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Women Of The C-Suite: “Some fires are better left burning” With Dana Hamerschlag, CPO at Miller Heiman Group

“Some fires are better left burning. Time is your most limited and precious resource. It’s the one thing you can’t buy, borrow or delegate…


“Some fires are better left burning. Time is your most limited and precious resource. It’s the one thing you can’t buy, borrow or delegate. As a leader, your choice of what you spend your time on will define what is most important for the broader team, so you have to make that choice strategically. As an individual and as a team, you won’t be able to put out every fire at once, so you have to choose the projects that are the most important for you specifically to be working on right now. You have to choose what fires other members of the team should focus on and you also have to choose which fires to ignore. Sometimes, that is the most difficult decision.”


I had the pleasure of interviewing Dana Hamerschlag, Chief Product Officer at Miller Heiman Group, the world leader in sales training and enablement. Dana graduated from the University of Virginia and went on to Harvard Business School. She served as a principal at BCG and a product manager at Ellucian before joining Miller Heiman Group, where she heads up a team building technologies that are powering the future of sales.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Coming out of school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. It seemed like such an earth-shattering choice to pick a path. And so, I ended up in consulting. What I liked about the role was getting broad exposure to a number of different industries, all while getting to work with smart people on high-stakes projects. Over time, though, I realized that my primary function was often just to create a report that my client could use to justify particular business decisions. I realized I wanted to be part of a team that drives these kinds of changes directly. I wanted a seat at the table.

During this period, I was also starting a family. Because of my travel schedule, I hadn’t eaten dinner with my husband on a Tuesday night in years, and I needed to make a change. I ended up being pulled towards product management because it preserved what I found most interesting in my career. It was a cross-functional role where I could work with incredibly smart, technical people on one end, and business people, especially sales people, on the other. It was truly a place where I could innovate, create new things, and build groundbreaking products that could drive lasting change for customers.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I first heard about an open position at Miller Heiman Group through a recruiter. I was a little skeptical. I recall very distinctly sitting down with Byron Matthews, the CEO and President of Miller Heiman Group, for a chat. He painted a vivid picture of how knotty the task ahead of me would be. He didn’t try to mask the difficulty of what he was asking. He told me that this was a large company — with an entrenched, loyal client base — that needed to start reacting and innovating like a startup. He made sure I understood that this project would be ugly, that I knew what I was getting into. That amazing forthrightness made me so excited to take on this new challenge. Another leader might have tried to cover up the thorny nature of the opportunity, but Byron presented it with such transparency that I got hooked, looking forward to the challenge. I was ready to prove that I was up to the task.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first getting started in your career?

I still travel a great deal in my position. The longest route I take regularly is from Washington to Tokyo to Singapore. I’ve learned that on the leg from Washington to Tokyo, you have to make yourself fall asleep by 5pm. Once you arrive in Tokyo, you have to do everything you can to stay awake for the entire flight to Singapore. The first time on that flight, I think I had the same Powerpoint slide open for four hours. I was so exhausted; I probably took six hours to craft four simple bullet points, but I did manage to stay awake, and that makes all the difference in being able to adjust to the time zone. There’s so many human aspects to managing time and a busy schedule that I feel like I am continuously trying to improve and master.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think these will help people?

I’m working on all sorts of exciting things! One of the major projects I’m heading up is a new cloud-based technology platform that’s helping sales teams become more effective. Too often, companies think of sales as relationship game, without a clear process: without skills for winning. Scout, as the platform is called, takes the guesswork out of consistently executing winning sales strategies. The only technology many sales people use today is CRM (customer relationship management). But CRM is just a rolodex of information about accounts and opportunities. Many sales people view the CRM as a tool for leadership, not a tool that can actually help them win. Scout changes that narrative: Scout uses predictive analytics to help sellers see the move that moves the deal forward. It’s so different from the sea of sales technologies on the market today because it’s focused on the execution of the actual sales strategy.

Scout is immediately going to create so much value for organizations. That’s why we’ve been so excited to bring the product to market. Being a sales professional today is an incredibly demanding role that requires a rare mix of art and science. The best sales teams today have a powerful mix of analytical skills, technological savvy, and relationship building acumen. Yet, they must still be centered around providing value for customers. We understand that at Miller Heiman Group. We look at sales, and sales technology, through a human lens. We’re not a tech company by heritage, we’re a training company: we’re here to develop and coach sales teams and give them all the tools they need to be the best sellers they can be. That’s why we launched Scout.


What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?

I’m not sure there’s any advice that I would give to women specifically. Helping people to thrive and succeed isn’t about your gender or the gender of the people on your team. What I will say is this: always ask yourself, do you know what you don’t know?

Here’s why that question is so important to helping a team thrive. Once you demonstrate that it’s okay for you not to have all the answers, you set a tone for the whole group. Each individual doesn’t feel that they need to have all the answers, and it’s safe for them to admit what they don’t know. I guarantee that your team will take a more inquisitive approach, and start asking better questions, and that inquisitive approach will set your team up to find better solutions.

You need to set a tone of psychological safety in order to brainstorm effectively. It takes a certain amount of confidence to take a risk and to be honest and open with your team, but you’ll set up your team for a more open dialogue, and better results.

What are your “5 Leadership Lessons I Learned From My Experience” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

1) Leverage your team’s strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses. In general, corporate performance management systems are centered around identifying people’s weaknesses and making sure they are aware of their areas for development. I think that’s totally backwards. Instead, build a diverse team whose strengths complement each other. Identify those strengths and invest in them: light them on fire. Research shows again and again that teams with a diverse participants who have a diverse set of perspectives perform better. Have the self-awareness as a leader to identify your own weaknesses and strengths, and build a team with members that compliment each other’s strong suits.

2) Some fires are better left burning. Time is your most limited and precious resource. It’s the one thing you can’t buy, borrow or delegate. As a leader, your choice of what you spend your time on will define what is most important for the broader team, so you have to make that choice strategically. As an individual and as a team, you won’t be able to put out every fire at once, so you have to choose the projects that are the most important for you specifically to be working on right now. You have to choose what fires other members of the team should focus on and you also have to choose which fires to ignore. Sometimes, that is the most difficult decision.

3) You’re not alone. I made the mistake very early in my career of thinking that I had to do it all myself. I burned myself out working unsustainable hours not realizing that some of my time would have been better invested motivating others to help me along the way. Motivating a team takes time, too, but you’ll have a bigger impact if you invest that time and bring an entire team towards a common goal. None of us is alone. And there are few things more rewarding that working with a team of people to achieve a common goal.

4) Don’t get too caught up in what other people think of you. If you’re focused on the overall impact of your work, on a set of business objectives, what people think of you becomes less relevant. If you know that you’re moving towards the ultimate impact that you’re going to have on an organization, it doesn’t matter if others think you’re doing “a good job” every second of the day. You can’t control what other people think about you, so there’s no sense wasting emotional energy on it. Sometimes it’s even useful to remind yourself that your goal is not to please a particular person or set of people (even if that person is your boss). Free yourself up to focus on the work itself and the overarching impact of your work.

5) You deserve to be here. When I first started working right out of school, I felt like I was surrounded by people who were so much smarter and more capable than me. I was totally insecure: here I was, this public school kid, feeling like I didn’t belong. That fear and insecurity really colored the way I engaged with my colleagues. I was more guarded and I wasn’t comfortable showing any vulnerability, so I was less open and less fun, and it limited my ability to forge friendships with an amazing group of people. I honestly didn’t really start to overcome that impostor syndrome until I had kids. There’s something about being a mom that forces you to get over yourself. Any insecurities you have become irrelevant and it keeps work in perspective. Remember, the relationships you form with work colleagues can be life-long relationships that outlast any particular job and are more meaningful and enriching.

Thank you so much for this. This was very inspirational.

Originally published at medium.com

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