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How Jennifer Heard works with her team to develop goals at Microsoft Featured

8:00pm EDT May 26, 2010

Jennifer Heard likes to keep her goals clearly in view. But that’s not an easy thing to do when you’re leading a multistate territory for Microsoft Corp., one of the most well-known companies in the world.

“Trying to scale leadership across 18 states and multiple geographies and multiple levels across the Microsoft business and connecting with that size of an organization can create its own challenges,” says Heard, vice president of the $58.4 billion computer technology company’s Central Region Partner Team.

“A great leader is someone that can connect people with a clear or crisp vision and strategy so people can align and feel accountable to that vision. You have to simplify that vision so no matter where you’re leaving the sound bite, it connects with people.”

The ability to make that connection comes down to your ability to collect feedback and incorporate it into your vision without creating confusion.

Smart Business spoke with Heard about how to keep in touch with your people to grow your business collaboratively.

Determine priorities. Start by understanding what your business is trying to drive for that year. If growth is the most important thing for the business that year, what are the five or 10 things that you need from your front line and from your leaders to execute against?

Let’s say you have a revenue target for a new product you’re getting ready to launch.

Maybe we need to make sure that we’ve trained our partners around the new message that drives demand for that new product. Maybe you want to reach 100 partners that year delivering that message. That could be one commitment.

Maybe you have a new competitor. This is a big one for Microsoft since we always have new competitors entering into the market. We might have a goal that says, ‘I want to make sure we recruit five new partners that are competitive partners. I want to make sure they are executing X amount of transactions this year. That would demonstrate success back to my business.’

We start to get more specific as to what we want them to do to drive growth back to that product we’re trying to launch in the market.

Keep it doable. Don’t set a target that is unrealistic for an individual to be successful. If you set it too broad and it doesn’t have achievable metrics around the ability of the individual, the employees will become frustrated that they can’t be successful. We always have to be thinking, ‘Can this be achievable by the individual?’

You certainly risk that people won’t agree with the commitments you’ve established for them. That’s why you need to have one-on-ones. It’s really important for managers that are managing those folks as well as leaders that are inspiring the folks to really understand why.

If they don’t understand why we’re asking them to do a commitment, it can certainly have a negative impact. If the employee really feels strongly about that commitment not being the right commitment for the business and makes a good case, it’s also important to listen.

There are times we will make a change, if we can, unless it’s a really important commitment for the business and it’s a metric that we have to deliver to (Wall Street). If we commit to (Wall Street), since we’re a publicly traded company, there is expectation against those revenue targets that we’re going to hit it. There are certain things employees need to understand that, as shareholders, we want to deliver on.

But there are some that may not be as specific that could be modified. We certainly want to empower our managers to make those decisions with those employees.

Keep in touch. The biggest risk a company can have is you disconnect yourself from the field or the front line and you try to build commitments in a silo. Have a committee or work stream that represents multiple roles and accountabilities as the metrics are being defined. It’s almost a validation that if someone on the front line is going to be landing this commitment, will it make sense in their world?

Have a group of individuals that are working through all the commitments that are being defined and then have checkpoints along the way as they are being defined and before they get landed.

Success will only come if your front line believes in what they are ultimately driving toward and if they feel that they are going to be successful.

Provide opportunities. As you’re developing leaders, you give them opportunities to step out of their day job and work on special assignments like this. It’s not the business group selecting their own people. They reach out to leaders like myself and say, ‘Can you nominate three or four people to be on this committee for the next five or six weeks to decide what commitments we want to land across the globe?’

Let’s say we’re trying to make a decision on one product group in a strategy and we want to make sure we understand what commitments we want to land. That product group can push out, let’s say, the draft version. You would push that out and say, ‘Here’s our draft version. We’d like you to make sure you have as many people as you can review this and add any commentary. Then we’re going to review everybody’s feedback.’

It enables employees to easily connect with a portal that has an opportunity to review, edit and comment and not lose that feedback as it goes back up to the decision-makers. That’s one way we make sure we’re not missing opportunities.

Track progress. Give folks connectivity to a portal where scorecards are tracked so at any time there is a portal for your team where they can see how you are trending. Everyone in the company, from our CEO to our sales reps on the front line all want to know how well we’re performing on things we’re measured against.

We all want to be successful. If you don’t have something to measure to ensure you’re being successful, I don’t think we would be driving the results we want to. We’d be going blind.

How to reach: Microsoft Corp., (800) 765-7768 or www.microsoft.com