Peg Says

The leaving mail

Posted in Community,Leadership,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on March 30, 2012

One of the hardest emails to compose at Microsoft is the leaving email, so I tried to keep mine short and simple, let folks know I was moving on, thank them and give them my new contact information. We Microsoft employees live and breath via our email, so leaving is one of the hardest parts of leaving Microsoft. I think I wrote a pretty good one, and except for the one slip, where I accidentally hit “send” instead of “send personally” on one batch of emails. (Send Personally is an awesome product by the way, highly recommend it…)


After 26 managers, 19 office moves, 12 years, 6 divisions, 5 major reorgs (couldn’t add up the minor ones…) today is my last day at Microsoft.   I have been offered an amazing opportunity to go and work with Neudesic, one of our Gold partners, in a job that pulls in all the favorite bits of my time at Microsoft and rolls them all together.  More tales to follow.

Thank you so much to my friends and coworkers who have made Microsoft such an incredible place to be over the past decade. My personal contact information is below and attached. Please update your address books, and do stay in touch.


I have had wonderful responses from people, and for a smaller company it’s amazing how many people are fans of Neudesic. I am being reassured it’s nice on the outside. I’ve also had some follow up questions…

First, my new job:

I start April 9th, I will be in California the first week (April 9-13th). I am on vacation next week, and yes I am open for lunch, except Wednesday.

Yes, I will have the opportunity to work with Simon again, and I am looking forward to it, a lot.

Neudesic is a consulting company based out of Irvine, California, with offices all over the US. I will likely be commuting for the first few months, then based out of Bellevue with the occasional trip south.

My official title is director, strategic communications, and the job is working primarily with the technology leadership group, helping to build the technical brand of the company, community, influence and reputation. It’s a new role in the organization, and I will be in the technical team, working for the CTO. That being said, we will be doing more definition in the first 30 days, and as I get to know more about the role and the company I will gladly share. Try and stop me.

Second: Yes, really, 26 managers. As a side note, technically, I only changed jobs 3 times.


3 more days at Microsoft.

Posted in Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on March 27, 2012

Someone asked me once what I liked about Microsoft and my answer surprised me, because until that moment, I hadn’t really known what set Microsoft apart. I told her that Microsoft had created a culture where smart ruled; different kind of smarts as well, not just the PhD from the top institutions in the world, but street smarts too. People could work their way up from PSS, and while Bill Gates may not have graduated from Harvard, he was smart enough to get in. I always knew I was smart, and I though I hadn’t always achieved to the level I should in academic environments, when I found myself in these groups of smart people I was a peer, I had their respect and they had mine. It was an environment that allowed me to blossom and grow, and contribute things to the world I never knew I would be able to.

I loved the traction of working at Microsoft.

I loved it when my first manager gave me the option of presenting my work to Bill and Steve, but suggested I let her slip it in when they were in a good mood instead.

I loved the way Bill looked so excited when I told him I loved my job, then so disappointed when I told him I was in investor relations not the “Titanium” team.

I loved putting out a corporate website that put accessibility in front of all other requirements.

I loved shipping Windows.

I loved putting together an event with 300 of the smartest software architects in the world and watching them think together.

I loved the moment I told my Dad I had a job at Microsoft.

Fortunately my new job is with a team of smart people, and I still get to work with many of my current favorites, so I am doubly blessed.

And to all you smart people I have had the privilege of working with over the past 12 years, thank you.

Being right or doing right.

Posted in Leadership,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on March 5, 2012

Lately, I have found myself getting incredibly stressed by other people’s actions. I see people making decisions that I know are not the right ones for the long term goals of the company, but look great in the short term.

I love to be right and I work hard at it. I research, question and probe. I try to look at situations from as many viewpoints as I can until I come up with the right answer. I admit I get aggravated when short term solutions are rewarded, or when all the variables have not been considered in a decision, but I am quick to concede, on the rare occasion when I am wrong (okay when I am proven wrong, not in the moment when I still think I am right). For me the need to be right is up there with wanting people to like me, and the two traits don’t always go together. This is being magnified by me right now because I’m working with someone right now who likes to be right even more than I do. This has caused so much tension, I have lost sleep. Losing sleep over stupid work things (as opposed to important work things) makes me ask, is it worth it to be right?

Perhaps doing right can help counterbalance the need to be right, and especially the need for acknowledgement of being right. What does that look like in a work environment? It’s easy with friends to judge when they just need support versus real advice. Work is trickier in so many ways.

People aren’t remembered in particular for being right. They are remembered for doing right. Doing right in everyday life, and doing right in the big things in life.

Not for saying I told you so.

Lessons from my summer

Posted in Influencers,Leadership,Learning,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on September 2, 2011

1. Puppies make everything okay.

2. Quality is always in demand.

3. Shit happens and sometimes it floats.

4. If you operate in integrity, you win. Always.

I know there is probably a whole book within these lessons, but let’s leave it at that for now.  Except the puppy…(photo credit to Lorrin)


Starting a new job

Posted in Event Marketing,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on August 25, 2011

On Monday I start a new job in the US Subsidiary.  It should be a lot of fun, it takes a little bit from each of my previous roles and puts it all together in one package.  It was hard to turn down some of the incredible opportunities I was offered, but this one just seems like the right job, in the right team at the right time in my life.  More to come, but here is the official job description:

The U.S. Central Marketing Group is looking for an innovative Event Marketing Manager who can successfully develop and execute strategy and execution plans delivering the U.S. presence at key Microsoft product launches. This position is responsible for supporting core areas of the U.S. Subsidiary’s business across the U.S. BMO and U.S. Partner teams. This is a fast paced, high-profile role that requires creativity, extensive cross function collaboration, passion for the details, and the ability to develop and drive event strategies and deliver executive-level communications. The role provides the freedom to pilot new ideas in an effort to deliver against business goals.
Success will require working closely with and orchestrating across group experts, outside agency representatives and the U.S. and Worldwide operating model and business group teams. The ideal candidate must be a strategic thinker and self-starter with tenacity for driving high quality marketing strategy, design and execution. Candidates must also be skilled in functioning at the strategic and tactical level to ensure flawless execution. Proficiency in effective cross-group collaboration, coupled with a flair for creating innovative and successful marketing programs, is required. In addition, the successful candidate will have strong communication skills and the ability to resolve conflict, influence others and impact the bottom line.

Specific responsibilities include:
Orchestrate strategy, planning and execution of product launches supporting the U.S. BMO scorecard.
Drive cross-CMG and cross-Microsoft collaboration, delivering marketing excellence and results and delighting customers.
Develop and execute all-up event business plans and strategies, including defined metrics and reporting, internal evangelism and field readiness, digital and partner integration, and on-site execution plans.
Deliver high-velocity of work across the WW & U.S. BMO teams and WW & U.S. CMG to plan, implement and execute activities to maximize exposure and sales opportunities.
Partner with the U.S. integrated marketing team on execution of demand generation, media and social networking plans.
Develop and own event work back schedules to ensure operational efficiencies and to manage escalation paths.
Oversee event budgets to ensure sound financial decisions and investments.
Drive cross-company internal communications including T-minus e-mails, monthly community presentations, newsletter submissions and web postings for managed activities.
Manage the event v-teams for these programs, including content development and management, demand generation, partner integration, and sales and marketing follow-up.
Establish and report on event metrics.
Conduct business and ROI analysis of the programs pre, during and post event.
Successfully manage key marketing agencies and vendor resources.
Integrate digital elements across all programs as appropriate.
Position Requirements:
Previous experience as a marketing lead for high-profile large conferences, events or product launches.
7+ years’ experience in marketing for a technology organization.
Knowledge of current B2B and B2C event industry trends.
Strong experience managing complex projects and virtual teams, superior organizational skills, and the ability to work against tight deadlines.
Ability to work effectively across all levels and remain calm and positive under pressure.
Strong integrated marketing communications and management skills including agency management, research, analysis and strategy.
Strong interpersonal communication skills – ability to present at all levels of the organization and to become a positive public representative for Microsoft to outside organizations.
Previous experience with field integration and communications is highly desired.
Must be self-motivated and able to work on long-term projects with limited direction.
Excellent decision-making, problem solving and negotiating skills.
Excellent interpersonal, verbal and written communication, and presentation skills are absolute requirements


Posted in Leadership,Learning,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on July 26, 2011

I spent the weekend at the Western Elite Volleyball Championships, my nephew made the Alberta 17U team, and I had to go cheer him on.  Now I don’t know a lot about volleyball: I know my nephew was asked to switch from soccer and basketball because the coaches though he could be an extraordinary volleyball player, instead of a really good basketball player.  I know he’s only been playing for 2 years and was selected to go the the Elite tournament.  I know his usual position is middle. With all that being said, he really wanted to try playing outside, apparently you get to hit the ball more.  On the first day of the tournament, the coach let him try, and on Saturday he didn’t play. This is a three day tournament, and every single player there is an all-star, and not used to sitting on the bench.  The poor guy sat on the bench the whole day.

Then it hit me – if I was a scout watching these kids play, I would care almost as much about their behavior on the bench as off, because when they go to college, they will almost without exception be playing in Division 1 teams, made up of the same mix of talent. With a team, if you have a hot rotation on a winning streak, you don’t want to break it up. Additionally, sometimes good players have great days, and sometimes great players have bad days. How you take your time on the bench is a great reflection of how you handle yourself in life.

As I watched him on the bench he kept on cheering on his team, high-fiving teammates who made good plays. As the day went on you could see his 6’ 8” frame getting more and more slouched.  He was dejected. The next day, the coach told him he wasn’t going to play again.  His beach partner from Calgary was on the opposing team on Sunday, and he also was spending quality time warming the wood.  As we stood up the the stands, their parents were keeping their spirits up, and to keep in in perspective, getting invited to this tournament is a huge mark of your skill and talent.  But they are still 17 year old boys, who are at the top of their sport, and the bench is not a place they like to be.  We also wondered about the logic of the coach – playing 6 guys for 7 games straight wears them out – and the guys who haven’t played at all just get colder and colder.  So how does a coach balance a hot streak and a strong bench?  It’s a coaching dilemma, keeping a strong bench engaged and committed because when you have a team full of starters, someone ends up on the bench.

In my job we have elite players everywhere.  I was on a team at one point that was made up of 6 people, including one Harvard MBA, two Wharton MBAs, one MIT MIS, one BSc in Computer Science + 10 years field experience, and me.  It was at a time when Windows Product Management was the ultimate place to be in marketing. I was on the elite squad.  You can take a team like that and look at it from a couple different perspectives: with Microsoft’s competitive calibration I was a little screwed, half the team was on the other “bench” (what MSFT used to call the program for people who have been identified for future leadership roles). I was never going to come out on the front side of our bell curve.  Where I really profited was working with that caliber of people everyday on every aspect of my role. I still chuckle when the new product managers on my current team pull out a template my team created, sometimes that I created, and suggest that I use it. I knew my role and position on that team, I had the strongest soft skills, that’s why I was recruited. I could engage engineering teams that had been mad at marketing for years, I could pull in people from my network that enabled the success of the entire team, I could refine messaging from both a customer and global perspective. I was a negotiator extraordinaire.  I loved being part of that team, and what an amazing team to be a part of.  We had a coach who recognized all our skills, made everyone feel like they added value to the team, and set reasonable expectations.

I have a friend who manages a fairly large team. Two years ago, he hired a rock-star team of top performers. The problem again is that at Microsoft we are competing with our peers for our ranking and promotions. So now he needs to hand out some mandatory mediocre and poor ratings. This has nothing to do with any drop in their performance, they just are now being calibrated against a team of starters. We don’t calibrate across the company, we calibrate across individual teams, so if you are on a strong team, sometimes you have to take a lower rating and slower career velocity. Unfortunately it also works in the reverse, people who stay on weaker teams long term get higher calibration and career velocity.

My nephew handled his benching with grace and dignity beyond his years.  Fortunately for him, the hot streak of one of the other middles ended, and he got back in the game, ending the weekend hitting and serving the last 2 points in the fifth game, winning the round.

Always Pick your Manger, and Other Myths.

Posted in Leadership,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on June 8, 2011

I admit it, I chuckle when I hear this, because in the last 11 years, I have had 26 managers, 30 management changes, and been in 7 divisions or groups, and half have been in the past 2 1/2 years. I have picked my manager twice.

I think it’s far more important to pick your team, optimized for leadership, because those are what will sustain you, managers come and go. Sponsors and mentors are critical, because they can influence your management and give you candid feedback you might not want or might not get from other sources. The three best managers I had managed me for very short periods of time, but all continued to sponsor and mentor me.

I believe you need different types of managers at different stages of your career. When I was a fresh faced new hire, dealing directly with our most senior leadership (yes them), I was lucky enough to have an incredible role model of grace and steel.

When I was midflight, and needed to move from being a tactician to being able to start creating and evangelizing my own strategies, she asked me the hard questions, gave me the hard feedback, and pushed me to be a senior product manager, not a project manager. It hurt, but it worked.

When I had taken those lessons and needed the opportunity to step into a role where I had full accountability and responsibility, I had a partner, who enabled me to contribute fully.

This is what I’ve learned:

A strong team needs a leader, and a strong leader needs their team.

A leader cannot take authority, it has to be given.

A team needs diversity, and diversity means much more than race.

The closer the team is to understanding the customer, the more sensible the work they do is. Conversely when a team focuses on understanding their management chain, the more political the work they do.

You need a crisis to truly understand the team you are on: do they come together to build a better raft, or team up to decide who to push off next?

People change. People grow. People learn. I did.

Microsoft Survival Skills

Posted in Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on May 26, 2011

This started in a training class I was in a couple months ago, and the senior people in the room were put into a group to come up with the unwritten rules of Microsoft culture, and we all came up with pretty much the same list.

1. Always get it in email.

2. Never put it in email.

3. SWIPE as much as you can (Steal With Integrity and Pride, Everywhere)

4. Always pre-brief your management chain (no surprises).

5. Never call out a problem you don’t want to be accountable for solving.

6. Never present an option to leadership you don’t believe in.

7. Always align the headings and images on your PowerPoints.

8. If you don’t know; ask.

9. Be nice, you never know who your next manager might be.

10. Precision Questioning is not personal.

I remember when I first heard the SWIPE acronym I was a little trepidatious, on first glance it fits into the idea that we were indeed the evil empire, but the more I thought about it – the more I realized that it is an amazing model for life and how to get things done.

Look at how something has been done well, ask how you can make it better or different for your customers, and credit the original. Why reinvent the wheel, when what you really need is a wheel with handles?

The integrity part is the key. Don’t claim original thoughts of others to be your own, take pride in being the person who can pull the thoughts together and make them better.

When I first posted Microsoft’s corporate by-laws on the web, we were leading the way in online disclosure. Three months later our chief council asked me to pull them down…apparently there were a couple typos that were being replicated in all the new filings in Olympia, it appears we were being swiped. (side note, in order to fix the typos online we would have to re-file the original, which was a lot bigger deal than it sounds like.) I thought it was awesome that we were seen as thought leaders.

When I see a great launch plan, or website, or resume, I file it away for the next time I need to do it. If there is an owner to acknowledge or credit, I do that too. When I see an organization that does something well, I refer people to that organization. I don’t think leadership is about being the most creative or the most original. It’s about identifying and filling needs, better than everyone else does.

Pulling, pushing and joining together community

Posted in Community,Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on June 21, 2010

I have a new job title “Developer Marketing Manager, Community and Influencers”. It seems fairly simple. We have a bunch of influencer programs here: the MVP program, the RD Program, various partner programs, and customer programs, regional programs. All I need to do is pull them together, do a SWOT and needs analysis, push out some interaction guidance and I’m done. Right?

What if engineering, planning, support and marketing worked together on community and influencer programs and helped to support each other’s efforts, what if the community understood what the different programs and people were?  How big is the community really? In my case, I think I’m looking at between 800-1000 people. I think we currently interact with about half of them. I don’t think we know who the other half is.  I also think we have a 30% overlap between programs…the same people floating between communities, and I think if we were more cooperative about it, that 30% of overlap could be replaced with net new, for the same cost, and no impact in the existing community people, if it’s properly managed.

I’m running into a lot of “We already tried that and it didn’t work”, or  “So-and-so already does that, sync with him/her.”  It’s frustrating. You tried it and it didn’t work – great – what exactly did you try, why didn’t it work? Did you try it a different way? If she’s already doing it – great, but is she doing in a way that is effective and encourages collaboration? More than it’s being done, am I allowed to ask if it’s being done right? Is this team considering that that team is reaching out to the same people?  

What complicates the problem is that the very nature of community and influencers, people and relationships are at the core of our success, and traditionally, we are not very good at quantifying relationships, and if you can’t quantify something, it’s hard to get long term support within the company.  How do you measure the impact of depth relationships in a company where we target by month or quarter?

Why do you still work there?

Posted in Life at MSFT by Peg McNicol on March 31, 2010

I love this company. I love the opportunities I have been given, I love our customers, I love the potential for impact I have working here.  I still believe.

That’s why I’m still here. Over the past 2 years I have been moved through 4 divisions, had 12 management changes, seen incredible people get pushed out, and unworthy politicians pulled up. The impact of the layoffs, the economy, and a lack Billg’s passion for technology in our everyday environment has discouraged many of the rank and file employees. And we have lost many good ones.

The good news? It finally feels like the skies are clearing a bit, and people once again have direction, the company has a vision, and we are on the cusp of moving into cool again. The hardest part over the last 2 years has been the perception of irrelevance. I do not believe we have missed the race: we are older than we were, wiser than we were, and hungrier than we have been.

I will fully admit to being a Kool-aid drinker. I believe we have, on balance, the best products, the best people and the best communities. I believe we are far more self-critical internally than any of our external critics could ever hope to match.

Our reach is incomprehensible to many, I remember the first time I created a PowerPoint slide, and I had to round-up to the nearest billion…or when our beta downloads hit a million…I remember when I posted a particular governance document on the web and our chief counsel came to me 3 months later and said we needed to pull it down because there was a typo. I told him I could fix it, and he explained that in order to change anything, the document would need to be re-filed with some government organization, which they were in the process of, but until it was accepted we needed to pull the document. It turned out it was the government organization had found the typo, because they had had so many filings with the same error, they traced it back to people copying ours as a basis for their own…


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