Jamie unpacks her long, winding road to community, the power of empathy, and why every business should have a Chief Community Officer.
Jamie: "I was a passionate, outspoken college student who just wanted to make a difference in the world. I had graduated with a degree in Political Science, which didn’t exactly open a lot of doors, especially in that economy, and decided when I became pregnant with my eldest daughter that I did not want to pursue law school anymore.
So, I applied for an IT knowledge management internship at Colgate-Palmolive while I was doing my MBA at Washburn University in Topeka, KS. I had the most amazing manager there who looked past the other more 'technical' applicants and hired me because of my communications skills.
I don’t think I was fully aware of what knowledge management was yet, but this was right after the recession hit in 2008 and jobs in the midwest were scarce. My husband and I were young parents trying to get started and so I applied to basically anything that had a decent paycheck that I was remotely interested in. This was a key moment in my career development because up until then, I hadn’t really figured out what I wanted to do yet.
I worked in that position until my husband got a new job in Silicon Valley as a software developer and we moved to California. I ended up doing a couple of other jobs to pay the bills before I came back to tech. I sold industrial cleaning chemicals for about 6 months and quickly learned that sales is definitely not my strength. I also headed up the marketing function for a major manufacturer of dental disposables (gloves, masks, those plastic attachments for the cleaning tools, etc.).
I was approached by a recruiter to take a role in product support communications with the SAP SuccessFactors team. As an aside, the day I was scheduled for my first phone screen, the recruiter didn’t bother to show up. She sent me an email after the start time for our scheduled call telling me that the hiring manager changed her mind and decided I didn’t have enough 'marketing' experience for the role. After getting upset and frustrated, both by how this was handled and the fact that I wasn’t even being given a chance after they contacted me, I just became stubbornly determined that they would at least talk with me. I emailed the recruiter back with a detailed explanation about why they should hire me and why my particular experience at Colgate was more valuable than a generic marcoms person with more years on their resume. They scheduled a new interview time right away.
I spent about 3 years learning a ton, launching features and services, and eventually moving into the overall SAP global product support team. We launched the support portal to over 1.5 million super users and I managed both the communications and beta programs.
During that time, I also went through a very difficult divorce. I decided to move to Oregon with my then-4-year-old to start over. I put in an offer on a house and was so excited to move on with the next chapter of my life. My boss at the time told me after I was already under contract for the new house that she would not approve my move and that I would need to find a new job, despite the rest of my team already being remote and located in other geographies. It was so discouraging and upsetting, but it prompted me to look into other roles in the company. Once I wrapped up the support portal project, I accepted a role in the SAP Community team.
While I hadn’t been on the community team before, I had worked with our community quite extensively for every project that I led for the product support organization, so it was a natural transition. I ended up owning the blogging platform and program, overall UX for the platform (including search and navigation), and the GDPR implementation project for almost 3 million community users.
I learned so much from my colleagues and experiences in that role, it truly set the foundation for my next steps. Once I felt I had learned everything I could there and my growth was stagnating, I began looking for a new challenge."
J: "I think 'empathy' is the easiest answer here because it’s one thing that we all have in common. So, I’d say my special super power is probably the ability to translate complex topics, especially technical topics, into easily understandable information for anyone.
I think I am also a powerful advocate for my members back into the organization. I’ve spent a lot of time at odds with my colleagues because I am tasked with representing the needs and desires of our users and bringing those recommendations and requests back to the folks actually building our products and user experiences.
Sometimes, that can be frustrating for the builders who already have a vision for what they think is the most important things to build - especially when the user needs don’t fit their vision."
J: "I learned through 2nd (3rd, 4th…) hand feedback that the events team was mad at me and my team for being 'overly critical' of them during one of their corporate events, even though I had asked my team to put requests, questions, and feedback into a spreadsheet so the events team would not be overwhelmed by feedback during the event. Turns out there was someone from the events team lurking in our private team Slack channel who took my instructions out of context and told her entire team that I was encouraging my team to be critical of them.
This 'she said, she said' rumor-mongering and gossip built up for a short time before it escalated to our leadership team and eventually came back to me. When I shared what I’d actually said with my manager, she agreed that I didn’t do anything out of line and was in fact being empathetic and kind, but she told me to go fix it any way.
I set up a meeting with the event manager, who I’d always had a very friendly relationship with, and after we talked for a few minutes I realized that she thought we were trying to sabotage her team so we could run our own events. I clarified that we had no interest at all in either taking over her events or running competing events. We were simply stakeholders in her program and wanted to give feedback to help accommodate our program needs.
Once we clarified this, the entire mood changed and we were collaborating closely on how to improve the next event. What I learned from this experience is that, especially when working remotely, it’s very easy for messages to be misconstrued, for assumptions and misconceptions to completely derail your success. Sometimes it’s best to get on the phone with someone or meet with them face-to-face (even via video) to clear the air. And it’s always best to approach a tricky situation with empathy."
J: "I wish that I would have known that it would be a constant battle. Honestly, community work is incredibly emotionally difficult sometimes.
You are in a position that often has to justify its existence. You are constantly educating people on why the work you’re doing is important and valuable while also trying to find time to do the actual work. You don’t ever ask the accountant why we should hire them or why we need an accounting function. What must that be like to have people just inherently 'get' what you do?"
J: "My hope is that community becomes more integrated into the core functions of the business. As an MBA, I see how community fits into the holistic business ecosystem and my hope is that we can make it more widely accepted that community has a critical role to play in the future of everything from product development and engineering to marketing to sales, customer satisfaction and retention.
Community has a role to play at every stage of the customer lifecycle while adding value of its own (vs. being a vehicle for marketing) and my hope is that community gets just as important and visible a seat at the executive table as any other business function. Every company should have a Chief Community Officer."