Leadership

My Day with the Chief HR Officer of MasterCard

Human Resources. Unless you’ve worked in the field or worked with someone in the field, HR can seem like a black hole where decisions on promotions, raises, and layoffs are made. “Don’t mind the man behind the curtain,” so to speak. But unlike in the Wizard of Oz, many employees do not have the ability or the will to discover what the world of HR is really like. Fortunately, I had the opportunity to do so.

Last month, the Chief Human Resources Officer of MasterCard was kind enough to host me for a day at the corporate headquarters. I spent the day attending meetings with him and was sure to record my experience. The following is a log of my day. All names have been changed to protect the identity of individuals, when appropriate.

7:20am – I get to the global headquarters a little early and find a comfortable chair to check my email in. My day is supposed to start at 7:30am, so I want to make sure that my host has time to go though his morning routine.

7:30am – Time to meet Ron. I go into the executive wing and find his office. He is at his desk, probably checking on emails as well. He greets me, allows me to put my things away, and makes sure I know where the secret kitchen is “just in case.” We spend a good amount of time talking about my history, my professional goals, and where I see myself going. We also talk about company culture, especially as it relates to the new NYC office. He tells me about himself, a little of his professional history, and describes his role at the company. It is interesting to hear about the different constituencies he serves and he often is the one to deal with intra-executive tensions.

8:40am – A quick break. I take the time to write some of these notes and catch up on email.

8:50am – Ron shows me some slides that he has previously presented to the company’s board of directors. They outline the status of the company’s people organization, and some of where we are headed. It is interesting to see the amount of tremendous diversity in the company, but we still have more to do.

9:00am – Gregory comes in to meet with my host and discuss some exciting new recruiting programs in the works. Again, it was interesting to hear about the different constituencies involved and the tensions that can arise between them.

9:25am – Simil pops in to tell my host about a recent hire. The person’s title is Director of First Impressions and can be found at the front desk of headquarters.

10:15am – Our next meeting, Angelica comes in to talk about an upcoming TEDx style talk she was invited to give. She is planning to talk about the value of reverse mentoring. We talk about the difference in work styles between different generations, and the need to expect differences and find common ground.

10:55am – Email break with a tweet.

11:15am – We stealthily join a feedback call on a new online training program for people managers; stealthily because we don’t want to skew the feedback. The group on the call were all beta testers, and provided both very positive feedback as well as a few opportunities for improvement. Someone brings up one of my (many) favorite quotes from Albert Einstein: “I never teach my pupils. I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.”

11:50am – Time for a walk. We visit the different HR folks around the office. Perhaps unsurprisingly, my host knows each by name.

12:05pm – We grab lunch and chat about our travels. My host gets something healthy and I do not. Enough said.

1:05pm – We have a meeting with the head of employee relations who also acts as my host’s human resource business partner. Essentially, this person is “HR for HR,” which is an interesting dynamic in itself. I can imagine the experience being relatable to a doctor’s doctor.

2:10pm – One of the things our CHRO likes to do is have a little fun once in a while, so we took the opportunity to prank call an employee we mutually knew well. Unfortunately, she wouldn’t pick up her phone, so we had to leave a prank message instead.

2:15pm – We have a short meeting about employee engagement and an associated program being developed.

2:50pm – We call back the employee we pranked. She said she fell for it for a couple seconds, but then started to recognize voices. All well, we tried.

3:00pm – Ron has a call with a potential high-level hire. It is an introductory call to see if there may be any good fits. I silently listen in, and we compare notes afterwards.

3:50pm – Another email break. Unsurprisingly since he is a corporate executive, and I getting us ready for an upcoming hackathon.

4:05pm – An interesting meeting between us, the CHROs Chief of Staff, and the head of internal communications.

4:55pm – The conclusion of a great day. I say thank you, promise to keep in touch with my host, and head home.

Overall, I had a fantastic experience with MasterCard’s Chief Human Resources Officer. My experience taught me that there is a lot of planning and work that goes into running a people organization. I would strongly recommend that anyone who is interested in running an organization take some time to learn how to manage and plan for a company’s most important asset – its people.

Continue the discussion by tweeting me with #HR!

 

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Community, Leadership

Remember to Change the World

Remember when you were in elementary school and wanted to be President, a firefighter, or in a similar public-serving profession? How good-willed, we were… So what changes as we get older? Or does it? I’m not talking about the effect of disappointed parents whose children did not become doctors or lawyers or scientists (though I am sure that this has an impact) – more so the result of the introspection one goes through thinking about one’s “purpose in life” (not to be confused with the question of the meaning of life).

Similar to the argument that Sir Ken Robinson gave with regard to creativity, this type of altruistic mentality seems to be pressured out of us as we get older. In our careers, it becomes all too easy to slip into the mindset of promotions, raises, and position as well as the power, prestige, or utility that comes with them. But these two goals need not be mutually exclusive, even (and I would argue especially) in a for-profit environment.

Consider the example of Apple (a previous employer of mine). Built very early into Apple’s OS were accessibility features that enabled individuals with special needs to use Apple products (later iOS, as well). These core features help break down societal barriers for certain individuals. Coca-Cola, a company that produces relatively simple products, completed a project in Dubai and in Pakistan and India focused on helping cultures and families connect. MasterCard (my current employer) leverages technology to open financial accessibility to those who previously had none or little, helping individuals and families do things that many (but not all) westerners take for granted. No doubt these projects and associated stories were beneficial to the core business of these organizations, as well.

All of these projects, technologies, and initiatives were not made in some corporate vacuum – they were done by individuals who realized that there were opportunities for corporate and social good. It can be easy to get caught up in day-to-day tasks, but from time-to-time it is important to remember and imagine the possibility of doing more for the greater benefit. Ample opportunities exist to make lives and societies better, but success requires people with the will to pursue them. Be one of those people.

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Leadership

Book Review: Creativity, Inc.

Let me begin by saying that I am thoroughly impressed by the way that Ed Catmull (with Amy Wallace) wrote this book. The anecdotal nature of Creativity, Inc. makes the reading highly enjoyable, and even emotional. But really, should we expect anything less from a co-founder of Pixar?

The story takes us through the origins and evolution of what would we would come to know as Pixar, from Lucasfilm to the stewardship of Steve Jobs and finally to Disney (everything is now Disney, in case you didn’t know). What Ed does an especially terrific job of doing is highlighting the internal struggle of individual and collective leadership at the company, and allows us as readers to understand the dynamics between those involved. While there are some parts of the novel that are somewhat superfluous or repetitive (one of the lessons of the book is to have a respect for candor), I consider myself a more informed organization leader now that I have read this book. The biggest takeaway I have from the memoir is the importance of candor. It is true that candor can sometimes be personally hurtful in the short term, but for long term success it is absolutely vital.

I strongly recommend this book to anyone interested in organizational creativity and leadership. Now enjoy one of the many Pixar Shorts.

Have you read the book, or have insights into creativity enablement? Tweet at me with #creative, and let me know!

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Technology

Technology / Government / Data

No, not that kind of technology. This week, the legislative committee I chair in Stamford kicked off what I hope will be an ongoing conversation about the use of technology and data in our government. It is very exciting to think about the opportunities that are available to not only improve the quality of life for many in the city, but also increase the operational efficiency of how the city operates. Stamford also has the potential to be on the leading edge of not just opening up data for viewing, but enabling the use of data through APIs. Our ability to make these long-term investments takes more than just a wish, and I look forward to working with local, state, and private officials to see Stamford become a true “smart city.”

It has been fantastic for me to view these opportunities from both a government and private sector perspective. I am very thankful for the opportunities I have been given to learn as much as I have. I hope it will serve me well in the future, as AOL co-founder Steve Case predicts. Too often, we see governments in the United States (and perhaps elsewhere) trying to shape technological solutions to their purported needs rather than being adaptive to the rapid evolution of available solutions. Part of the reason for this is the embedded process of these types of institutions (ie bureaucracy), but that doesn’t mean our governments can’t be a little more agile; it just takes some evolving of their own.

How would you like to see cities effectively use technology and data? Tweet at me with #SmartCity to let me know!

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Community, Entrepreneurship, Leadership

Inverse(STEM) – What Happened to Well-Rounded?

For a few years now, some of the most notable technology executives have impressed upon today’s youth the importance of learning to code and the importance of STEM. Even President Obama jumped on the bandwagon in 2013. When I served on the board of the University of Connecticut, we worked with our Governor to launch a new operational and capital investment initiative by the state called NextGen Connecticut. The focus of this initiative, as you can read about, was additional STEM faculty, facilities and programs. STEM initiatives, in general, are good for the long-term health of our businesses and society as long as they are not created through or with the debilitation of other initiatives. It is that last part I’m a little worried about.

Dave McClure and the 500 Startups team, who are doing tremendous work globally in entrepreneurship communities, focus on finding great companies that have three key team ingredients, succinctly called “H2D”: a hacker (software developer), a hustler (sales/business development), and a designer (product architect/humanist). This team formula can create fantastic results, as we’ve seen from many of their portfolio companies. Yet STEM only focuses on one or two of these three legs, those being hacker and (maybe) designer. Not even discussing the broader needs of society, have we become to narrowly focused on STEM while forgetting other important fields?

Fortunately, I have been able to become somewhat fluent in particular programming languages, enough to have a certain level of conversation with software developers. As a kid, I went to a computer science camp and learned some game design (yes, I was/am a nerd, let’s move on). Later, I took courses on Codecademy and I continue to work with many of our product groups at MasterCard who were building APIs. I never have any intention of being a developer, but a certain level of fluency has been useful. My job at Apple was sales and marketing focused, so that box has certainly been checked. You could say I have filled in two parts of Dave’s formula so far, which just leaves some design experience. I’ve been able to take on some prototyping projects, but I am sure I will lean on resources like GA to help fill the gap.

So while the President, industry leaders, and many individuals are correct in suggesting that individuals learn to code (or more specifically, gain some level of fluency in coding as one might learn a spoken language in school), it is also important that our leaders recognize, even from an economic development persecutive, the importance of other skills and fields.

Thoughts on educational investment for the next generation? Tweet at me with #edu, and let me know!

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Community, Leadership

Stop What You’re Doing and Listen…

Screen shot 2014-02-17 at 12.22.53 PM… to yourself. When was the last time you paused from your daily routine to do a little self-reflection? There has been a plethora of research done on the chemistry of creativity, and there are practical benefits to self-reflection. As a leader, your self-reflection can mean the difference between your team’s success and failure. These are a few steps I take when I consciously self-reflect, though each person’s experience is unique and you should identify your own process:

1. Get in a comfortable and relaxing environment. Concentration requires a particular type of environment, so make sure you’re in it before self-reflecting. It could be something as simple as a quiet room alone, or as complex as lying down in bed at precisely 11:15pm with your favorite song on.

2. Allow your mind to wander and allow issues to rise to the top. Remember all those times you tried to remember where you left your wallet or tried to remember if you actually locked your car on your way in to the store, only to remember later when you were doing something totally unrelated? In your relaxed state, let your mind bring the most pressing matters to you. Don’t force an issue that isn’t coming to you immediately.

3. Obtain clarity on an issue and ask focused questions. Once you begin to reflect on something in particular, ask pointed questions: “Why did they react that way? What information did we miss? What are possible next steps?” This is the core of your self-reflection. But you still have on more step to go.

4. Ask, “So What?” Now that you have the answers to these questions about a particular topic, what are you going to do about it? What actions do you need to take as a result of this realization? Write it down, and actually do something about it!

How has self-reflection helped you? Tweet at me with #reflect, and let me know!

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Community

How Improv Made Me a Better Leader

tumblr_lp4dydSfV51qg0le2o1_500It has been a while, but when I was a young student I did both comedic and dramatic improvisational acting. Not to say I no longer like improv; if Dick Costolo started a new improv group, I would join in a heartbeat, #IPOWhosLaughingNow. I can say, without a doubt, that my experience helped make me a better leader, and here’s how:

Using Emotions Effectively

Improv is a form of acting, and there are many styles of it (one having been popularized by an older and newer television series). No matter the style, however, it is important for an actor to understand when, and when not, to be emotional in his/her delivery and to what degree. The same can be said for people leadership. When conveying your vision or debating with others, your emotional degree at any given moment can mean the difference between getting team buy-in and dealing with team mutiny.

Not Taking Myself Too Seriously

In comedy improv, you quickly learn to make fun of yourself and your surroundings. After all, there are few things more acceptably funny that your own shortcomings. When you are a leader, by definition, a group of people are looking to you for direction. Understanding for yourself and declaring to others that you are human and imperfect, and celebrating that fact, will only help you better relate to your team.

Instincts + Intelligence = Gold

In popular forms of improv, there is not a lot of time for actors to think about “what’s next.” Proper training, decent smarts, and quick thinking can lead to excellent results. The same can be said for leadership. Being able to make intelligent decisions while trusting your gut usually leads to excellent results.

Support the Team, Even in the Unknown

One of the central rules of improv is to never disagree with the direction of your partner(s), the reason being that conflict, unless intentional to the method, rarely looks good. Trusting your partner(s) instincts and direction is usually good for everyone involved. Your team (with their experience, instinct, and education) should be trusted in the same way. A leader is not a dictator, and when members of your team may have unique experiences that lend themselves to the task at hand, enabling the success of those individuals can lead to the team’s success.

Have some great improv stories, a favorite Whose Line sketch, or any critiques? Tweet at me with #improv, and let me know!

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