At the heart of the mentoring program for experienced professionals in the UW Foster Technology Management MBA, Hybrid MBA, and Global Executive MBA Programs lies a concept borrowed from successful business leaders who recognize the value of seeking guidance from trusted advisors to navigate toward their goals.
Foster MBA alumni are strategically paired with students through the mentoring program for personalized one-on-one engagements. These relationships help supercharge students’ professional development through meaningful discussions on career and leadership with a focus on trust and authenticity.
Our mentors, including accomplished alumni and leaders in fields like product management, sales, engineering, operations, and marketing, serve as supporters, listeners, and guides. They ensure mentees progress towards success by sharing valuable lessons from real-world experiences.
As an extension of the mentoring program, students can also participate in small-group learning circles; these interactive sessions provide action-oriented content on a range of career, professional, and leadership topics and offer additional community-building opportunities for mentors and mentees.
Six-year MBA mentor and iVisa Chief Marketing Officer Dave Sampson (MBA 2003) recently held a session for UW Foster School of Business MBA students. He presented his 12 Ways to Increase Your Impact at Work, Gain Trust & Respect, and Maintain Your Sanity. Sampson provided actionable advice for working professionals to improve their performance and advance their careers.
Sampson’s tips include:
1. Question everything
Sampson pointed out that inertia is all around us in the workplace, and organizations can benefit from challenging assumptions that are often in place just because that’s the way it has always been done. “A lot of the personal development opportunities you’ll find start with tearing down,” Sampson said. “I like to say that half of what we do is really smart, well-reasoned and well researched. The other half we are just doing because we didn’t have a better idea, or because that’s what the person in the role before us always did. And that’s where the growth opportunity is.”
2. Finish more, start less
Sampson cautioned against taking on new projects or responsibilities that don’t have a clear end date. He instead recommends focusing time and energy on work that has a defined completion date and metric.
“Don’t take on activities. Take on projects,” he advises. “Because when you complete them, you have accomplished something, and then you can clear room on your plate to take on something else. But when you take on things that have an indefinite obligation, they tend to accumulate over time, and you get stretched so thin.”
3. Join very small teams, not big ones
Sampson is not a fan of larger working groups, pointing out meetings of 30 people or more often result in little more than a need for a follow-up meeting with a smaller group. He contrasts that with the remarkable achievements made by a few as two or three people, from musicians John Lennon and Paul McCartney to Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak, and Ronald Wayne, the founders of Apple Computer.
“Big groups are pretty useless. Larger organizations tend to have lots of large meetings,” he says. “If you think about the great, creative contributions to modern life and society, almost none of them were created by committees of 30 people. Almost all of them were done by two to four people working together.”
4. Build bridges
Sampson recommended forging relationships and alliances with colleagues across an organization, not just those on your immediate team. Doing so provides a more holistic view of the business, which can be beneficial in multiple ways. A fresh perspective can be valuable for day-to-day challenges, and for those with aspirations for broader range of responsibilities will benefit from greater familiarity with different areas of the business.
“In modern organizations we have so much specialization it’s really important to work towards being a T-shaped person, meaning you have a lot of narrow but deep expertise in one or two areas, but you also have that horizontal vision.” Sampson’s adage is “I try to know a lot about a little, and a little about a lot.”
5. Connect your work to revenue
Sampson acknowledges that showing how your work directly impacts the bottom line is easier in some positions, such as sales, than in others. But everyone at a company is contributing to the success of the organization, and the more you can quantify that, and show a direct path from what you do to top-line or bottom-line results, the better.
“This is especially important in a downturn,” he says. “It insulates you from scenarios where people are looking to trim.”
6. Be a gateway
The most skilled employees have mastered how to best communicate upstream by providing their managers with essential information and downstream by motivating those reporting to them.
“The key to gaining the trust and support of senior leaders is the ability to simplify complexity and to communicate risk,” he says. “That’s what leaders care about – can someone explain what’s the heart of the matter, tell me the two or three things that are really important for me to know.”
More junior employees may feel that a plan or strategy is being thrust upon them, without them understanding why. Even entry level positions benefit from knowing the bigger picture. “Be the person who is good at explaining the business context behind what we are doing.”
7. Hire superstars
Hiring great people is easier said than done. Sampson suggests being willing to take some risks in hiring, choosing candidates who are particularly talented in a certain aspect of the position, and can be supported in areas where they need more development.
“I love hiring ‘lopsided’ people that are fantastic at something even though they may require more management somewhere else … I would rather hire a person that is a 10 in one area rather than just sixes and sevens across the board, because then you just get a team that is just OK. But it’s the superstars that will make you successful.”
8. Convince your manager that they are wrong
Sampson cautions this one is risky, and it essential that you are 100% certain that you are correct and your manager is mistaken before approaching them. But if this situation does arise, and you save your manager from making an error with consequences down the road, it is the quickest route to being one of their most trusted advisors.
9. Bring data
“Everyone has opinions,” Sampson says. The most valuable employees have opinions that are supported by data. Data can be used highlight either a problem or showcase an opportunity. “Well-formed data insights can become the tools of your trade.”
10. Use experiments to reduce the risk of being wrong
Sampson is a proponent of testing at every opportunity. “We all need to be scientists,” he says, recommending that business scenarios be tested using proper scientific methods, including having a hypothesis and control group, and that data be reviewed for causation vs. correlation.
“I test everything before committing the company’s resources,” he says. “With experiments, you can learn if assumptions are not correct and reduce risk.”
11. Think about your marginal utility
Professional sports leagues use statistics like VORP (Value Over Replacement Player), which measure the degree to which their best players impact a game vs. the average player. Sampson recommends applying this same metric to your own contributions at work. He says this can be uncomfortable, but very helpful in determining how essential you are in your position, information that increases your leverage in negotiating salaries and promotions.
“Your marginal utility is your value over the average schmo who does what you do,” he says. “Knowing where to set the bar is really helpful.”
12. Don’t wait to be discovered
Sampson reminded Foster students that they are their own best advocates.
“You can be really good at your job and you be accomplishing all kinds of great things and think that ‘One day someone is going to discover my great work and promote me.’ That’s not necessarily going to happen,” he counseled. Within the bounds of appropriate professional conduct, Sampson recommends being clear about your ambitions. “The more active role you can play in your own career development by making your desires known known, the more likely it is that you’ll get the outcome you want.”