
Know that you’re in good company, because you’re among a lot of high achievers, who also feel Imposer Syndrome (it’s more common among high achievers).
Here’s a key tip: Embrace who you are while becoming who you want to be.
What helped me get over Imposter Syndrome was 3 key things:
- I gave up perfectionism. I gave up perfectionism by thinking of perfection as a journey, not a destination and focused on continuous improvement. I let go of perfection, in exchange for “good enough for now”, and focused on iterating and shipping faster, so I could improve things faster. Id’ rather ship something 3 times, than try to get it right all up front, and miss out on the usage and feedback that will improve it much faster and much better than Big Design Up Front (BUFD). (If I was a perfectionist, I never would have written this scrappy post.)
- I used my Future Self to pull me forward. I used my Future Self to visualize who I would become and to help pull me through my greatest trials and tribulations.
- I became my best coach and friend. I changed from inner-critic to inner-coach. And I practiced self-compassion by becoming my own best friend. After all, wherever you go, you take you with you. Be your own best company.
OK, one more secret… Guess what the difference is between the people who think they are worthy and those that don’t?
They just think they are worthy. Wow! Check out this epic insight in Brene Brown on The Power of Vulnerability.
Use the Science of Future Self to Become the Greatest Version of Yourself
Your Future Self is who you will become in the future. The surprise is that we radically underestimate how much we can change and become who we want to be.
We can even change our personality—that’s how big a deal this science of Future Self is.
What the science now says is that you are not your past.
You are your Future Self.
When you shift from fearing your future to fulfilling your future your life takes on new purpose and meaning.
If you wonder what the key to your mental health and wellness just might be, your Future Self is a pretty good place to look.
Focus on “Mastery” vs. “Performance”
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I’ll try again tomorrow.” — Mary Anne Radmacher
Take the focus off you by learning from everybody all around you and focusing on a “Mastery Mindset” vs. a “Performance Mindset”.
A Mastery focus is where you focus on how well you practice and how well you learn and how well you master your craft. A Performance focus is where you worry about the scoreboard or the quota.
Who do you think knocks the ball out of the park more often?… The player who focuses on the scoreboard, or the one who focuses on connecting with the pitch the pitcher just threw and is coming their way.
All the science says that over time, a Mastery focus will outperform over time, because a Performance focus drives people to short-cuts and the wrong focus.
A Mastery focus is also how you will achieve a sense of well-being, progress, and growth.
It’s your secret internal shift to self-mastery and how you will outperform as time and focused effort compound your abilities.
I’ve personally seen so many Softies get knocked down because they focused on Performance instead of Mastery.
Discover Your Why
“Those who have a WHY to live, can bear with almost any HOW.” ― Viktor Frankl
Your WHY is a source of unstoppable personal power. As Tony Robbins put it long ago, your personal power is your “ability to take action.”
When you know your WHY you summon a source of strength inside you that will help you deal with any setbacks and any mountains you need to climb.
When you know your WHY, you can think, act, and communicate your purpose from the inside out.
This will inspire you, and others, too.
See Discover Your WHY.
Discover Your HOW
When you discover your HOW to your WHY, you can bring your best game wherever you go.
Together your WHY and HOW are how you unleash and realize your full potential.
Your HOW is your personal success pattern for your high performance.
We all have learned patterns from where we achieved our best results, but most of us don’t have our steps written down.
- Here’s my HOW I’ve used at Microsoft for more than 20 years:
- Get a new perspective
- Create a framework
- Add the exponential
- See results
- Measure satisfaction
See Discover Your HOW.
Find Your High Performance Pattern
I found my High Performance Pattern to be complimentary to my HOW.
I find that my HOW is more of a meta-level, while my High Performance Pattern gets down to where the rubber meets the road.
There is an epic book that not enough people know called Patterns of High Performance, by Jerry Fletcher.
In it, Fletcher described a very prescriptive approach to discovering your High Performance Pattern.
Here is my summary of Fletcher’s process:
I highly recommend the book, and I wish somebody would have recommended it to me when I first started at Microsoft.
The First 90 Days
The First 90 Days by Michael Watkins is by far the best corporate warrior survival guide I have ever read.
It is the ultimate guide for success at your new job.
- The Five Conversations to have with your boss: 1) situation diagnosis, 2) expectations, 3)style, 4) resources, 5) personal development
- Build your advice and counsel network (technical advisers, cultural interpreters, and political counselors)
- Secure Early Wins
A Sampling of Proven Practices for New Job Success
Like I said, this is my short list of proven practices for new job success. It’s easy to get overwhelmed.
At the same time, too many lists are too piece-meal and you don’t get to see the balcony view.
By providing you a fast roundup, you get to take the balcony view and then you can choose a few practices to experiment and learn from.
It’s true that what you don’t know can hurt you, so I’d much rather you get a chance to scan and pick from a portfolio of options, than to stumble on a good practice here or there.
Keep in mind, this not a full list, it’s really just a starter set, but this starter set has helped many Softies that I have mentored over the years to accelerate their success.
- Timebox your day. Carve your day into time budgets. Figure out how much time you should spend on administration, work time, meeting time, and think time. Start with a day. For example, some of the most effective people spend 1 hour on admin, 1 hour on think time, 4 hours on work time, and 2 hours on meetings. You need to find the pattern that works for you. The trap is to not know when the day ends and over-spend time in areas you should allocate to others.
- Manage your meetings. You’ll likely spend a lot of time in meetings. Value your time. Find out the meeting you must go to versus should or could. Use meetings to build your network. The most effective meetings have agendas and the right people. Some meeting are more about connection versus results, so if you know that up front, you can reset your expectations. Nothing’s worse than trying to get results in a connection meeting. One thing to remember is that connection precedes results. You get more done with rapport (think “rose colored glasses”)
- Manage your mail. Doing a day of email doesn’t mean you did a great day of work. Timeboxes help. See Clear Your Inbox.
- Manage your action. Think in terms of daily results working towards larger outcomes.
- Manage your plate. Under promise and over-deliver. It’s better to nail a few things well, than take on a bunch and never finish. Think of it like a buffet — rather than over-flow your plate and get bogged down, take smaller plates and more trips. The fast eat the slow.
- Master information management. The most important concept is to factor reference information from action. Always use the RAT test on information you get (relevant? accurate? timeley?) Use trusted sources and trusted people for finding the best, most distilled information.
- Manage your energy. You can throw a lot of time at a problem, but it’s your energy that will give you the power hours.
- Know what’s important. Your manager and peers will tell you if you ask. Sanity check when you hear one thing, but see another. Usually folks are doing what’s on their commitments, so walk the commitments stack up the chain to see how and where you fit in.
- Manage your results. Microsoft rewards “smart and gets results.” Focus on outcomes over activities. Think in terms of value delivered over activity performed. You can do lots of activities but that doesn’t necessarily translate into meaningful results.
- Walk an instance end-to-end. Know what you’re getting yourself into. Whatever your team delivers, walk an instance from start to end. Knowing the bigger picture will quickly help you orient where you are in the bigger picture. This will help you anticipate. You’ll also know how to pace yourself for the race (walk, jog or run.)
- Avoid analysis paralysis. It’s really easy to fall into the trap of mistaking great throughts for great actions. Take action and improve. Analyze enough to start taking action, getting results and improving. Figure out your higher risks earlier versus later. Fail fast.
- Learn project management. Knowing how to do a work breakdown structure, timeline, work estimates and how to allocate resources gives you an advantage in getting results. You can apply these skills to a micro-level (personal productivity) or to a macro-level (getting large projects done.)
- Play to your strengths. You have your strengths. Use them. Find a way. If you find yourself doing a job and you know you really could be more effective, figure out whether it’s your approach.
- Use reference examples. Find the best reference examples and work backwards from there. Whatever you need to do, chances are, somebody’s paved a path or there’s an example you can find. You can leapfrog results if you don’t always start from scratch.
- Know the tests for success. Nothing’s worse than to finish a major project only to find you missed the mark. Figure out the tests for success earlier versus later. They’re might not be a lot of clarity in the beginning, but continuously refine figuring out what good looks like.
- Deliver incremental value. If you can chunk it down, you have a better chance for success. Show progress along the way. Always have a great end in mind, but be able to chunk it up and make progress on the bigger picture.
- Think in terms of value delivered. You can think in terms of time (daily, weekly, monthly). You can think in terms of value (how important is this). Just the act of thinking in terms of value delivered will help you prioritize your personal queue.
- Create the driver’s guide for your manager. Your manager has a high-correlation to your job satisfaction and your success in Microsoft. What’s their communication style? Do they like email, voice or dialogue? How frequently should you meet with them to stay on the same page? How do they want status?
- What’s their story? Be careful when you jump to conclusions. When somebody doesn’t do something as you expect, it’s good to checkpoint assumptions.
- Speak in the right currency. Know what matters to your audience and the terms they use. Use their terms where you can to bridge the communication gap.
- Use metaphors and mental models. The better you can simplify complex information into a mental model or visual, the more effective you’ll be.
- Use stories. Use short stories to convey a point. By short, something you can say in a few sentences. It should be relevant and have an emotional aspect. If just stating a point, doesn’t make the point hit home, sometimes telling the right story can.
- Use a whiteboard. The power of the whiteboard is that people tend to put down what’s important versus get lost in the details. You can also drill in or step back as needed.
- Speak in slides. A slide is a great forcing function to make you consolidate your point. At Microsoft, it’s easy to pass slides around. I use One-Sliders. A One-Slider is simply creating a single slide, instead of a full deck of slides. By focusing on just one slide, you can build a collection of these 1-Sliders that you can use as a deck of ideas or deck of insights or deck of knowledge nuggets, etc.
- Ask better questions. Thinking in just asking and answering questions. If you want better answers, ask better questions. You can ask question in terms of time, meaning, assumptions, truth, causes, effects and actions. One thing I like to do is think in terms of what do I know, don’t know and need to know next.
- Test it versus debate it. There’s a lot of opinions on a lot of things. You’d be surprised how quickly a simple repro test can cut through debate. Find empirical evidence where you can.
- Learn thinking techniques. There’s lots of thinking patterns and techniques. You can study Disney’s imagineers such as Michael Michalko, or practices such as Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP.)
Learning / Improvement
- Change your approach. Stay adaptable. If you’re not getting results, change your approach. The best way to get unstuck is to change your approach. You learn the most from trying something different. Sometimes this is uncomfotable, but that’s what growth feels like.
- Model the best. Find the people that get results. Have at least a few examples of people that have both continuous improvement and balance. For balance, that means both work and home, and at work it means, balance between connection and results.
- Take key training. Obviously, you’ll want relevant technical training, but you’ll want training to make you more effective in your day to day success at Microsoft. While I’ve had great tech training, some of my most useful training has been in effective meetings, personal productivity, interpersonal communication, negotiation skills, influence, leadership, and thinking techniques.
- Use everybody as a mentor. Everybody can teach you something. Everybody. Find something each person does well and find out how they do it. Success leaves clues.
- Use a personal sounding board. Find some folks you trust to give you the tough feedback. Sanity check your ideas with your personal sounding board.
- Improve strengths, but limit liabilities. If you spend all your time working on your weaknesses, you won’t get the benefit of your strengths. Continously improve your strength, while you master you craft. Every day at work is a chance to practice. Reduce your liabilities, but don’t ignore improving your strengths.
- If you don’t know, ask. If you ask a precise enough question, you can stretch your network over time and space. Reach around the world everyday to connect with your peers, learn new and amazing insights, and scale your impact.
- Build your network. Your network naturally waxes and wanes. Your results are a combination of what you know and who you know. Building your network will help you get more done over time. It’s a long-term investment that builds on itself.
- Play tradesies. Tradesies is where you exchange, swap, or barter one thing for another. It’s easier to network when you bring something to the table. You can trade what you know or your expertise in an area with somebody elses. This is how a lot of effective people get results. They build a network of complimentary skills and experience.
- Use WIIFY. What’s In It For You (WIIFY) is a simple, but effective way to communicate. If you always ask yourself, what’s in it for the person you’re brokering in, you’re off to a better start. Point out to them what’s in it for them if it’s not obvious. If there’s nothing it it for them, then that’s a flag. Challenge yourself to find a way for their to be something in it for them and you’ll get further.
Note that the key to modern productivity is what you know and who you know. It’s your network. Your network compounds your success and is your chance for exponential impact. That’s why Super Connectors and Boundary Spanners are a rare and special breed that 10X results for themselves while also lifting and improving the productivity for those they lift in their network.
If you look to these areas, they will remind you of key areas for practice and improvement to help you perform at a higher level.
The Secret to Super Productivity is Better Energy, Better Results
The real secret to super productivity is to create clarity, generate energy, and drive better results in work and life.
I created a framework called Agile Results which is a simple system for better productivity in work and life.
I wrote a best-seller on this framework long ago called Getting Results the Agile Way, and I’ve coached thousands of Softies how to master their motivation, master time management, integrate work life, and realize their potential.
Here is what Mark Curphey, former Microsoft Product Unit Manager had to say:
“JD’s ability to understand and cut to the real issues and then apply techniques that have proven to be successful in other situations is legendary at Microsoft.
Over the years I have learnt that he will not recommend something or someone unless he believe it the entire value chain, making the advice you get even more potent.”
You will spin circles around others, because Agile Results will but the best science from sports psychology, positive psychology, neurology and more on your side.
Note that while it certainly is a productivity framework, it’s also a simple personal growth framework to help you realize your potential and explore the art of the possible.
Best Wishes for the Road Ahead
Let me leave you with the quote from Dr. Seuss that inspires me every day:
“Congratulations! Today is your day.
You’re off to Great Places!
You’re off and away!”
And may the force of a thousand Softies be on your side!
Call to Action
- Focus on “Mastery” vs. “Performance”
- Read and act on The First 90 Days
- Adopt a productivity system such as Agile Results so that you can master your motivation, time management, and productivity