Change is inevitable. And many times, the shifts are planned. It might be a new career, a challenging project outside your comfort zone, or a new skill or educational degree. But as the pandemic has shown, change can also happen without warning, and its up to us to adapt and thrive.
My guests today are Adam and Helen Harmetz, who write candidly about life’s many changes—the professional and the personal—of one of my favorite new blogs, Mind The Beet. The spouses are also Microsoft veterans and they’ve got plenty of great advice for readers who are at a crossroads and are looking to take an opportunity to the next level.
Join us for a flavorful discussion about life, work, and family.
In this episode:
Helen and Adam
Helen: Hi, I’m Helen. I am a mother, a professional in tech, a wife, and currently, I’m working at Guild Education focusing on helping working adults pursue education in search of career mobility. Before that, I was at Microsoft for almost 10 years working both marketing and product. And before that, I had a fun stint in politics where I ran a bunch of campaigns.
Adam: I’m a long time Microsofty, been there 16 years. Supposed to be one and go back for a PhD, but here I am, 16 years later, just really enjoyed working on something with others in that Product Management discipline. I’m Head of Product for large parts of the SharePoint and Microsoft Viva experiences and a founding member of Microsoft Viva over in Microsoft land.
Helen: We actually met at the end of our freshman year of college at UCLA. (Go Bruins!) Funny story, we did not really get along when we just met. We were actually a little bit of political rivals. We ran against each other for a position. We don’t need to get into who won and who lost. (Adam: I won, but whatever.) Long, long lost history. And so yeah, we met at UCLA, and ended up at Microsoft through different ways and different means.
The blurred lines of work and personal life
Helen: I think we’ve all been learning through this experience and what’s true for us is obviously different for others. For me, once we made it through the initial shock to the system—we’re now working from home, school is no longer happening in the way that we knew it—the key for me and then for us as a family, was really to figure out how to thrive. What’s our new joy? What are our new routines and patterns that we need to establish?
For example, we were not going forego our children’s education just because the schools were still figuring it out. So then, we did our schedules and found learning time to support our kids’ education. We could no longer do social lunches or get togethers with friends or coworkers, so then we figured out what’s the latest slew of apps and games and platforms we can use to stay in touch and to be connected. I started baking with my grandmother on FaceTime. It’s going to be one of my fondest memories through the pandemic. I actually got to spend a lot more time with some of my loved ones just remotely.
The birth of Mind the Beet
Adam: Probably like many people, we were looking to feel a little more in control after all what happened in the pandemic. And so, fostering new hobbies just gave us a sense, but synthesizing all this is hard. I personally love writing. I know Helen does too. And I realized that writing was very personal to me. The pandemic just makes you realize these things that are more unique to you than you thought. So, we started Mind the Beet.
I think it’s a great chance for me to practice being vulnerable and making it about me. Helen credit to you, you’re the one who realized that more or less, we’re the product here, right? This is a slice of life thing. Yes, we want to try to give good advice, but if we’re not talking about ourselves, we’re just not going to connect and get through. The meta point of the whole blog is that every generation tries to figure out what it means to be adults. We try to use this phrase, ’21st century grownups’.
The blog’s probably not for everybody, but if I had to say who it was for, it was for people who are ready to try to figure out what it means to be a grown up. And by that, I mean take responsibility for yourself and for others. You can be 22 and be ready to be grown up. You can be 50; it doesn’t really matter. Just like our own experience, trials and struggles and successes and failures, as we try to figure that out, hopefully we’re connecting with a couple other people who feel the same.
Carrying Mind the Beet’s lessons to work teams
Adam: We didn’t choose something super focused for this blog. It’s not just a parenting blog, not just a life blog, not just a career blog. Clearly the people that read this most are the people we know or one or two degrees away from us. If we want to talk it in terms of metrics: not as many subscribers, but high open rates.
We’re looking for people that know us pretty well or at least want to get to know us. In the pandemic, I have found being more transparent and open with the team is just required. Many managers have taken on the role of being a bit of a therapist for their team, carrying burdens, and there’s definitely a lot of burnout to manage with that. And I think we talk about that with my leadership team all the time. Just the ability to know what’s going on with the team, even know what’s going on in my head, has been super impactful.
It’s created more of a sense of psychological safety with the team. This experience forced me to really crystallize what the learnings are beyond just like the immediate day to day.
Working on Mind the Beet
Helen: Adam and I are actually pretty opposite in many, many ways. Adam’s a little bit more reserved and thoughtful. He synthesizes Top 10 tips and I’m like everything kind of hangs out. I’m very transparent with my team. So, for me, it’s been such an honor and a great learning opportunity to meet in that middle a little bit of actually synthesizing and organizing my thoughts.
I tell Adam he needs to be more vulnerable. He tells me I need to synthesize better. And then we get to the output. For me, it’s been great as a way to just actually get organized and get more structured in my thinking and put out resources that are interlaced with human stories to make them be more relatable and usable for people around me. So, that’s what I love about it.
It’s actually really vulnerable and hard to share things and put them out into the public eye. Because while we do mostly write for ourselves, we are hoping to strike the right tone and get the point across that we want to get across because so much can get accidentally lost in translation. It’s been an honor and a privilege to be able to both work on it together and share it and then get feedback.
Making work more human with Viva
Adam: Viva is an employee experience platform. It’s trying to create an entire category of tools and services and extensibility to put employees at the center. We heard through the pandemic that people care a lot more about the experience their employees have to make sure they’re attached to their organization. And it’s a hard problem. As a product maker, I think it has made me way more in tune with the really deep business objectives and goals of the customers that I work with.
The result of that is that IT is going to have more partners throughout the business for using technology. None of the problems that Viva’s talking about are new or existed only because of the pandemic. But now they’re more urgent. And I think more people in the organization realize how much technology can partner with their business processes to help them.
The trend of upskilling
Helen: We are in a moment in time, especially in America, where there’s a tremendous need for new type of workers. We have jobs that are not being filled today. The urgency is so high to help American professionals today to find their next opportunity, both in their company and beyond so folks have a place to land tomorrow and in a few years.
With automation and the changing landscape that technology has oftentimes created, there’s a lot of people who are going to need a new job in the next five to 10 years. And all the large employers are actually seeing it, and some even made their big announcement about upskilling their workforce. So, the time is now, and it’s great to see large employers recognize this opportunity and again, it’s an honor to work in that space and help so many people pursue career mobility.
Make #ShiftHappen in the New Work Model
Helen: I think the upside, if there’s such a thing, from the pandemic is that we learn that we can get a lot of work done not in the office. We’ll miss a whole bunch of stuff that does happen in the office, but I think it has given us an opportunity to crystallize what it is that we should do in “the office” together versus what are we perfectly capable of doing apart.
So, I think the advice I’d give to managers and to companies starting out is that taking a hard-line position is no longer going to be that acceptable. If you want to take a position of ‘your employees must be in the office from nine to five, five days a week’, you better have a really good reason as to what outcome that’s going to drive for you that you don’t think you can achieve otherwise.
And if not, then to attract the right talent and the right folks, you should focus on what you need from them, what success looks like, and then work backwards from there and then figure out what the employee needs. If they need to be working from home or they need to be working flexible hours and still can achieve the business goals that are set out, everything should be on the table.
Both managers at a micro level should enable that as much as possible and then leaders at a macro level should do that as well because the world has changed. And I don’t think we can go back to where we were two years ago. We should define our new normal.
Adam: I have two pieces of advice:
- Early in your career, start finding out what gives you joy, what you’re good at and honing that, and making a decision about what you don’t like and what you don’t want to do anymore. Just look for stuff that gives you joy and passion. Too many people skip that step. And I think it’s incredibly important, especially as we enter a more dynamic, post pandemic workforce, there would be lots of opportunities.
- I heard this quote this week generically about managing careers. And it was like, ‘Make your company work for you, not you work for your company’. And it’s easier to say than it is to do, but it goes back to what we want out of employee experience, right? It is about making sure that the value exchange between you and your company is positive for you. That is why you should make sure you’re working for a company that invests in training, that allows you to have the time to be able to learn and grow both on the job and elsewhere or whatever it is that grows you and your career. And that is table stake. And you should be thinking about that and creating a plan for it.
Today’s takeaway from
“We talked about Viva being an employee engagement platform. Use that to provide educational opportunities as an employee engagement strategy as well. It certainly is being used by a lot of employers today to attract workers to the opportunities they’re offering.”
“Look at where there’s a sense of adventure and a little bit more risk taking. Make sure that people are looking for some newness and some challenge. And really, if they’re looking to take risks, make sure your organization is a great place to be able to do that.”
Mind the Beet: Career and parenting blog | Mind the Beet
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