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Tech Innovators: Jane Wilson, Director, MBO Launch Execution Microsoft

Tech Innovators: Jane Wilson, Director, MBO Launch Execution at Microsoft

Linsey Knerl
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Jane Wilson describes her role at Microsoft quite simply, although her title – Director of MBO Launch Execution at Microsoft – is a position that those outside the organization may not fully understand.
She explains, “Business Planning tells me what [software] they want to launch, and then my team takes that launch and partners with other teams to make sure all of the pieces are ready and compliant. Then, we get it out the door.”
But is it really that simple? Of course not. And if you’ve used any software, you know it can be complicated and filled with confusing features.
Modern offices need glitch-free tools available for teams of all sizes, and that’s why the work of launch teams like Jane’s is so important. Getting things right before a launch reduces headaches for everyone, from the companies who rely on these solutions, to the developers working out the kinks, to the end-users who just want everything to work – the first time.
These launches aren't singular endeavors, either. Jane has ten to 15 people reporting to her in a given day on close to 50 launches going on simultaneously.
It’s an enviable role with an incredible amount of responsibility, but how does someone even get into this kind of work? Let’s learn how one of the most influential women in tech got where she is today.

An unconventional path to leadership

Jane Wilson's Team
You may wonder what someone with the expertise to lead these launch teams looks like, sounds like, and how they got to this point in their career.
Jane is a mixture of warmth and optimism, and she declares that no questions are off the table for her. She's an open book, with an unconventional journey to leadership at Microsoft.
For starters, she initially set out to be an opera singer and studied voice at Indiana University before leaving school to focus on caregiving for her ailing parents. From there, she worked toward, though never finished, her college undergraduate degree. But her lack of formal education has not held Jane back.

Hard work and lots of learning

“I've worked really hard and learned a lot, which is my favorite thing to do,” she says. Her career path took her from small business and the healthcare space where she got her start in management and climbed the ranks, to more advanced roles in each company she’s worked for. She looks back on these experiences as an incredibly good time.
“I started at the bottom and worked my way up, frankly,” she says. “In every job that I've had, I’ve had a blast.”

A little something called “scope growth”

Jane also credits her career development to “scope growth,” which happens if you push yourself to take on more responsibility and become more valuable to those who rely on your talents.
After years in healthcare, a space she loved, it was time to move on and find “new problems to solve,” as she puts it. That’s what brought her to Microsoft, where she managed a small team doing operational work, such as invoicing, contracting, and sales support.
Using her “scope growth” approach, Jane moved from managing a few people in one department to where she is today, overseeing up to 50 launches at a time. But how does this method work? Essentially, one success leads to the next.
Jane explains, “You go from thinking; ‘okay, here's my scope,’ to broadening your reach. The next project it gets even broader, and the one after that, broader still. That's been something I've sought throughout my career.”
Jane took the initiative to cross train in each business sector where she’s worked. She moved from sales to operating centers and OEM (original equipment manufacturers), to eventually, business process outsourcing (BPO). Finally, she got the call to take on her current role and solve even bigger problems.
Her quest to answer questions and understand the needs of her business peers brings her to where she is today.

Solving for the greatest variable

Jane has a heart for mentoring, too, a trait that's obvious when you talk with her. She's free with her wisdom, with coaching and mentoring as highlights of her career.
“My favorite thing is seeing people find their passion and capitalize on their strengths. [They] find something new about themselves that they didn't realize was there,” she says. “There's nothing more exciting. There's nothing more fun to do than help [that process].”
While Jane thrives on the never-ending string of challenges that come with her work, the people she’s around are her most prized puzzle to solve.
“People are where my passion lies,” she says. “Work is great. I love it. I'm challenged by it, but the people are always your greatest variable and your greatest challenge as a leader.”

Beating cancer and checking for pockets

Jane is currently fighting cancer for the second time, although she says that she’s doing great this go-round. When asked about the challenges surrounding a cancer diagnosis, she’s upfront about her return to work being harder in some ways than the cancer itself.
While Jane is fortunate to truly love her job, she has also had to reaffirm her boundaries, which include a healthy work-life balance. She does some of the things common for many business leaders, such as making rules about when to check emails and which tasks require her "right-now" attention.
It's also about looking ahead in life and realizing that many passions shouldn't be left for “someday” like after retirement.
“I try to think about what I want to do now, even if it is not work-related,” Jane says.
From getting back into singing (which has been a struggle since she received cancer treatment) to finding a way to launch a podcast, she has things she wants to do sooner rather than later. Making the time for these goals requires looking at time in segments, like pockets – or something you keep for yourself until you need to reach into them.
Those pockets may be filled with hobbies, like music or art, or simply with unstructured moments to take a breath, reflect, and find the space to do the hard things again.
“I don't want to wait until retirement to do the things I love,” Jane says. “I need to plan to do it now and not put it off. And I think for everyone, that's really challenging, right? But you’ve got to find a pocket; there’s gotta be a pocket of something important to you because those things are what you have to balance.”

Shifting values and perspective

For Jane, knowing who she is post-cancer can be difficult in such a fast-paced workplace. She went from a self-assured pro who knew how to get stuff done to questioning her identity in the workplace.
“It was a completely different experience in life to come back and say, ‘oh my gosh, I don't have [the energy and drive] I used to have.’”
However, it’s not a step backward for Jane, who seems to take every challenge as a personal growth opportunity. Her cancer treatment may have left her feeling shaken for a time, but she also sees it as another segment of her overall journey toward being a better leader. She has a new appreciation for things she may have missed in the past.
“How I prioritize, how I care about my people versus getting every T crossed; my values are a little shifted, and it brings a different [level of importance] to the table.”

Advice for those looking to expand their scope

Jane’s approach to life is admirable, as she looks for every opportunity to do more, learn more, and give back. But what does this look like in the average person’s life? What do you do if you are unsatisfied with their current job or career and in search of something new?
“It is so important to ask the right questions about different companies,” Jane says. “I’ve interviewed an enormous number of people throughout my career. And what I would tell you is the number-one thing that they tell me when they come to interview at Microsoft? They are looking for career development. They're
looking for growth. And they cannot find it where they are.”
In order to know if a company has a culture that lets employees grow and learn, Jane suggests asking the right questions during a job interview or discovery meeting.

Keep going and never settle

Even if their current employer doesn’t easily allow for scope growth, that’s not a reason to simply give up. In fact, Jane has motivating words for these people: It’s possible to create opportunities.
“Keep going. Keep seeking. Keep learning,” she says. “Do not settle. Do not sit there and think, ‘this is just the way it's going to be.’”
Jane explains that she never settled for the job she was in but, instead, reached for something more. "By creating that something more, I gave myself a vision about what my role could become,” Jane says. “When you do that, essentially, you give yourself a new job.”

The beauty of scope creep as career development

That is the true beauty of scope creep according to Jane. By reaching for more opportunities and more responsibility, you grow your own scope. You also give yourself a new vision of yourself and ensure others have no choice but to see you in that way, too.
“And then they look at you and say, ‘oh, that's the person who expanded this project. They can expand the next one, too.’”
And according to Jane, who has used her tenacity and vision to create a tech career many would envy, “That is how you get from where you are now, to where you want to be.”
About the Author: Linsey Knerl is a contributing writer for HP Tech@Work. Linsey is a Midwest-based author, public speaker, and member of the ASJA. She has a passion for helping consumers and small business owners do more with their resources via the latest tech solutions.

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