Are you managing your career?

Remember how you felt at the start, when you were looking for your first job? All you wanted was a toehold, a way in, a chance. But it felt like everyone else had control of your future.

I got my first job out of college because I could type. And yes, I was taken aback when the hiring manager later told me the reason she interviewed me. Typing wasn’t supposed to be what got me a job—my BA in Spanish was supposed to be wildly appealing to the Pan American Health Organization!

Years later, I know that in your first job what you need most is a good boss. I had one at the Pan American Health Organization in Washington, D.C. In fact, as I was leaving that first job my boss said to me, “Have you ever thought about a career in management? You’d be great at it. You have a way of getting people to do things they don’t really want to do. And that’s the most important skill for management.” That boss was just what I needed in my first job, and I was fortunate that he inspired me to pursue management roles in my future career. But too much is made of the connection between our bosses and our success on the job. In my view, we must manage our own careers.

Really, you ask, what new can be written about career development? Google tells you what you need to know and do. Blogs and listicles and tweets are regularly yapping at you about the importance of managing up, the new skills you need most and how to fake it till you make it.

I got the best possible career advice nearly 20 years ago from a colleague who said, “Remember, no one cares about your career more than you do.” On the spot, I knew he was right, and I’ve regularly reminded myself of that phrase ever since.

No one cares about your career more than you do. What does that mean?

It means you, and only you, are responsible for your success at work. I offer six actions you can take to be sure you are positioned for what you want, when you want it.

Stand out.

Managing your career has to include establishing and evolving your work identity. What kind of colleague do you want to be? What values do you bring to the workplace? At the beginning, the midpoint or even in your final years of working, you can make adjustments to who you are at work.

Aside from doing your job well, I emphasize two personal actions that can make you stand out. They are:
1. Be reliable. Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it.
2 Be nice. People want to be around nice people.

Learn from the people around you.

Early in my career, I learned from a coworker that rehearsing presentations made me more successful. I was a compensation analyst at the time and I made monthly presentations to senior HR executives. My task was to make the case for pay increases for individuals and/or groups of employees based on salary survey and benchmark data I had collected. The goal was to gain their approval of my recommendations. My coworker and I would practice the day before—I’d run through my presentation with her as the audience. In the first few months, she had a lot of suggestions for more strategic ways to organize and convey my recommendations. As I improved, we made a game out of the rehearsals. My goal was to get through the practice session without her pointing out what I should have included. She shared her strategic presentation skills and I’m still grateful.

Count also on the learning that comes from watching and listening. When you attend a meeting or observe interactions between people, pay attention. Reflect on what your colleagues and campus leaders say and do. Which of their approaches should you adopt? How might you incorporate their methods into your own work and communication style?

Stay up to date.

It’s your responsibility to determine what you need to read about and what future expertise you’ll need to have. You need no permission to do this but it does take discipline. You also don’t need a professional development budget because the Internet is your free source for new knowledge and skills. Get into the habit of 15 minutes of reading at the beginning or the end of each day. Believe me, I understand that time is hard to come by. But if you don’t invest in staying up to date, you are making a conscious choice to limit your career options—both in a future job and perhaps for assignments in the one you are already in.

Wait! Because you work in higher education, you are in luck. Your environment is filled with projects and committees and initiatives that actually serve as professional development opportunities. Think about it this way: There are never enough staff to do the work and there’s rarely enough budget for new positions. This means you can volunteer yourself or get assigned to something that can increase your skills and knowledge. My career changed at the College of William & Mary when I asked for a meeting with the provost and volunteered to lead a website redesign project. It was a lot of work and I did it without a pay increase, but it set the stage for my move to a career in higher ed consulting

Always be ready.

Sometimes, you can move up while staying in the same organization. In my 22+ years at William & Mary, I had three careers—one in human resources, one in IT, and one in marketing. However, there may come a point when your future success requires you to leave your current campus.

Remember, you own your own brand and you should be ready to effectively promote yourself at any point. Minimally, you need to update your resume, LinkedIn profile, and portfolio every year. Always be ready. You may need to put yourself on the job market quickly to take advantage of the perfect but unexpected opportunity. Presenting at conferences and personal blogging allow you to build a reputation within higher education.

Take risks.

Your career can’t hinge on getting rewarded with a promotion because you’ve done well at your current job. Congrats if that happens, but sometimes, you need to take action. Consider applying for jobs that are more difficult than the one you are in. You put yourself out there not knowing what will happen. You take the risk.

If an unexpected someone encourages you to apply for a job you’re not sure you are qualified for, take it seriously! Here’s how I moved from HR to IT at William & Mary. I was working with a CIO to establish new jobs and reorganize his unit. In a sea of university bureaucracy, I was an HR rep who was responsive to his goals. I was doing what I said I’d do, when I said I’d do it. He noticed. A few months later, he sent his admin assistant to my office to drop a hint that he hoped I’d apply for a new technology training job he was filling. I had no background but he thought I had potential. I took a risk—that was the start of a 12-year career in IT.

Get by with a little help from your friends.

Working is about relationships. At some point, you may decide to explore what’s out there, or you might lose the job you have and unexpectedly be searching for a new one. If either happen, you should take full advantage of your personal contacts. Reach out. Tell everyone (including LinkedIn) that you are looking for a job. Talk to as many people as you can about your search; go way beyond informational interviewing and official references. Drink a lot of coffee with a lot of people you haven’t seen in a while. Getting the word out will generate more job options for you to consider.

Rely on your network to endorse and recommend you. Maybe you’re uncomfortable about getting a leg up because of someone you know. Get over that feeling quickly. Remember, when people in your professional network put in a good word for you, they are actually helping a hiring manager. Hiring is risky, and managers look for ways to reduce risk by learning more about the people they are considering from people they trust.

I know there are realities that affect your actions. Being able to pay your bills, job security and work-life balance. The point here is your career is yours to manage. Don’t expect others to care about it more than you do. Determine what you want and keep yourself on the path to getting it, whenever you’re ready.

(This piece first appeared as a feature in the Spring 2017 edition of UCDA Designer Magazine.)


8 Job Hunting Mistakes Made by Recent College Grads (Part 2)

Wait, what were we talking about? Oh, yeah, job hunting mistakes. We started this conversation with the first four in part one. Notice I’m skirting around the typical—bad grammar in your cover letter or not sending a thank you note—that stuff is table stakes. Read on for my final four.

1: Failing to coach professional references.

The professionals who will stand up for you are more than the bottom three lines of your resume. Beyond the typical vouching for your character and strengths, they can make a better case if they know a little about the job you’re in the running for. Coach your references! Send them a few sentences that describe the job and a bit about the organization. Your references will then be able to sharpen their comments, tailoring your background to a specific job opening.

2: Revealing too much information.

Your questions reveal and perception is reality. When you ask too early about a higher salary or opportunities for advancement, the hiring manager may worry that you won’t be satisfied with the job. (Those questions are best during a second interview, or after an offer.) Avoid being memorable in the wrong way.

3: Revealing too little information.

The opposite can happen too. You panic when the questions point to your lack of professional experience. Go in prepared to align specifics from your summer, internship, or volunteer work to the duties of the position. In an informational interview, a recent college grad once told me she had no experience working on the web. I pushed, hoping she’d talk about her involvement in campus organizations. She didn’t, so I asked if she ever set up a WordPress site, organized an online community, or used social media to promote events. Of course, she had done all three but didn’t connected the dots between that experience and the skills required for a communications job.

4: Expecting the first job to be perfect.

At the risk of sounding old, so few jobs are perfect. Your priority has to be getting some experience to pair with your strong educational background (and getting out of your parents’ basement). Redefine perfection: maybe the salary is high enough you can eat out for lunch on Fridays or maybe the team you’ll work with is about to start an interesting project. Going for the job that’s perfect for you at this moment is enough for this moment.

Bonus: I’ve interviewed hundreds. Here’s a whopper of a mistake and it’s not made only by the new college grad: not having questions during an interview. When an applicant has no questions (or struggles to come up with one on the spot), it’s a warning sign for me. I wonder if you are genuinely interested, if you typically make such important decisions with so little information, or if you prepared for the interview.

Use comments on this post to add your own wisdom. Let’s make it a point to help out early career individuals. Cheers!

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

8 Job Hunting Mistakes Made by Recent College Grads (Part 1)

Who doesn’t remember their post-college-graduation job search? It’s a milestone and a time filled with anxiety. It’s the time when you most need professional advice, and the time when you are the least likely to ask for help.

It was 33 years ago for me and I’m on my fourth career—in HR, IT, communications and marketing, and now, strategic consulting. When advising recent college graduates, I observe eight job hunting mistakes.

1: Applying for one perfect job and waiting to hear back before applying for more.
Very early in your search, you find the perfect job—it’s in the right location and requires exactly the background you have. You send the perfect cover letter and resume and then…you stop your search. This job is the one, so you hold off applying for more jobs because you’re pretty sure this will come through. What happens next? You lose four to six weeks of time. Perhaps you get a phone interview, but ultimately not the job. It’s a lesson that knots my stomach even now: There are potentially hundreds of people who also are right for that job. Apply for the perfect job and then forget about it. Move on. Keep applying.

2: Misunderstanding the purpose of the phone interview.
Speaking of phone interviews. You will have lots of them and they serve one purpose: to rule out candidates. Of course, prepare and take them seriously. (Google can advise you.) Make a good impression but don’t say or reveal anything that might remove you from consideration. At this stage, your only goal is to avoid getting eliminated; you just want to get to the next round of interviewing.

3: Hesitating to take advantage of personal contacts.

When looking for your first job, tell everyone. Talk to as many as you can about your search; go way beyond informational interviewing and official references. Take advantage of your personal contacts! Maybe you’re uncomfortable about getting a leg up because of someone you know. Get over that feeling quickly. Remember, when your contact puts in a good word for you, they are actually helping the hiring manager. Hiring is risky, and managers look for ways to reduce risk by knowing more about the people they are considering.

4: Applying only for jobs for which you are fully qualified.

You will not find this ad. Wanted: a new college grad with a degree in anything and no experience, good salary and benefits. (Actually, you might see that ad but it’s for a sketchy, all commission sales job.) You will need to apply for jobs that ask for more experience than you have. Stay within the range of one to three years of experience. Why? Because you are competing with only those in the applicant pool. Maybe the particular combination of location, timing, and a personal contact will mean you are just as qualified as everyone else in the pool.

Stay tuned for part two and four more mistakes.

This post appeared originally on Start Smart Career Center, a virtual mentoring network that helps women navigate their nonprofit careers and thrive as leaders in the workplace.

Picking a Partner: Tips for finding the right consultant.

Chemistry lab beakers.Earlier today, I spent an hour with the fine folks who attended the mStoner webinar, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Making it work with external partners.” The hashtag we used — #HEpartners — might let you partially recreate the fun we had.

The RFP and the RFQ
Naturally, the RFP and the RFQ made it into my slide deck for the webinar. I know we all roll our eyes and grimace about the Request for Proposal or Request for Quote process. But even if you are lucky enough to avoid the pain and bureaucracy of having to do either, you do at least need to write down some bullet points before choosing a partner.

The process of clearly outlining what you need, what you hope the consultant will deliver, and even a preliminary timeline and budget will ultimately help you narrow options as you find a company to help you. It’s also important to have this in written form because most consultants can respond with a better proposal when you can share this level of detail as background.

Don’t think of writing an RFP as only painful. If you are part of a committee, drafting an RFP can tease out inconsistencies or misunderstandings about what you would like the consultant to do. Writing an RFP also will help you get consensus about the project or the initiative. Finally, you can learn a lot by observing prospective consulting firms during a pre-bidders conference, and from the questions bidding firms ask you during the established proposal preparation period.

Speaking of questions
Another topic during the webinar was knowing the right questions to ask to effectively evaluate consultants. Now I know how these things go…sometimes you’re the one wearing the red ruby slippers and you can hire, or at least control the process for hiring, the consultant. Other times, there are wicked witches and flying monkeys in the way, meaning someone else hires the right (or wrong) partner. Regardless, the evaluation of the consultants you could work with should include some very tough questions. You might try these:

  • Ask questions to determine competency. (Do you know how to do this?)
  • Ask about experience. (Have you done this before?)
  • Follow up about results and outcomes. (What happened when you did this elsewhere?)
  • Find out about capacity. (What resources will you devote to us?)
  • Always ask about deliverables. (What will we have in our hands after you have finished?)
  • Find out about the team you’ll be working with. (Who will actually do the work of our project?)
  • Question them about risk factors. (What could go wrong? How will you prevent that?)
  • Finally, find out about philosophy and approach. (How do you work with clients?)

While I don’t underestimate the importance of answers to the questions above, really, a lot of this is about chemistry. When you are evaluating external partners you’ll need to get a sense of their style and see if it meshes with your own, your team’s and that of your campus. So much about an effective relationship with a consultant has to do with your ability to collaborate with the individuals you hire. Pay attention to your gut. Trust the impressions you get during an in-person presentation of the proposal from the company you’re considering.

Download the slide deck I used for the webinar.

More on picking a consultant from the mStoner blog:

Musings on 31 Years of Marriage and How Marriage Affected My Career

Larry EvansI’ve been married 31 years so buckle up for a long post and lots of musings on marriage. Or, for the part about how marriage affected my career, scroll down to the heading called “I didn’t plan to work after we had kids.”

Three months after my 19th birthday and two weeks after my freshman year of college ended, I met Larry Evans. It was May of ’79 and we were both summer employees of the Pension Benefit Guarantee Corporation in Washington, D.C. Think summer internships — except, and I’m not kidding, they paid us really well. When the summer job ended, I went back to JMU and he returned to Kenyon for his senior year. We had no email, no mobile phones, and no money for plane tickets. We did have U.S. mail and reduced long distance charges on Sundays. Larry’s phone charges for long distance were automatically billed to his student account at Kenyon and he got a talking to from his parents when he came home for winter break that first year. They liked me, but the crazy expensive phone calls had to stop.

Three years after we met, we got married. It was June of 1982; me 22, him 24. Two months later, we moved to Rochester, New York and Larry began a PhD program in political science at University of Rochester. I married a smart man. He had a full ride to U of R, including a healthy stipend for living expenses (those days are gone). This was the start of a period of time when all my Valentine’s Day, anniversary and birthday gifts came from college bookstores; something I love to tease Larry about. (Note: the inventory in college bookstores is a lot more diverse than it used to be.) Anyway, I’ve often thought that beginning our marriage isolated from everyone we knew was a good way to go. No in-law issues, no one to go stay with when you got pissed off and left, and no one else to hang out with while exploring a new place.

Although I don’t think I’ve ever been asked why it’s lasted so long, that is a perennial question for people who’ve been with the same person for longer than not. If asked, here are the reasons I’d give:

A combination of luck and chemistry.
As our son has said to me a couple of times, “Not everyone meets their soulmate at age 19, Mom.” He’s right. There was luck involved. I am thankful that I was at the right place, at the right time. Larry Evans was unlike anyone I’d ever met. He was the guy I would have hated and avoided in high school and he would have disliked me even more. He talked about things I had no background for and organized after-work picnics. (At the time, I didn’t know he hated them.) That summer, he introduced me to black and white movies, eating out in restaurants at lunchtime, and hours of fascinating conversation. There was chemistry. When the luck and the chemistry are combined, you’ve got the beginnings of something good.

The ability to survive stubbornness.
I was high maintenance back then. I do believe I’ve mellowed considerably over the years but you’d have to ask Larry to confirm my choice of adverbs. Sometimes, I wonder why he put up with me. It must have been that chemistry thing I mentioned above. When two eldest children marry, there is a lot of stubbornness and a lot of bossiness too. We survived the fireworks and it’s made for some great stories. Jack and Rebecca love to hear us tell about the time I locked Larry out on the balcony of our apartment; it never gets old. During the dark moments that all marriages have, Larry would talk about a tennis match and remind me of the sweet spot, the tennis player’s favorite area of the racket. He always focused on the best of us; the part of us that knows we are meant to be together. (Neither of us plays tennis.)

The realization that you need good advice.
Besides wanting everyone to be married, married people love to give advice. Advice I got from three individuals made an impression on me and I’ve remembered them regularly as we went along:

  • Never put your marriage on the back burner.
  • I was perfect until I got married.
  • When you get irritated, go look in the mirror. You’re no prize yourself.

Pay attention to those three and I add my own: If you don’t understand your spouse and are frustrated by things he/she does, spend the weekend with your in-laws. You’ll find out it’s ingrained, they really can’t help it, and you’ll soften to it.

The sense to know what you want out of life.
From the beginning, Larry and I had similar goals. In the three years prior to getting married, we talked about everything. We knew we wanted the same things. We didn’t always agree about how to get there (and still don’t) but we always make joint decisions. Even in the few instances where one of us threatened to make a decision independent of the other, we couldn’t do it. Trust that the other has your best interests at heart and having the same end goal in mind is the only way to get to the agreement. Speaking of goals…

I didn’t plan to work after we had kids.
I’ve been thinking a lot about how my marriage has affected my career. In the first five years, I was the only one working full time. Although he was a TA and did adjunct teaching, Larry was a full-time grad student. He was always a patient listener as I figured out the work politics during my first few jobs. When I could stomach it, I let him edit my writing. That paid off; I am a better writer because of him. I have a bent towards strategic thinking; it’s something I do naturally but also something that Larry has helped further develop in me. So many times, he said to me, “I know you’d get a lot of psychological satisfaction out of that approach, but it is not in your best interest.” Larry has the strongest strategic thinking and strategic assessment skills of anyone I’ve ever met. I am in awe of that.

In the beginning, our plan was that I’d stop working once we had children. After Jack was born, I did just that for about a year until, frankly, the money ran out. By then, Larry was a tenure-track professor at William & Mary and we needed a second income. Once we decided I’d return to work, I started looking at part-time jobs that were during the evening or on weekends. I wanted to create a situation where work didn’t interfere with raising young children. My plan was that Larry and I would have to be ships passing in the night, each doing childcare while the other was working.

Because of Larry (and my parents), we ended up not going the part-time route. I took a full-time compensation management job in Richmond and commuted two hours a day. Larry worked in Williamsburg but he commuted too — 1.5 hours a day to drive our son to stay with his grandparents while we worked. I’ll always appreciate that time commitment he made to accomplish a shared goal for our family.

Larry helped create my love for higher education. I valued education from the get go and by the time he started grad school, I was fine with the idea of being married to a college professor. I liked the flexibility it would offer to us after we became parents. What I didn’t expect was to fall in love with higher ed.

When I applied for a job in the HR department at William & Mary, I did it because I was tired of driving to Richmond. My choice to take the job had nothing to do with the fact that I’d be working on a college campus. In fact, when I was offered the job, I even told my future supervisor that I only planned to work six months. We wanted to have a second child and, again, I planned to quit working.

Eight and a half months later, I thought I was wrapping up my time at William & Mary because our second child was due any day. Just before Rebecca was born, my boss asked if I’d be willing to come back and work part-time. I agreed and that set off a nine-year period where Larry and I scheduled our work time around each other and the kids’ school schedules. For eight years, Larry didn’t teach before 10:00AM. For years, he handled the morning shift and I met the school bus at the end of the day. During the summer, I was able to work from home but Larry spent many summer days with Jack and Rebecca and an Excel spreadsheet of activities. Once our kids were older, Larry was the one who drove home to be there when high school ended each day (an important time to have a parent around). Perhaps you are thinking, lots of men do all this. Maybe so; but I haven’t met many. The fact is that Larry’s sacrifice of time was possible because a professor has a flexible work schedule. But that wouldn’t have been enough; it also meant that he was working evenings and weekends to make up for it. He had the luxury of spending time during the work day on family stuff, but the expectations of his career were demanding and unchanged. You’ve heard about publish or perish, right? He did (publish).

Together on a campus, Larry and I had a 22-year love affair with William & Mary. Even so, when I was considering leaving William & Mary to work for mStoner, Larry had three words of advice: “Go for it.” We jointly decided the time was right for me even though, for him, there is another sacrifice since I do some traveling. Still 100% in my camp, he knows I’m loving the work and that’s what matters to him.

If you’ve ever worked with me, you’ve heard me say multiple times, “Larry is my biggest cheerleader.” He always views my skills as just what’s needed for any situation at work. I try to tell him there’s another side, but he won’t hear it. He thinks I’m capable of anything and, in part, his attitude about me and my abilities has helped make it so. If I had given him a chance to review this post prior to publishing, he would have removed any language that didn’t put me in the most optimal light. But the purpose of this post is to let the world know that my marriage has affected my career. Thank you, Larry.

I’m hosting a webinar about working with external partners.

Later this month, I’ll be hosting an mStoner webinar called, “Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Making it work with external partners.” The webinar is free but registration is required. More details follow:

Date:  Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Time:  2:00PM Eastern

What’s the secret for getting the most from an external partner? How do you know when you need one and how do you find the right firm to work with? More than that, how do you run the show effectively once you do?

Let’s review ways to get the most out of these external partnerships! We’ll talk about directing the process internally, and making sure you get what you need. As someone who’s worked on both sides, I’ll talk candidly about what to look for and what to avoid during these key partnerships.


Today’s a day for “mushiness” on all my social platforms.

Unless you are a Facebook friend, you might not get the reference in my title. I posted something mushy about the amazing man I married there. Here, I turn to website launches as the next victim for my emotion today.

This morning, The American University of Paris relaunched their website. I led the mStoner team on this project and I am incredibly proud of the work we did with the AUP team. Look for more on the topic of this partnership in a future mStoner blog post. [Update: a post Greg Zguta and I wrote about the AUP website for the mStoner blog.] For now, just bask in the glory of AUP’s new site. I’ll be smiling all day because of it.

Five years ago today, I was sitting with the team at William & Mary doing what AUP did this morning (different time zones, same champagne). At 11:38AM on July 31, 2008, we relaunched so I understand how the AUP team feels right now. Hard work that pays off is one of the best things that can happen in a day. My opportunity to work on the William & Mary website is a standout when I look back on my career and work life. I hope you all experience that feeling, more than once.

I now say to the AUP team what I said to the William & Mary team at 11:40AM, “Stop! We are all going to stop checking links and reading email for one minute and celebrate. We did great work and I want us to stop for a moment and cherish that.” We did. And, I still do.

In the category of not as easy as it looks: Being Boss.

Spoiler Alert: I’m not mincing words on this one. Steel yourself for stronger bolder language than usual from me and enjoy the post.

Today is National Boss’s Day. Despite its Hallmark holiday status since 1979, I wouldn’t say that National Boss’s Day is part of popular culture. Instead, complaining about a boss, movies about hating your boss, and leaving a job because of the boss are the common ground we work within. Today, even though #BossDay is not trending, I stand up for good bosses (there are many!) and also assert, “It ain’t as easy as it looks.”

From the start, organizational development, leadership and management have been a career focus for me. Thinking back, I realize that I have introduced the concept of celebrating National Boss’s Day to several of the teams and organizations I’ve worked with. And, I’m glad I did. I have fond memories of celebrating with some of my favorite bosses and I quoted several of them in a March post on this blog. If you have a good boss, celebrate it. Make sure your boss knows that you appreciate what they do for your team.

So here’s the question: Why do we love to hate our bosses?

The fact is, we all have a boss, right? Well, faculty don’t…moving on. Today, I suggest that this universal practice of complaining about the boss is rooted in the idea that we all think we could do a better job at being boss. Again I say, “Being boss is not as easy as it looks.” Let’s examine three default complaints about the boss and I’ll show you what I mean.

  1. The boss is not fair.
    Often, this impression comes from a feeling that someone in the organization is getting something you aren’t. Frankly, my lens on this one is like that of a parent. “Yes, I am treating you differently than your brother. You and your brother are two different people and what you need from me is not what he needs from me. Be glad about it.” Case in point, there are people I’ve supervised that put so much pressure on themselves to perform that I’ve talked to them about reducing their expectations of self. Conversely, others have needed a direct conversation about how much I needed their increased contributions to the team. At the end of the day, we actually want our bosses to use a more customized approach.
  2. The boss doesn’t listen to my ideas.
    Often, this impression is just plain not accurate. It may be true that the boss didn’t follow through on your idea but that doesn’t mean the idea wasn’t heard. When you’re the boss, people regularly come to you with suggestions for the problems you face. They often describe your problems as, “Easy. All you have to do is ____.” I like to give the boss the benefit of the doubt; I assume that there is information or detail I don’t have about a situation. Without complete information, my easy solution might not be the right one. BTW, the worst thing you can do is to stop expressing your ideas. I have watched people do this as a way to get back at the boss for not accepting an idea or two. It is your job to have good ideas, to share them with the boss, and to realize that you’re not the only one in this universe.
  3. The boss doesn’t understand the work I do.
    Often, people have a mistaken impression that, in order to supervise a [occupation here], you have to have worked as a [same occupation here]. To quote Vice President Joe Biden, “With all due respect, that’s a bunch of malarkey.” (Note: if you don’t know what malarkey means, then substitute BS.) It’s amusing to me that, at the same time we don’t want to be micromanaged—another regular complaint about bosses—we think the boss must be able to do our jobs before earning our respect. The right kind of boss, and I hope we are all trying to be that kind, can manage anyone. I can name several web programmers and sys admins who would serve as references for my bossiness, and I am not an exception. Leadership is not the sole claim of any particular discipline or job type. We all need bosses who lead, not people who can do our jobs when we take a day off.

Sincerely, I know that there are some bad, bad bosses out there. I’ve worked for them and I am keenly aware of how much they can ruin a job or an organization you otherwise love. My point is make sure your expectations about the boss are as fair as the expectations you hope the boss has about you. And, as importantly, look in the mirror and examine your own motivations and perceptions.

Cheers to my mStoner boss, Voltaire Miran (@vsantosmiran). His name isn’t the only thing cool about him.

Ready, set, launch! Do you have a plan?

Who doesn’t agree that ending a project brings a good feeling? A launch (and a launch party!) usually mark the end of a lot of hard work and a return to “normal” work hours. Actually, I don’t think we celebrate enough at the launch point. We should call more attention to the success we achieved and the support we got from many involved in a project.

When we relaunched the William & Mary website at 11:38AM on Thursday, July 31, 2008, I had two bottles of champagne chilled and ready. (Since it was before noon, I had some orange juice to go with it.) We were all in a room together with lists of what we had to do as soon as the new was live. We popped the cork, filled the glasses, and then my whole team did the heads down back to work thing. I had to wave my hands, use a loud voice, and say, “Wait, we have been working on this project for a year, we are going to stop and smile and feel great about what we’ve accomplished.” They did, but for less than five minutes. Then, after work on that same day (despite the weeks of nearly 24/7 commitment), I threw a party for the team, spouses, significant others, and 40 or so of our strongest campus supporters. The summary statement for this bit of advice: Have a party right away, you’ve earned it.

My clients at mStoner often ask about a launch plan for a website redesign project. Besides throwing a celebration bash, here are some suggestions within a few categories:

Create a technology and support plan for go-live.

  • Don’t launch a new website on a Friday. I also recommend launching before noon on whatever day you pick so you have a few hours left in the workday for the unexpected.
  • Back up and delete old website content. (As a result, your search will be better over night.)
  • Talk to your IT team (early on) about DNS entries, redirects, and more.
  • Establish a process for providing support to new CMS users and responding to email messages about errors and mistakes on the new site.
  • Finalize your CMS training program. People will immediately ask you about training options.

Measure the success of the project.
Gather up statistics that demonstrate that you met the goals of the project, including:

  • On time and within budget launch
  • Better copy
  • Number of pages of new content migrated
  • Number of new photos migrated
  • Number of CMS users trained
  • New features (e.g., blogs, social media feeds, video)
  • Sitewide information architecture and global navigation

Make announcements before launch day.

  • Tell the campus community what to expect in the first few hours after go-live. Make sure faculty, staff and students know that search results may be wonky at first. And, tell people what email address to use if they find an error in the new site.
  • Send out a ton of thank you notes right before launch. Language like, “Thanks for taking a leap of faith with us. We know its been crazy, but here we go and thanks for everything.” Include even the people who weren’t all that supportive because you want momentum and, after all, everybody loves a winner.

Promote the new website.

  • Involve your president and suggest a carefully crafted message to internal and external groups that discusses the importance of the project and gives kudos to all who worked on and supported the relaunch. I recommend including your alumni, donors, parents and board members in this communication.
  • Use your alumni magazine for a feature about the new website, including stats from the period immediately after go-live. This will also extend the buzz for your new website beyond the initial launch day.
  • Use social channels, student newspapers, and media contacts to highlight successes, results and announcements. (Don’t worry about getting scooped. It’s a good problem to have if other social channels and communication outlets are talking about your new website before you have the chance to say it all first.)
  • Host a luncheon on the day of the launch and ask your senior leadership to publicly thank content contributors and project team members.
  • Post an announcement about your new site to EDUniverse and submit your site to the eduStyle gallery.
  • Identify someone to respond to email messages filled with kudos, comments and questions.

Protect the project team.

  • Don’t ask a lot of the project team in the first couple of weeks after launch. True story: I told the William & Mary web redesign project team to sit at their computers and surf the web for a week. I also instructed them to work at half speed for the two weeks post-launch.
  • Even though you’ve been working like a crazy person on your web redesign, people on your campus will ask you for new things on the day after launch. It’ll go something like this, “Hi. I didn’t contact you before because I knew you were working on the website. But, now that it’s live, I’d like to talk about a series of four videos and a new website.” You should establish a time period just after launch during which you won’t start any new projects and communicate that to those who call with requests. I recommend at least a week and two if you can get away with it.

How about you? What are your ideas for celebrating success and promoting your achievements? Discuss. Here.

It’s a match! We both believe in exceptional customer service.

Customer service has always been a priority for me. Maybe the many days of customer orientation training I attended as a 16-year-old summer employee at Busch Gardens left a forever impression on me. Years later, I realize that customer service has been a core value for me in all of the units or departments I have worked in or led.

When I was a brand new employee in William & Mary’s IT division, my role included technology training for the campus and organizational development for the IT team. So amidst the Dreamweaver, MS Excel and MS Access workshops I was teaching, I was asked to develop a customer service training program for all employees in the IT division. At the time, we had a brand new CIO (he had recruited me away from the HR Office at William & Mary) and he understood that the best IT organizations in higher ed focused on exceptional customer service. To prepare, I did a lot of reading about customer service—The Pursuit of Wow (Tom Peters), Nuts! (Kevin and Jackie Freiberg), and Even Monkeys Fall From Trees (Doug Lipp) are some of my favorites.

Frankly, I always knew in my gut that relationships are the basis for exceptional customer service. So I’ve always used myself and the people on my team to manage customer relationships; but we do it the old fashioned way—without an enterprise CRM. We are responsive, we are committed to excellent work, and we deliver what we promise, on time.

A year ago, I worked in higher and I was not looking for a job. In fact, I had always assumed I wouldn’t find an organization that would allow me to work with a team that shared my values as much as the Creative Services team at William & Mary. Last August, as I was considering an offer from mStoner, I did a values check. I realized that customer service was also a cornerstone for the team here. After all, I had partnered with mStoner for two large communication projects as a William & Mary employee. During both engagements, the mStoner team made me feel as if my university was their only client. The mStoner team was responsive and collaborative and always interested in the goals and challenges of our work together. I think about that a lot now as I work with many clients in all kinds of institutions. I still focus on customer service every day as I direct my full attention to honoring the commitments we make to all of our clients.

A lot of people ask me what it’s like. They want to understand how the role of a consultant is better, or easier, or different than working on a college campus. (Actually, I have more to say about that than this blog post can handle.)

One of the things I’ve enjoyed the most about my first year at mStoner is working with many different kinds of institutions. I like the fact that mStoner works exclusively with higher education and that our work is enriched by variety. We are fortunate to tackle the challenges that come from large community colleges and mid-size state universities and very small private schools tucked away in beautiful places. We care about the work we do for faith-based institutions and independent schools and multi-campus urban universities. What I value professionally is valued by my employer. When my name goes on a proposal to a prospective client, I know that we’ll deliver on the promise.

It’s a match! We both believe in exceptional customer service. I’m grateful for that.