Microsoft U.S. President Talks Stock Price, JEDI Cloud Contract, and Employee Backlash

Microsoft employees shouldn’t merely focus on the company’s rising stock price or its cloud technology prowess.

Microsoft U.S. president Kate Johnson said Tuesday during Fortune‘s 2019 Most Powerful Women Next Gen summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. that employees who focus too much on share price and products could cause them to lose track of what’s important.

“If you just think about your own products or your own stock price, you aren’t spending time thinking about customer outcomes,” Johnson said. 

It can be challenging to convince Microsoft sales staff to think about customer business outcomes instead of merely focusing on selling products to meet sales goals, Johnson said. But listening to what customers want instead of simply hawking them tech products can pay off with better corporate relationships.

One big customer Microsoft recently landed is the Department of Defense, which awarded the company its Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract that is worth up to $10 billion. 

The Pentagon cloud contract comes amid a challenging time in the tech industry in which employees from companies like Google, Salesforce, and Microsoft been protesting against their own companies for doing government work that they deem to be unethical, among several other reasons.

When asked about the communication between Microsoft leadership and protesting employees, Johnson said “we have a process for it, it starts about being grounded with our purpose.”

“We quickly go to a place of listening to the concern,” Johnson said. “For our employees who are concerned about us providing technology to war fighters, it’s about listening and understanding how does that conflict with our purpose.”

She said senior leadership made the call that “if we’re really going to be a company that uses a technology platform to enable the world to achieve more, then we need to provide technology to a government that we elected to protect our freedoms.”

Johnson added that Microsoft lets concerned employees move to other parts of the business if they don’t want to “work on services that directly impact that contract,” referring to the JEDI contract.

When asked whether Microsoft’s senior leadership were united in taking the JEDI contract, Johnson said, “I don’t know the answer to that” and then explained that she’s more interested in reflecting on how the decision came to be and how it

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Grace Potter Opens Up About Her Miscarriage, Ending Her Marriage, and Forgiving Herself

Grace Potter, the Grammy-nominated singer, songwriter, and actress, thought she would never make music again.

After experiencing the end of a marriage, the breakup of her band, and a painful miscarriage, Potter found herself questioning everything. 

“I was mad at music,” said Potter at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen Summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. Now 34, Potter began her professional recording career at just 19. “I didn’t know who to blame…I had grown up knowing how to make music and how to emote but I wasn’t at peace with why music had chosen me.”

She took a nearly-five-year break from the spotlight and stopped making music entirely, before returning with her solo album Daylight this fall. 

“I needed time to heal and process the breakup of my band and the loss of self,” Potter said.

But she soon found that daring to express her internalized turmoil in a public setting was the key to repairing herself.

“I went through a miscarriage, and so many of us have,” she said. “I know that’s something that’s completely normal, but I only know that now.” In fact, Potter went to a women’s circle the evening she miscarried — and when she shared her loss with “a group of people I had never met before,” she discovered that more than half of the women in the room had experienced their own miscarriages. 

“I thought, maybe they happen all the time, but maybe they’re a metaphor for everything else that we don’t talk about … things like falling in love with someone while you’re already married,” said Potter, who has some experience with that scenario, too. She fell in love with her record producer, Eric Valentine, and married him in 2017–the same year she finalized her divorce with former drummer Matthew Burr.

“It’s amazing how many [similar] stories have come back to me,” she said. “I was inviting truth for myself and it made it possible for other people to come to me in a way I had never experienced before.”

Potter said these experiences and some early advice she received from her mother were her guiding forces in her decision to ultimately release new music. “My mother said, ‘Grace, fame is a curse. Find a way to be famous in small circles and be big to a few people. Trying to cover the world with your icing isn’t going to work, it’s too much.” 

Plus, she added, “I was just broke.”

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The ‘Blameless Post Mortem’ and Other Techniques That Spur Innovation

At personal styling service Stitch Fix, employees gather for a “blameless post mortem” whenever there’s a big problem.

“You bring everyone into the room and the rules are there are no rules—no pointing fingers,” Stitch Fix chief technology officer Cathy Polinsky said at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Next Gen summit in Laguna Niguel, Calif. on Tuesday. “It’s okay to make a mistake, but lets all learn together.” 

Failures, distractions, mistakes, lessons—whatever you want to call them, companies face a myriad of possible problems while innovating and planning for the future. Staying ahead in a shifting tech landscape means being in the right mindset from the beginning, knowing you won’t be stagnant in a job, but instead always pushing forward with new ideas.

“It’s not right for everyone,” Sigal Cordeiro, vice president of mobility and Maven car rental service at General Motors, noted. “For a lot of people it’s extremely uncomfortable. Hiring the right people and explaining from the beginning is key.” 

Once the right people are hired, the most important way to keep innovation flowing are to be hyper focused. “It can be very distracting if you don’t have a clear vision of what you want to do, where you want to go,” Cordeiro added. “And resources are limited.” 

Polinsky said she saw this at both Salesforce, where she previously worked, and Stitch Fix — a need to juggle putting enough resources into innovation while not losing focus. For Stitch Fix that meant deciding against launching sales in multiple verticals of clothing all at once. The company started with just clothing for women then later rolled out menswear, childrens’, and international. 

Julie Larson-Green, chief experience officer of experience management company Qualtrics, said there’s one part of the journey that many people forget. They focus on the outcome, but they forget to think ahead of time about things like what are the opportunities and what are the risks. She says you need to get colleagues to agree on that at the beginning of a new project. 

“Innovation is idea plus impact. Everything you do you have to put through a scientific method of hypothesis, solution, measurement, then circle back around,” Larson-Green said.

Another key is frequently communicating with everyone involved, says Cordeiro. “There is no over-communicating. The message needs to be reinforced every time you have an opportunity.” 

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