Chris Williams, former VP of HR at Microsoft has over 40 years of experience building and leading teams.
At Microsoft, he worked in product before stumbling into HR and eventually becoming VP of HR and responsible for 32,000 employees.Through it all, he’s seen his share of bad leadership and what makes teams succeed and fail. Find out what this common denominator is by listening to Chris' episode!
I have long been a firm believer that the most important thing that a leader can do at any level, whether that be a CEO, a director or a manager of a small team, is to make it clear to everybody in everyone, that the thing that matters the most is the thing we're trying to accomplish, whatever that is, I don't care if you're in the accounts payable department. Or if you're the person who's the CEO of some startup with a glorified vision about how you're going to disrupt the whatever industry, everybody needs a clear vision for what you're trying to accomplish. And that vision needs to be crisp, and clear and measurable. And something that you can relate to everybody.
Today’s guest is Chris Williams, the former VP of HR at Microsoft. Today he continues to share leadership resources on social media where his posts get millions of views a month from his 200k followers on TikTok.
I’m super stoked to share this conversation I had with Chris because of his passion surrounding the vitality of vision for teams. Vision is so easily misunderstood as something to be wordsmith by your executive team that teams lose out on its potential to remedy the common employee engagement work phenomena (e.g., Great Resgination, Quiet Quitting, etc.)
Chris and I also have a fun debate on the value of professional self-assessments at work and what they are versus what they are not.
Former VP HR at Microsoft
Chris Williams is a leadership advisor with over forty years of experience building and leading teams. He’s written software, built teams at scale, and been the VP of HR at Microsoft. Now he’s sharing leadership resources on social media where his posts get millions of views a month.
I have long been a firm believer that the most important thing that a leader can do at any level, whether that be a CEO, a director, a manager of a small team, is to make it clear to everybody and everyone that the thing that matters the most is the thing we're trying to accomplish. Whatever that is, I don't care if you're in the accounts payable department, or if you are the person who's the c e o of some startup with a glorified vision about how you're gonna disrupt the whatever industry. Everybody needs a clear vision for what you're trying to accomplish, and that vision needs to be crisp and clear and measurable, and something that you can relate to everybody.
Hello and welcome to the Unicorn Leadership Podcast. My name is Fahd Alhattab. I'm your host and on this podcast to where we interview leaders on their journey of building a high-performing team on their journey of becoming an effective manager on the all the insights that they have, the tools that they've come across, the mistakes that they've made, and the stories that we can learn from on how to create our own high-performing teams. This podcast is brought to you by Unicorn Labs, where you transform managers into leaders that create high-performing teams that scale. You can check us more out, www.unicornlabs.ca. Today's guest is Chris Williams, and I'm really excited to have Chris Williams. See, Chris is a former VP of HR at Microsoft, and today he continues to share all about his leadership insights on social media, where his posts get millions of views on TikTok.
Out of all the places I love coming across some of Chris's work on TikTok. I was both in shock at some of the, just, just elements that he shares, the wisdom that he has, the passion, but also the fact that he has really taken on this community of people at TikTok. I'm super excited to share the conversation. There was a lot of passion, a lot of rigor that went into this idea of vision for teams. As you might have heard from that first clip, you know, vision is so easily misunderstood as something to be perhaps wordsmithed by the executive team, right? We go on a work retreat. You pull out the whiteboard markers and you try to figure out what the vision is for the company. But that's, that's really what it's not. Teams lose out on its potential really to create employee engagement, cuz a phenomenal vision can create employee engagement like no other.
and Chris and I had a really fun debate on a few of these ideas, kinda went back and forth at it quite a little bit because both of us come from slightly different eras in how we look at HR and employee engagement, whether it's the value of professional self assessments or workplace assessments, team building activities, and how they all rally behind a vision. Now, we're gonna get a lot into vision, and what I wanted to do is I want us to give you a framework at the beginning of this episode so that as we go through the episode, maybe you can jot down a few ideas on how to actually communicate your vision. I think far too often people think that vision is, one statement, one or two sentences, right? We hear these really crisp, clear visions from top companies, and often that external vision perhaps is a bit of a marketing, you know, wordsmithing exercise, as we mentioned.
I'm gonna, I'm gonna give you a framework that's developed by TEMS and Webster called the Red Thread that helps you communicate a vision that I believe is the best way to let your team know where you're going. And let's be clear, just because you're not, maybe the ceo, doesn't mean you can't have a vision for what you're doing in VP of Talent as a VP of talent or what you have a vision for the sales department, what you have vision for product, what you have as a team lead. You must necessarily also have a vision that can align itself with the larger strategy and vision of the company. So let's look at this little framework I want it to give you, it's a five step framework, five pieces, five questions for you to answer. Five steps of a, of a vision and a pitch to communicate that vision.
Number one is, what's the goal? Where are we trying to get to now? Not just the goal of the company, but the goal of the audience. So perhaps this is the goal of your customer, the goal of your user. What's the goal of your user? What are they trying to accomplish? What is it they're trying to actually do? What's the problem that they're facing? What's, what's the, once you're deal with goal, that's number one. That's where the journey they're trying to head to. Number two is the problem. What's the problem that they're facing? The difficulties that they're going to come across, the obstacles that they come across in trying to accomplish that goal. So, number one, goal number two, problem number three, what's the specific insight? The truth? What is the truth that you have uncovered that once you hear you can't unhear that is so clear to you, but perhaps unclear to everyone else?
What is the truth that once we apply, we can actually start to overcome the problem? So we got goal, problem, truth. Then we get into change. What are the changes? What are the top three big level changes that need to happen in order to activate the truth, solve the problem, get closer to the goal? And finally, the action. What are the specific step-by-step things that we need to do to make the change happen? And you see how all of this will fall together. Now, this is just one sentence east, so you might end up with just five sentences, but in these five sentences, this little paragraph, you might get a really crisp vision. I'll share with you a vision that we have here with Unicorn Labs, right? The goal that we know a lot of our companies that we work with have, their goal is to scale their teams, to build a company that is effective, that is efficient, that scales, and is ultimately both solving a problem and profitable.
Well, what's one of the problems in scaling a team? Well, often the problem in scaling a team is learning, having the right leaders in place, having the right people in place in order to create these really high-performing teams that can scale. That's one of the big problems that we see. So what's the truth that we've come across? Well, there's many truths. There's truth around recruitment. There's truths around, really how you set up teams and structure teams. But the truth that we chose is to really understand the value of those leaders. Because if we can understand that 70% of employee engagement is directly determined by said managers, said, leaders, then we can know that if we pull that lever and train these leaders on how to create high-performing teams specifically and train them on empowerment structures for team leadership styles, then perhaps that can be our key opportunity.
So that's the truth that we look at. That's the insight that we've come across. So then the change is that leaders have to engage in the six levels of high-performing teams. They have to create psychological safety. They have to create empowerment. They have to improve communication structures. They need to create a culture of leadership or leadership fluidity. They have to create impact, and purpose. And finally connect people to an all-encompassing vision. And that's the change and the specific actions that we get them to take while the action is come take our course, right? The action is have do one of our workshops. and that is how we can help train your team on those six changes. So that's how you see this framework, goal, problem, truth, change, action. I want you to write those down perhaps as you're listening to this episode as we talk with Chris to see if you've got a red thread vision that you can implement and start talking about with your team. Now, without further ado, let's hear another clip from Chris.
One of the best ways to test a vision is to corral one of the people in the bottom of the organization, you know, in the hallway or on a quick zoom or something, and say, what are we doing? And if that person doesn't say, we're building the fastest spreadsheet on the planet, or whatever, you've got a vision that is not communicated well, or at least hasn't sunk into that person very well. And if you can then not ask them. So where are we on this thing? And they don't go, oh, we're halfway there. Or, oh gosh, we missed a major milestone a little while ago, but we're making progress on that, or whatever. If you talk to anybody in the organization, they should know what the vision is, and they should have a feeling about where they are and where the organization is on the accomplishment of that vision. And if everybody knows that and feels that and sees that, then you've accomplished your goal.
All right, Chris, welcome to our Unicorn Leadership podcast. I'm really excited to have you here. You know, as we were getting started, Chris, we started talking about a little bit of the Canadian tech mafia, which seems to be the case. You've been on a few, Canadian tech, podcasts recently. You have a number of Canadian clients. Yeah. Tell, tell me your thoughts about our Canadian tech mafia. I wanna wanna start us off there.
Well, it's been amazing to me to see, I have, 180,000 some odd followers on TikTok. I've got a, a fairly broad reach around the world. I get inquiries from all over the place, but it's, it's enlightening to me that about half of the inquiries I've gotten for coaching and ups and questions and queries come from Canada. And it's been fascinating over the last few months to try and talk with some of those people. And I realize that there is a culture in Canada, particularly in the Canadian tech industry that seems to be one of wanting to learn and understand and is open to new ideas and wants, advice and support and help from anywhere they can get it, which is vastly different than some of the culture you might see in the Silicon Valley, or even here in the Seattle area and our tech industry, where there's an awful lot of people who think they know it all. And it's just enlightening to me to see so many people in Canada who seem to be, you know, exploring new and different ideas in a very open way. And that's just fun.
That's awesome. That's awesome. Yeah, I definitely have always joked about a Canadian tech mafia. I I think there's, you know, being a a, a smaller nation and smaller communities, there's oftentimes we, we know each other and we know the different folks and who's working with who and the different circles and the different generations that have kind of gone through our, our tech industry. So I'm, I'm happy to hear that
Associated with the Canadian tech industry since like, a long, long time ago when I was one of the people who wrote Fox FoxPro, the relational database package for, for PCs. I was one of five people who wrote FoxPro. oh, wow. And we used the Wacom C compiler because it was so good, which came out of the Waterloo, right? So, and that was in 90, 89, 90, so that was like, you know, a long time ago.
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think we like the call, it sells the Northern Silicon Valley here in Ottawa. That's, that's, that's, that's, that's our piece. That's our claim to fame. So, so you've got quite a history, and Chris, I'm gonna want to get into your history, but I really wanna start it off with, with the big question that we're unpacking today. and that's really the hot topic that's happening across our industry. It's this, it's this employee engagement bit, right? If you're a manager, if you're a director, if you're a people culture, if you're a ceo, everyone right now is kind of, you know, they've got their pulse on employee engagement. They're trying to figure out what's going on, whether it's employee engagement in regards to hybrid environments and remote environments, or employee engagement due to the great resignation and the, yeah, the quiet quitting, which is another, another form of, you know, employee disengagement or, you know, we're really all on on that pulse right now.
And, you know, we get to work with a lot of, local startups. And one of the, one of the things that I usually, you know, frame when we're talking about employee engagement is the cost of a new employee or the cost of an employee. Oftentimes we think the cost of an employee is our salary, but oftentimes we forget to include, well, all the administrative pieces to, their salary, but also the cost of engaging them. And I think that's a piece of the calculation that now is more obvious to people when you are hiring and you are building a team, it is no longer just the cost of their salary and the administrative of their salary. It's the cost of engaging an employee, whether that means, you know, the training or their managers or all those other pieces. And that's what I want to, I want to talk today about the cost of engaging an employee and the cost of not engaging those employees, and what are simple things that people can do to actually get there. So, so Chris, you gave us a really good high level piece around employee engagement and you tied employee engagement to the vision that a leader has. And I'd love to set that up for you and give us a few of your thoughts on, on that specifically.
Well, gladly vision is, is I think one of the foundational things I talk about to people all the time. Stepping back just a little bit, I think one of the things that's been interesting to watch over the last, it's been happening for decades in, in, in reality, but, but more recently, in the last many years, few years, you've seen this trend towards, a lack of attention to, to employee engagement, lack of intention to having a clear, crisp vision for your organization. and that was getting to be sort of, corrosive long before quiet quitting or anything else happened. There was a, people working 60, 80 hours a week and being expected to do that. People, you know, sort of just having to work because they had to work. and, what happened was we had this wonderful opportunity when the entire world got completely shaken up, right?
The entire world was completely disrupted by the Covid pandemic, and that caused an awful lot of people to spend an awful lot of time on their couch thinking about, what do I really want in life? What does life really mean? And in the very beginning of that e experience, you had people who could leave did the great resignation, and then the people who couldn't leave came back to work and were sour pusses and upset and didn't see where they were trying to go. And so they started to do quiet quitting, which is a term I just absolutely loathe. And you also see this same thing in the rise of unionization, right? So there's, there's an awful lot of connected dots here, and I think you can draw the line all the way back to vision. I have long been a firm believer that the most important thing that a leader can do at any level, whether that be a ceo, a director, a manager of a small team, is to make it clear to everybody and everyone that the thing that matters the most is the thing we're trying to accomplish.
Whatever that is. I don't care if you're in the accounts payable department, or if you're the person who's the CEO of some startup with a glorified vision about how you're gonna disrupt the whatever industry. Everybody needs a clear vision for what you're trying to accomplish. And that vision needs to be crisp and clear and measurable, and something that you can relate to everybody. And if you have that, if you have a clear, crisp vision, then what you do is, instead of doing silly things like servant leadership where you try and convince the manager that they work for the employees, or command and control leadership, or you try and convince the employees, they work for the manager, everybody's turned towards what's the vision? What are we trying to accomplish? What am I as the manager? There's things I can do, there's paths I can clear, there's directions I can set, there's choices I can make towards the vision.
And as employees, if you wake up on, you know, you don't get the Sunday scaries if you've got a great vision, right? You go in Monday morning thinking, this is cool, this is what I'm working on. I understand what I'm supposed to accomplish. And that has a million different side effects, right? If you've got a really good crisp vision, there's all kinds of ways in which that becomes practically usable, right? The manager makes decisions based around the vision. If the manager is extremely clear about what the vision is, then when someone comes in and says, should we do X? Or we should we do Y you can say, we should do X because X is more in line with the vision. And if you do that over and over again, pretty soon, the employees won't even come to you with X or Y because they'll say, I know what to do, X is more in line with the vision.
I'm gonna go do X. And so you've suddenly become a delegator, and you didn't even realize you were being a great delegator because you were, you were just clear and consistent and focused on, this is the vision for the organization, this is what we're all here to accomplish. Everybody understands that. Everybody sees their part in that puzzle. Everybody looks to their peers and knows that they're working towards that same thing too. So the vision is the absolute fundamental, basic, essential element to any great leadership, whatever it is. Let me say one more thing. When I, the way I came to the realization on this was, back in the long time ago, I was the director of software development at Microsoft. I was responsible for best practices for developing software across the entire organization. So I had a team of people who went out and found the best way to develop software, the best way to test software, the best way to document software, the best way to translate software.
And we would disseminate that across all the various groups. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, sql, server, windows, the entire world. And, at one point I was asked to find the distinction between the projects that succeeded and the projects that fail. The man who was in charge of the entire projects, products, division, Mike Maples asked me, tell me the difference between all these products that we've got that are wildly successful, and the ones that aren't successful at all that fail. At the time, we'd had a couple of very famous failures, Microsoft, Bob, you might remember, but there were several others that were spectacular failures. And what I found, I spent several months and I interviewed dozens and dozens of people, managers, leaders, people on the front lines of all these different organizations, organizations that succeeded in organizations that fail. And I found one common distinction between them all.
All the projects that succeeded had a clear, crisp vision. They knew exactly what they were gonna be doing. We're building the fastest spreadsheet on the planet, we're building the best, the fastest, sequel database on the planet. They had a very crisp, clear vision of what they were gonna accomplish. And all the ones that failed didn't, they had some mushy idea about they were gonna be the sort of the home entertainment kind of thing, emba, they didn't have a clear idea about what they were doing. People got lost, didn't know what was gonna accomplish. So this distinction between having a vision and not having a vision was quite stark. What I ended up finding out was that it, having a vision was a necessary but not sufficient criteria for success. You had to have one, but of course, it wasn't the only thing you needed to have. Every single project that failed did not have one. They also didn't have a lot of other things like follow through mm-hmm. and, you know, success in the market and any number of other things. But the clear vision was the single common denominator between them all. And that was 25 years ago. And that has been my crusade ever since. Visions are the clear, crisp, important piece that makes the difference between success and failure.
Yeah. Yeah. I really like that, Chris. I think, I think you've, it sounds like you're quite passionate about this cuz you've clearly gone through having areas where there weren't no visions and it was a total cluster Yep. And areas where you've had clear successes and division, and you've seen this. Now, now here's an interesting thought. and this is often something that comes up. I think the problem with the word vision is for most people, when they hear it, they think, all right, we're gonna go to an offsite, we're gonna bring the execs together. We got some flip chart paper, and we're gonna wordsmith our vision. and I
Think, and we're gonna come up with some little, some little quality is job one, right? We're gonna come up with some little random slogan that doesn't mean anything and it's all mushed and doesn't, right? Yeah. Yeah. I, and I've been there a thousand times, right?
and I think, you know, one of our previous guests, Sam is the CEO of IMRSV Data Labs, he, he talked about polishing the turd and it became a, it became a, it became a little thing for me and my team. We talked about polishing the turd, and we talk about like, your vision is gonna be ugly at first, and it's gonna have to be polished and iterated over time. So I want to kind ask your advice on this for, for, for the folks that we, we've got here on, on our show is, okay, if I've got a vision, how do I stress test that it's, it's actually clear and crisp enough. And then also, how do I know if I should keep polishing this turd? How, like, what, what, what, what ways should I go about polishing the turd instead of just going to the offsite and coming up with some, some value statements as a, as an exec team?
What, like, how do I go about actually developing it? Because I doubt that any of the projects that failed really knew that they had a bad unclear vision. It's not always as it's easy kind of looking back at it and say, well, your vision wasn't unclear. Kind of 2020 hindsight in the moment you're not, you're not always sure that your vision is unclear. You feel that it is at times. So maybe gimme, gimme some thoughts on, on that. How do, how do I figure, how do I stress test my vision? How do I make it more crisp? And how do I know that it needs some polishing? and I kind of like to use the fossil example that a vision must be uncovered slowly and you dig around the fossil and if you go too hard at it, you end up cracking in you. It could ruin the vision if you try, if you try and just spout out what it should be or what it is. But it must be uncovered through time and discovery. But that doesn't necessarily help people in this moment . So, so what are your thoughts on this?
Well, I'm not sure I buy into the model of it being a fossil that you uncover over time. Okay. One of the problems that people have with, with, really dramatic visions is that very often they're only clear to a few people in the beginning, right? you know, I, Steve Jobs on the iPhone, I mean, there's a lot of examples out there. Customers won't tell you what a great vision is, right? You sometimes have to tell customers what a great vision is. But, but the, let me back all the way up. the, I end up with two, people have problems with two different kinds of, of vision creation in my mind. one of the problems is, you know, they go to this offsite and they, they, you know, a bunch of people sit around in a room and it's, you know, sometimes it's, it feels like there must have been too much alcohol or pot in the room because when they come out of it, it's all misty and fuzzy and isn't very clear.
So, so my test for those visions is, is it measurable in any way? Is there some way that you can clearly measure whether you've gained success against that thing or not? So a vision that is quality is job one, you know, or, you know, some, some mushy vision. You can't tell whether you're halfway there three quarters of the way there. Anyway, there's no specific criteria upon which you can measure your success in that there isn't an implied in the vision some kind of metric upon which to guide it. So that's for those visions that are created from sort of whole cloth. That's my metric is, is it measurable? Is there something about it? And I'll get in a minute to how you test some of this stuff, cuz cuz I've got some thoughts on that. But the other problem I get almost as equally is, look, I'm the accounts payable manager.
What kind of vision do I have? Right? It's impossible. I mean, what is the vision, right? and what I tell or, or how do I create a vision for an organization that is working already, right? And I've, I've, we're, we're headed towards something and what is, how do I clarify that vision? What I tell managers to do in that situation is to sit down and look at the 12 or eight or 10 things that they're doing, and write them all down very clearly, cut out all but a couple of them that are the most important one or two things that you're doing. And that is your vision right there. You've just nailed it. Those two things that are at the top of your list that you're worrying about are your vision. So you need to crystallize those together into something and you need to quantify those in a way that is measurable.
And if you do that, bing, you've got a vision and you can make it clear. So if you're the accounts payable guy, it might be that we have a goal of, of making sure that we are current within 15 days of every single invoice that comes in, and that we are trans completely transparent to the C-suite on where our liabilities out, you know, outstand within 10 days or something like that. So there's a clear vision for this is what our objective is. I like visions for organizations like that are be hags, right? Hairy audacious goals. Something really, you know, so, so you, you know, you're the accounts payable team and you wanna speed up invoices and you currently can do it in 30 days. You wanna do it in 15 days. So you set that to be the vision and the goal, and you point everybody in that direction and you, right?
So then that brings me around to how do you test the vision and the way to test the vision. If you are a, a senior person, one of the best ways to test a vision is to, to corral one of the people in the bottom of the organization, you know, in the hallway or on a quick zoom or something and say, what are we doing? And if that person doesn't say we're building the fastest spreadsheet on the planet or whatever, you've got a vision that is not communicated well, or at least hasn't sunk into that person very well. And if you can then not ask them, so where are we on this thing? And they don't go, oh, we're halfway there. Or, oh gosh, we missed a major milestone a little while ago, but we're making progress on that, or whatever. If you talk to anybody in the organization, they should know what the vision is and they should have a feeling about where they are and where the organization is on the accomplishment of that vision. And if everybody knows that and feels that and sees that, then you've accomplished your goal.
Yeah. Yeah. See, I really like it. I think in a way, sometimes the word vision gets in the way and I think, you know, direction. I like you use the word direction here. Does everyone know the direction and the destination that we're headed to? And perhaps that sometimes feels a little less, you know, in the cloud. I agree.
Yeah, I agree. And it's one of the reasons I explicitly don't use the word mission. People confuse mission and vision, and I have an entire stack that is mission, vision, strategy and tactics. But, but mission sounds too much like a crusade, right? Some, some, yes. Vague, you know, tilting at windmills that we're gonna do. But a vision is a really clear, I can see this thing in the future, and it's a world in which we do X, right? That's why I like vision, but I agree, you know, direction sometimes is useful. the only problem with direction is that it is not time. You know, it, it's, it's linearly organized, but it's not time organized, right? Direction it sounds like we're headed in this direction, but how do I know when I got there, where are we headed
To go? We're going to destination we're
Work on. Yeah.
Yep. Yeah, yeah, yeah. It would need to be direction and destination as a, as a combination. But yeah, I hear you. I I think that's key. Now, now, I I, you know, the, I'd love for you to unpack that piece around the fossil, and the reason for is that, see, I work with a lot of startups and a lot of our startups will have a vision when they start, and then it'll change and then it'll pivot. And so it is constantly polishing the vision and polishing the turn, which is why it requires a certain level, you know, uncovering. and so your destination shifts as you further learn what the problem is that the customer has. And so how, how would you speak to a startup founder who's, who's got a, you know, who's, who's grow growing through that, has gone through a few pivots and has had to shift their vision a bit here and there, their destination, and the direction to be able to meet the needs of their customer as they began to understand it more.
I, that's fully in baked into my thinking around visions, which is that you can be headed in some very crisp and clear direction, and you realize that that's off by five degrees. So you've gotta change your mm-hmm. your, your, your direction by just a little bit to head towards wherever you're gonna head. But, but the thing that I feel, I I, the objection I have to this fossil uncovering thing is it feels very passive, very second. I mean, it's like, oh, look, it's out there obvious and you're so stupid you can't see it. Right? Or, or it's a very passive thing. Whereas I like the idea of we are headed in this direction definitively, and then, oops, we're off by a little bit. We're gonna move towards that direction over there. Or, oops, we're way off. We're gonna have to turn and head in that direction.
It feels more active to me than I, the thing I, the fossil thing feels a little sort of, as I said, passive, it's sort of like, ooh, we just, it's a puzzle and I can't figure out what it is and ooh, ooh, look, I start to see, right? That's not what usually happens. What usually happens is you head in some direction, whoops, that was wrong. We'll go in a, you know, or, or that kind of thing. So it, it, some of it is just sort of a passive versus active voice kind of thing to me. Yeah, that's very, and I will admit that's a subtle and probably irrelevant distinction.
No, no, no, it's fair. I think, I think it's different phases. If you're a very early customer discovery phase versus a, a bit of a build and scale up phase, you know, you could look at a little bit more, you know, different kind of discovery phase versus really, you know, chasing after the opportunity. But I think we're getting too nuanced for the case here. and I think you're right. So I really like this. So you said, you know, what I really liked is that you said vision helps create clarity in order to empower employees to make decisions. And this is key, right? A lot of teams, if the whole point of creating high-performing teams is so that they can make efficient, effective decisions, decentralized, right? It's like more people able to run and make decisions on the go without needing to check in with the leader.
And in order to be able to do that, you have to have a really clear and good vision. And so I really like that. Now, I'd like to go a few steps back here. Now, you took us a little bit about your time in Microsoft. Chris, tell us a little bit about you. You've got a lot of passion, you've got a lot of ideas here. you know, we, I'm loving the wisdom that you're throwing out at us. Give me a little bit of history. Where, where, what, what was your first job? Are you from? What, what, what's your pathway? Let's go through a little bit of, of your own story, Chris.
We only have you know, so much time here. I grew up in, in, Toledo, Ohio or outside Toledo, Ohio, believe it or not. and I always had a passion. Well, my very first job, interestingly enough, was, is, is a fun story. I was, hired as a install car stereo installer. I got really good at installing car stereos. I don't know if you remember the Volkswagen Rabbit, but we had a contract with a, a Volkswagen dealer, and I could install a M F M cassette and two speakers into a rabbit in 45 minutes. And that was pretty cool at the time. But anyway, one day I'm sitting there and the head of the entire, I worked for a chain of car stereo stores, and one day the head of the entire chain comes in and looks at me, and I'd been there, I don't know, maybe four or five months or something, and he says, Hey, Chris, see Jason over there.
You need to fire him. And I'm like, well, wait, he doesn't even work for me. He works for the store manager and the store manager's standing next to him. And he goes, yeah, yeah, I wanted to. And they said, you've got the gift of gab, you go fire this guy. And I said, oh, come on, seriously. So he said, yeah, no, try it. So I go over and I say, Hey, Jason, you know, it's just not working out and you're just gonna have to pack up and leave, and are you kidding me? And I say, well, you know, yeah. And so I helped Jason pack up his stuff and he leaves and I come back to the head of the chain and he goes, God, you're really good at that. And I'm like, what? And I spent the next year being transferred from store to store to fire people, no .
I would, I would install car stereos. And then every now and again, I fired a sales guy who'd been there for 15 years. Oh man. And they said, why don't you go fire? So I learned really early about organizations and how they work and what bad leadership looks like and those kinds of things. But I then went on to a career in computer science. I always love computers. I loved that. I worked on digital VAX systems. I became the midwest's expert at performance, high-performance computing and digital VAX systems, which were all, which came before or, or lived and died in the era before. Probably most of your listeners have even been alive. I did things like, I helped GM put in the first robots in their factories. I helped John's Manville figure out why the space shuttle tiles caused the challenger disaster.
I did, I did all kinds of stuff and ended up starting my own consulting business, helping people, and stumbled into selling my consulting business to the people who made FoxPro. They were making a product called Fox Base, which was the first relational database to, to be very, first high performance relational database on a pc. And together six of us built FoxPro and that, won the PC magazine technical excellence award and got on all kinds of, of, magazine covers and whatnot. And we were bought by Microsoft. And I came to Microsoft in the early nineties. I was a kid in a candy store. I ended up, I came as the director of development for Fox, but I went on to manage teams all around the world. I, as I mentioned, I was the director of software development. I was the father of a product called Microsoft Visual Studio. Visual Studio started with me and my assistant. we, I was charged with bringing together the six most divisive teams in the company, all the various language groups into building a single product. And within a year, we'd built Microsoft Visual Studio, and it had sold a hundred million dollars. I then went on, I was about to retire after that success, and my HR person came in and said, you should be in HR. And I said, you should be committed. And she said,
She said, no, you really understand how building teams and stuff works. You should be in hr. So I went and did HR for a while, for a couple of years, I was in charge of HR for the entire product development side of the company. When one day the VP of HR came into my office and said, remember when you said you wanted my job? And I said, everybody says that when you interview, you know, where do you want to be in five years? I'd like your job, right? , I had said that. He said, how about Thursday? And it turns out that Steve Balmer was taking over the company, and he didn't like the current head of HR and wanted me to be the VP of hr. So I became the VP of HR at Microsoft, responsible for 32,000 employees and 160 taxing jurisdictions around the world.
I completely revamped every single employee's compensation. it was an incredible ride. Since that time, I left Microsoft after nearly killing myself, doing all those things. since that time I've been advising all kinds of startups and nonprofits. I was president of the board of a nonprofit for almost 20 years. I've, did a podcast, as you mentioned. I've been trying desperately to get my message of leadership and building teams out for many years now. And, as, as, you guys have found, I recently have had just stunning success on of all places, TikTok where I have
Hundred and 80,000 followers in less than six months, I've, I've get millions of views on my videos, and it's been a remarkably fun way to get a good message out about what leadership is all about. So anyway, that's about seven minutes too long. But that's...
No, no, no. That was wonderful, Chris. I think it, it lends so much to what you are telling us about vision and it gives such depth to it to hear your experience. So, so, you know, I've been focusing on a really particular part of leadership, which is employee engagement and what an individual leader can do to increase employee engagement. And you know, the biggest thing that you've kind of said to us is, is vision and having a crisp vision, a clear direction and destination, something that is active, not passive, something that really pushes us to get there. So, so if I were to go to the second stage, cuz you said all the successes that you saw in the products had a crisp vision, but that wasn't the only piece, that's not the only piece that obviously makes a success, for that. So if we are looking at high-performing teams, and you're looking at the startups who are, they're trying to build their teams right now, and they say, okay, we're working on our vision. We have, we what we think is a good crisp vision right now and might need some polishing over time, what's our next piece? What's, what's your suggestion for, for them to build this high-performing team?
Well, I think one of the most important things you've got to do is you've got to have some level of trust between the team, right? A team that is just a bunch of independent actors working on their own little something or other isn't a team, right? That's just a bunch. You might as well have just contract employees, right? if you're gonna try and build a team, you've gotta have some level of trust between them. But just like with a vision, one of the things that everybody tries to do when they want to build trust is they all go to an offsite and they do something like, you know, play some game where you've gotta build a tower of eggs or some random something or other, and the consultant or coach will tell you, ta-da, you know, you all trust each other.
And the point of fact is, I come back from that offsite and I think, God, I just wasted a day and I've got so many mail email backed up. And well, eh, that's not how trust gets built. How trust gets built is through accomplishments, right? What ha you've gotta go through stuff with somebody to accomplish something. And that's one of the ways in which a vision, particularly a fairly narrow, small, crisp vision can help, right? If you guys work towards the, this vision and you, you know, where you're trying to go and you've got these metrics that are very crisp and clear, you can get halfway there and you can celebrate as a group that you got halfway there and then you got three quarters of the way there. And then you, you know, you've got your first 10 customers, your first thousand customers, your first million right?
You can as a team celebrate those things. And what has to happen to build trust is we've gotta go through some stuff. We've gotta do, we've gotta do hard stuff. I've gotta be able to look over at you and see that you had my back on something that was terrible and you've gotta look over at me and know that you can trust me to do my job and get it done when it's supposed to get done. And if you build up that level of trust between people, then they will do whatever together. yeah, sure. I trust Fred over here and Mary, my God, she's one of the best people in the business, right? That's when you get the level of trust that matters. You can't manufacture trust, you can't try and build it in an offsite, you can't play games with it. You can't be everybody.
You can't go around the room and have everybody tell you their life story or you, you or, or tell me what you did this weekend or whatever. That's not what trust is. What trust is. We did something hard at work together and I saw that you were worthy of my trust. You saw that I was worthy of your trust. And together we trust each other to build something that goes forward. So, so you can't fake trust, right? Any kind of trust that's real is, has been through stuff. So one of the things you can do as a leader is to establish fairly small, narrow chunks so that you can accomplish stuff together as a team, right? It doesn't have to be the big hairy goal out there two years in the future where we're gonna disrupt the taxi cab industry. It can be some small things that you as a team are accomplishing, right?
Yep, yep. No, I really like that. I like how you've gotta go through difficult things and you gotta see how as a team, you get, you get through that difficult piece, through that stress, through that pressure to understand it. Now, now Chris, I will.
And a great one more thing though, and a great manager. One of the problems I see with some managers is that they try to, they try to avoid the difficult times or they try to hide them or put them behind them or whatever. And sometimes you just gotta celebrate that, man, that was a complete foster clock. That was a disaster, right? You need to acknowledge it. Recognize it, because that was a chin in the building of the trust that was a brick in the wall of trust that you're building. So you have to acknowledge and recognize and accept that failure's gonna happen. As you said, you gotta go through some stuff, right? Mm-hmm. You have to go through some stuff to get somewhere.
Yeah. I love that. I love that. Now, now Chris, you know, you, you've got, you've got a lot of, contrarian opinions. I think that you like to share. And I mean, naturally in this world of leadership where you got different styles, we got different ideas, and different things, and I kind of was joking around with you and said, you know, we're gonna have a few things that you and I are gonna disagree with. One, one of the pieces, I will argue that there are still real value to social bonding, but not to get team bonding confused with team building and trust, but that the bonding social pieces of getting to know each other, building empathy and building relationships can help us get through those difficult times that, you know, that's, that's one bit, that I don't think you, you will actually disagree with in that sense. But where we do disagree is around personality tests. Cause I like to use tests to build social bonds, to get to know each other, become more friendly, have fun, especially when it's kind of early on and it's a new team. But you, you kind of think personality tests are these, these corporate horoscopes. So I wanna I want to give you a chance to share that opinion, hear your experience of why you think that's the case and maybe shed some light.
I think, I think personality tests are, are our horoscopes, our astrology, our, you build, you get out of them, what you personally put into them. I flash back to decades ago in, in my first several encounters with, MBT Myers Briggs, right? Which is voodoo of the highest order. and, I remember taking the Myers Briggs test and them coming back and saying, you're a A, B, C, D, and boy, you know, around here are the only people who succeed are CBAs. And I'm like,
Well, there's the mistake. Ah, right? Yeah, yeah. That's,
And you know what was interesting though is I said, wait, wait, wait. Look, I've had a head cold and things have been miserable. Why don't know. I take it again next week. I took it again next week and answered the way I thought they wanted me to answer. And I came back with DC b yes,
They're all gameable. Hey,
We knew you were that's obviously what it's right. So my, my problem with personality tests is first of all, my personality test will change this month to next month to the month after that, right? It depends upon the work I'm working on. It depends upon the mood I'm in, the time I'm having at home, whatever. The other problem I have with it is using it as a tool by some third party. I think personality tests are fine. Just, I, I, you know, it, it reminds me of those tests, you know, that they put in Cosmopolitan Magazine. Are you the, you know, whatever you can, you can find out about yourself, right? You can very often, I In the comments on that video, I got all kinds of people who said, oh man, I learned so much about myself from this. Great, you can learn all you want from that personality test, but I will, I will stand on any high ground that no one else should be using that personality test, that you should not make team judgments about people. You shouldn't give people career advice based on the personality test results. You shouldn't be putting, oh, I need an E N T J and a A B, C D together on this team, because if we don't have one of those, and then one is not gonna work with the other. And I think all of that is hoku mumbo jumbo and a terrible use of what might be a perfectly reasonable self self-assessment tool. So yeah,
I, so, so I think, I think we don't, I think we're not too far away from each other. I think, I think, you know, all personality tests are gameable. though they're all based, they're all based on really deep psychological research that is around the big five personalities, temperaments, human temperaments now, now, which makes them, which makes them less horoscope and makes them pattern recognition. And so where you're right, Chris
Which all they, all they are is, is ML gone bad, right? They're just early versions of machine learning, right? They're
Early versions of machine learning. And when used, when used to assess skillsets, they're completely wrong. So there's the piece, it's not having to do with the skill, it's a temperament. It's a, I'm a little more extroverted. I'm a little quieter, has nothing to do with skillset and job completion,
But it also implies that I can't learn how to be more extroverted. I can't learn how to be speak up in a room. I can't change any, none of that change. and as an old person, let me tell you that a lot of those things change over time, right? Yeah. Particularly as you get, you know, if, if you, if you are, a loud mouth as I want to be and you get beaten up enough, you learn to hold your tongue at times, right? I mean, all of those things can change. so I think they're, as I said, I think they can be very useful at doing some self-introspection work, but I just absolutely recoil at them being used by any third party with the singular possible exception of perhaps a licensed psychotherapist who has been trained in the use of that tool. But outside of that, for managers to use it, for companies to use it for, use it to it's career advice, there is a person I will not talk about who's on TikTok, who people come to them with a, I'm a 1 3, 4, 7, and they, and this person is, oh, that means you should be a program manager because you've got ah, stop that.
Yeah, yeah. Now, now, now here's, so here's the last piece I wanted to, I wanted to get to is cuz I, I think that, you and I would agree that in a leadership practice, one of the goals of a leader is to be able to personalize their leadership style to the individual. So Right.
Absolutely crucial, right?
It's the difference, it's the difference between good and great and leadership. Yes. Right? I think you can be an outstanding leader and treat everybody the same. If you want to be a great leader, you have to recognize people's individual differences, right? Yeah.
And I think you gotta get curious to learn about people and to learn their patterns and to learn their personalities. And so while I don't think a personality assessment is an end all be all, I think there's where it shows up as a potential tool where we can learn more about each other, become curious.
I, but, but I just like with trust, the stuff you learn in that test is completely artificial. It's like going off and doing the personality test is like going off and doing an offsite and having everybody build the towers of Hanoi together and calling that somehow that you built trust. The personality test is an isolated incident. What you wanna see as a manager is, wow, I've noticed in the last couple of weeks that Sally hasn't said a word in any of our meetings. Maybe I need to, to find out what's up with Sally and figure out what's the problem that she's got. Right? You, you, it's the real world stuff that matters. It's not the personality. And I, one of the things I don't like is that if you, you get the results of a personality test, all of a sudden you've got this bias and judgment in your head because the test can't be wrong and you, it may not be in which, the way in which Sally in fact operates in the, in the scenario that you're having her in.
So it's, I'm, I am a huge believer in believing what you see and not what you say. Right? And okay, so I don't, I, you know, the trust thing is a perfect model for it. I think we both agree that you can't build trust by doing some hokey, you know, exercise in an offsite Well, you can't under build understanding by having somebody do some hokey test and judge them forever based on that test. It reminds me of, what was that, divergent, right? The movie Divergent, the book and movie Divergent, right? Where you're an ABAG nation or you're
Right. Yeah. If, if you use personality tests to truly square people in and pigeonholing, then you're doing it completely wrong. I think if you use it as a, as a launching pad of curiosity, because
It's like a lie detector test. The tendency is to do that because the test said, Hey, the test said right?
I mean all, I think all tools can be used incorrectly and to, to, to disadvantage individuals. And I got, if it's used for skill or career based, I think it's, it's very, you're stretching it and No, I hear you. And I think I don't mind them as starting points, but they're definitely not the piece that gets you. And if you get trapped, as you said, you get trapped into saying this is the way because of the test, then you, you're too black and white, and that's never gonna work. Human dynamics are way too gray at two d test is way too simple for the, the complexity of human personality and the complexity of the human brain and how we interact in all the different types of situations, which you've, you, you're obviously very clear on.
So, no, I, I love what you said here, Chris, and I think, I think it is the exact message that people need to hear is the counterbalance to these, these kind of different practices that are happening, which is, you know, how do, how do you find, you know, if you're really trying to build trust, here's how you go deeper. If you're really trying to understand people and you're choosing a personality test, why don't you just take the time to actually understand them and ask the questions, right? Ask what motivates them. Right. You know, you know, yeah. . So, so that's wonderful. Chris, this has been a lot of fun. for, for me. You've got, a lot of wisdom. Chris, where can people find you?
I'm email@example.com. Just go to cowill.com and you'll see all about me.
Thanks Chris. And, that was awesome. Really good. Thanks. Good to see you. Thank you. Thank you, Chris, so much for being here with us. we had a lot of fun. I hope, I hope each and every one of you were, were comfortable with some of the back and forth that Chris and I had. Some of the little debate, the nuances, the context. Perhaps it has to be shared whenever we give advice. You know, I think in this episode, more than ever, some of the words that Aydin the founder of fellow shared with us in an earlier episode and he said, be careful of all advice, cuz all advice is often missing context. People give advice from their own context. And I think that's so important. It's so true when we're looking at vision, you know, are we looking at vision of a 30,000 person team or vision for a five person team?
How does that change? How do we uncover vision when we're early in the process of our product? but what does vision look like when we've been working on our product for 10 years? And those, context nuances really show up in our conversation with Chris as a, you know, shared advice on how to discern whether your team or organization may be struggling with vision or how to reengage them. Also, as he highlighted the importance of trust between team members. Another contributing factor that we often talk about that trust is fostered by going through difficult things. Not just the team building staff and not just the activities, but actually doing the work of building the business. Thank each and every one of you for listening all the way through. I'm always excited and amazed when people do that. It's fun for us.
if you've got any questions, if you want some topics that we haven't covered so far or you have some guests that you think should join us, feel free to contact us on any of our social media or might email firstname.lastname@example.org. And that's it for today. Thank you so much for tuning in to our episode. You can find our show notes at unicornlabs.ca/podcast. And if you'd liked the content, please make sure to rate it and subscribe. And I'll leave you with this last thought. We began with the red thread, which is our goal, our problem, our truth, our change, and our action. I'll ask you, what project are you working on right now with your team and with your startup that perhaps you can better define the red thread? Better? Define the vision through understanding the goal of the consumer, the person you're building for the problem they're facing, the truth that you've uncovered that can help them with it, the change they have to make using your tools. And finally the actions and the step-by-step that they can take. Use that framework, have some fun with it, and I'll leave you with that.