Lizard Wrangling: Mitchell on Mozilla & More

Mozilla

Practicing Open: Expanding Participation in Hiring Leadership

August 23rd, 2016

Last fall I came across a hiring practice that surprised me. We were hiring for a pretty senior position. When I looked into the interview schedule I realized that we didn’t have a clear process for the candidate to meet a broad cross-section of Mozillians.  We had a good clear process for the candidate to meet peers and people in the candidate’s organization.  But we didn’t have a mechanism to go broader.

This seemed inadequate to me, for two reasons.  First, the more senior the role, the broader a part of Mozilla we expect someone to be able to lead, and the broader a sense of representing the entire organization we expect that person to have.  Our hiring process should reflect this by giving the candidate and a broader section of people to interact.  

Second, Mozilla’s core DNA is from the open source world, where one earns leadership by first demonstrating one’s competence to one’s peers. That makes Mozilla a tricky place to be hired as a leader. So many roles don’t have ways to earn leadership through demonstrating competence before being hired. We can’t make this paradox go away. So we should tune our hiring process to do a few things:

  • Give candidates a chance to demonstrate their competence to the same set of people who hope they can lead. The more senior the role, the broader a part of Mozilla we expect someone to be able to lead.
  • Expand the number of people who have a chance to make at least a preliminary assessment of a candidate’s readiness for a role. This isn’t the same as the open source ideal of working with someone for a while. But it is a big difference from never knowing or seeing or being consulted about a candidate. We want to increase the number of people who are engaged in the selection and then helping the newly hired person succeed.

We made a few changes right away, and we’re testing out how broadly these changes might be effective.  Our immediate fix was to organize a broader set of people to talk to the candidate through a panel discussion. We aimed for a diverse group, from role to gender to geography. We don’t yet have a formalized way to do this, and so we can’t yet guarantee that we’re getting a representational group or that other potential criteria are met. However, another open source axiom is that “the perfect is the enemy of the good.” And so we started this with the goal of continual improvement. We’ve used the panel for a number of interviews since then.

We looked at this in more detail during the next senior leadership hire. Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, our Chief Marketing Officer, jumped on board, suggesting we try this out with the Vice President of Marketing Communications role he had open. Over the next few months Jane Finette (executive program manager, Office of the Chair) worked closely with Jascha to design and pilot a program of extending participation in the selection of our next VP of MarComm. Jane will describe that work in the next post. Here, I’ll simply note that the process was well received. Jane is now working on a similar process for the Director level.

Practicing “Open” at Mozilla

August 17th, 2016

Mozilla works to bring openness and opportunity for all into the Internet and online life.  We seek to reflect these values in how we operate.  At our founding it was easy to understand what this meant in our workflow — developers worked with open code and project management through bugzilla.  This was complemented with an open workflow through the social media of the day — mailing lists and the chat or “messenger” element, known as Internet Relay Chat (“irc”).  The tools themselves were also open-source and the classic “virtuous circle” promoting openness was pretty clear.

Today the setting is different.  We were wildly successful with the idea of engineers working in open systems.  Today open source code and shared repositories are mainstream, and in many areas the best of practices and expected and default. On the other hand, the newer communication and workflow tools vary in their openness, with some particularly open and some closed proprietary code.  Access and access control is a constant variable.  In addition, at Mozilla we’ve added a bunch of new types of activities beyond engineering, we’ve increased the number of employees dramatically and we’re a bit behind on figuring out what practicing open in this setting means.  

I’ve decided to dedicate time to this and look at ways to make sure our goals of building open practices into Mozilla are updated and more fully developed.  This is one of the areas of focus I mentioned in an earlier post describing where I spend my time and energy.  

So far we have three early stage pilots underway sponsored by the Office of the Chair:

  • Opening up the leadership recruitment process to more people
  • Designing inclusive decision-making practices
  • Fostering meaningful conversations and exchange of knowledge across the organization, with a particular focus on bettering communications between Mozillians and leadership.

Follow-up posts will have more info about each of these projects.  In general the goal of these experiments is to identify working models that can be adapted by others across Mozilla. And beyond that, to assist other Mozillians figure out new ways to “practice open” at Mozilla.

Increasing Information Flow at Mozilla

August 15th, 2016

Information flow between leaders and individual contributors is critical to an effective organization. The ability to better understand the needs of the organization, to gather input across different domains, getting other perspectives before we make a decision and change management, help create a clueful and informed organisation.

This quarter we are piloting a number of untypical discussion sessions between leaders and individuals across Mozilla, whereby leaders will engage with participants who are not usually in their domain. There are hypotheses we’d like to test.  One is that cross-team, multiple-level discussion and information flow will: prevent us from being blind-sided, increase our shared understanding, and empower people to participate and lead in productive ways.  A second hypothesis is that there is an appetite for this type of discussion and some templates and structure would make it easier for people to know how to approach it.

We have 9 leaders who have agreed to host a discussion session this quarter, and we’re currently in the process of inviting participants from across the organization. Currently, there are 4 types of discussions we’ve identified that could take place, there are likely more:

  • Pulse (“Taking the Pulse”) – allow a leader to quickly test an idea and/or get insights from the wider community about the current state of Mozilla, or their domain area.
  • Ideation – to generate insights from a targeted and diverse group of participants.
  • Decision – to ask for feedback regarding a decision from a broad group of people beyond the typical domain to ensure they are not blind-sided, and to provide key diverse input.
  • Change Management – creates a shared understanding for a decision already made.

If these sessions prove useful, we may create a useful toolkit for leadership on how to run disperse discussion sessions, and gather input from across Mozilla. And in addition, create a toolkit for individual contributors for understanding and contributing to important topics across Mozilla.

We’ll plan to share more updates next month.

Update on the United Nations High Level Panel on Women’s Economic Empowerment

July 22nd, 2016

It is critical to ensure that women are active participants in digital life. Without this we won’t reach full economic empowerment. This is the perspective and focus I bring to the UN High Level Panel for Women’s Economic Empowerment (HLP), which met last week in Costa Rica, hosted by President Luis Guillermo Solis.

(Here is the previous blog post on this topic.)

Many thanks to President Solis, who led with both commitment and authenticity. Here he shows his prowess with selfie-taking:

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 12.32.19 PM

Members of the High Level Panel – From Left to Right: Tina Fordham, Citi Research; Laura Tyson, UC Berkeley; Alejandra Mora, Government of Costa Rica; Ahmadou Ba, AllAfrica Global Media; Renana Jhabvala, WIEGO; Elizabeth Vazquez, WeConnect; Jeni Klugman, Harvard Business School; Mitchell Baker, Mozilla; Gwen Hines, DFID-UK; Phumzile Mlambo, UN Women; José Manuel Salazar Xirinachs, International Labour Organization; Simona Scarpaleggia, Ikea; Winnie Byanyima, Oxfam; Fiza Farhan, Buksh Foundation; Karen Grown, World Bank; Margo Thomas, HLP Secretariat.

Photo Credit: Luis Guillermo Solis, President, Costa Rica

In the meeting we learned about actions the Panel members have initiated, and provided feedback and guidelines on the first draft of the HLP report. The goal for the report is to be as concrete as possible in describing actions in women’s economic empowerment which have shown positive results so that interested parties could adopt these successful practices. An initial version of the report will be released in September, with the final report in 2017.  In the meantime, Panel members are also initiating, piloting and sometimes scaling activities that improve women’s economic empowerment.

As Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, the Executive Director of UN Women often says, the best report will be one that points to projects that are known to work. One such example is a set of new initiatives, interventions and commitments to be undertaken in the Punjab, announced by the Panel Member and Deputy from Pakistan, Fiza Farhan and Mahwish Javaid.

Mozilla, too, is engaged in a set of new initiatives. We’ve been tuning our Mozilla Clubs program, which are on-going events to teach Web Literacy, to be interesting and more accessible to women and girls. We’ve entered into a partnership with UN Women to deepen this work and the pilots are underway. If you’d like to participate, consider applying your organizational, educational, or web skills to start a Mozilla Club for women and girls in your area. Here are examples of existing clubs for women in Nairobi and Cape Town.

Mozilla is also involved in the theme of digital inclusion as a cross-cutting, overarching theme of the HLP report. This is where Anar Simpson, my official Deputy for the Panel, focuses her work. We are liaising with companies in Silicon Valley who are working in the fields of connectivity and distribution of access to explore if, when and and how their projects can empower women economically.  We’re looking to gather everything they have learned about what has been effective. In addition to this information/content gathering task, Mozilla is working with the Panel on the advocacy and publicity efforts of the report.

I joined the Panel because I see it as a valuable mechanism for driving both visibility and action on this topic. Women’s economic empowerment combines social justice, economic growth benefits and the chance for more stability in a fragile world. I look forward to meeting with the UN Panel again in September and reporting back on practical and research-driven initiatives.

Expanding Mozilla’s Boards

June 14th, 2016

This post was originally published on the Mozilla Blog.

In a post earlier this month, I mentioned the importance of building a network of people who can help us identify and recruit potential Board level contributors and senior advisors. We are also currently working to expand both the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation Boards.

The role of a Mozilla Board member

I’ve written a few posts about the role of the Board of Directors at Mozilla.

At Mozilla, we invite our Board members to be more involved with management, employees and volunteers than is generally the case. It’s not that common for Board members to have unstructured contacts with individuals or even sometimes the management team. The conventional thinking is that these types of relationships make it hard for the CEO to do his or her job. We feel differently. We have open flows of information in multiple channels. Part of building the world we want is to have built transparency and shared understandings.

We also prefer a reasonably extended “get to know each other” period for our Board members. Sometimes I hear people speak poorly of extended process, but I feel it’s very important for Mozilla.  Mozilla is an unusual organization. We’re a technology powerhouse with a broad Internet openness and empowerment mission at its core. We feel like a product organization to those from the nonprofit world; we feel like a non-profit organization to those from the Internet industry.

It’s important that our Board members understand the full breadth of Mozilla’s mission. It’s important that Mozilla Foundation Board members understand why we build consumer products, why it happens in the subsidiary and why they cannot micro-manage this work. It is equally important that Mozilla Corporation Board members understand why we engage in the open Internet activities of the Mozilla Foundation and why we seek to develop complementary programs and shared goals.

I want all our Board members to understand that “empowering people” encompasses “user communities” but is much broader for Mozilla. Mozilla should be a resource for the set of people who care about the open Internet. We want people to look to Mozilla because we are such an excellent resource for openness online, not because we hope to “leverage our community” to do something that benefits us.

These sort of distinctions can be rather abstract in practice. So knowing someone well enough to be comfortable about these takes a while. We have a couple of ways of doing this. First, we have extensive discussions with a wide range of people. Board candidates will meet the existing Board members, members of the management team, individual contributors and volunteers. We’ve been piloting ways to work with potential Board candidates in some way. We’ve done that with Cathy Davidson, Ronaldo Lemos, Katharina Borchert and Karim Lakhani. We’re not sure we’ll be able to do it with everyone, and we don’t see it as a requirement. We do see this as a good way to get to know how someone thinks and works within the framework of the Mozilla mission. It helps us feel comfortable including someone at this senior level of stewardship.

What does a Mozilla Board member look like

Job descriptions often get long and wordy. We have those too but, for the search of new Board members, we’ve tried something else this time: a visual role description.

Board member job description for Mozilla Foundation

Board member job description for Mozilla Corporation

Board member job description for Mozilla Foundation

Board member job description for Mozilla Foundation

Here is a short explanation of how to read these visuals:

  • The horizontal lines speaks to things that every Board member should have. For instance, to be a Board member, you have to care about the mission and you have to have some cultural sense of Mozilla, etc. They are a set of things that are important for each and every candidate. In addition, there is a set of things that are important for the Board as a whole. For instance, we could put international experience in there or whether the candidate is a public spokesperson. We want some of that but it is not necessary that every Board member has that.
  • In the vertical green columns, we have the particular skills and expertise that we are looking for at this point.
  • We would expect the horizontal lines not to change too much over time and the vertical lines to change depending on who joins the Board and who leaves.

I invite you to look at these documents and provide input on them. If you have candidates that you believe would be good Board members, send them to the boarddevelopment@mozilla.com mailing list. We will use real discretion with the names you send us.

We’ll also be designing a process for how to broaden participation in the process beyond other Board members. We want to take advantage of the awareness and the cluefulness of the organization. That will be part of a future update.

Update August 2, 2016

Both the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation Board Candidate Profiles have been updated. Cultural Fit has been updated to ‘Values Match’.

MoCo Board Candidate Profile

MoFo Board Candidate Profile

 

Joi Ito changes role and starts new “Practicing Open” project with Mozilla Foundation

June 9th, 2016

Since the Mozilla Foundation was founded in 2003, we’ve grown remarkably – from impact to the size of our staff and global community. We’re indebted to the people whose passion and creativity made this possible, people like Joi Ito.

Joi is a long-time friend of Mozilla. He’s a technologist, a thinker, an activist and an entrepreneur. He’s been a Mozilla Foundation board member for many years. He’s also Director of the MIT Media Lab and was very recently appointed Professor of the Practice by MIT.

As Joi has become more deeply involved with the Media Lab over the past few years, we’ve come to understand that his most important future contributions are, rather than as a Board member, to spur innovative activities that advance the goals of both the Mozilla Foundation and the Media Lab.

The first such project and collaboration between Mozilla and the Media Lab, is an “Open Leadership Camp” for senior executives in the nonprofit and public sectors.

The seeds of this idea have been germinating for a while. Joi and I have had an ongoing discussion about how people build open, participatory, web-like organizations for a year or so now. The NetGain consortium led by Ford, Mozilla and a number of foundations, has shown the pressing need for deeper Internet knowledge in the nonprofit and public sectors. Also, Mozilla’s nascent Leadership Network has been working on how to provide innovative ways for leaders in the more publicly-minded tech space to learn new skills. All these things felt like the perfect storm for a collaborative project on open leadership and to work with other groups already active in this area.

The project we have in mind is simple:

  1. Bring together a set of experienced leaders from ‘open organizations’ and major non-profit and public sector organizations.
  2. Get them working on practical projects that involve weaving open techniques into their organizations.
  3. Document and share the learning as we go.

Topics we’ll cover include everything from design thinking (think: sticky notes) to working in the open (think: github) to the future of open technologies (think: blockchain). The initial camp will run at MIT in early 2017, with Joi and myself as the hosts. Our hope is that a curriculum and method can grow from there to seed similar camps within public-interest leadership programs in many other places.

I’m intensely grateful for Joi’s impact. We’ve been lucky to have him involved with Mozilla and the open Internet. We’re lucky to have him at the Media Lab and I’m looking forward to our upcoming work together.

Chairing Mozilla’s Board

June 1st, 2016

Building a Network of People

In a previous post, I gave an overview of the five general areas I focus on in my role as Founder and Executive Chair of Mozilla. The first of the five areas is the traditional “Chair of the Board” role. Here I’ll give a bit of detail about one initiative I’m currently working on in this area.

In the overview post, I gave the following description of this part of my role:

I work on mission focus, governance, development and operation of the Board and the selection, support and evaluation of the most senior executives. […]Less traditionally, this portion of my role includes an ongoing activity I call “weaving all aspects of Mozilla into a whole.” Mozilla is an organizationally complex mixture of communities, legal entities and programs. Unifying this into “one Mozilla” is important.”

My current focus chairing the Board is on building a network of people who can help us identify and recruit potential Board level contributors and senior advisors. I view this as a multi-year development program. There are a few reasons for this:

  1. Mozilla is an unusual organization and it takes a while to understand us.
  2. We intend to increase diversity across a number of axis, from gender to geography.

A conscious effort to expand the set of people who interact with and from whom Board level candidates might come is critical. So while we are looking to expand each of the Mozilla Foundation and Mozilla Corporation Boards in 2016, the goal here is much longer-term and broader.

This work is also part of the development of the Mozilla Leadership Network (MLN), a new initiative being developed by the Mozilla Foundation team. The idea underpinning the Mozilla Leadership Network is that Mozilla is most effective when many people feel connected to us and feel Mozilla gives extra impact to their actions on behalf of an open Internet. The MLN seeks to provide these connection points. We hope the MLN will include a wide range of people, from students figuring out their path in life to accomplished professionals and recognized thought leaders.

Both Mozilla and I have a long history of connecting with individual contributors and with local and regional communities. This year I’ve added this additional focus on senior advisors and potential Board level contributors. This is an ongoing process. So far I’ve had three or four brainstorming sessions focused on expanding the network of people we might want to get to know. From this point, we do some information gathering to get to know more about people we now have pointers to. Then we start to get to know people, to see (a) who has a good feel for the open Internet, Mozilla, or the kinds of initiatives we’re focused on; and (b) who has both interest and time to engage with Mozilla more.

I’ve had detailed conversations with nine of the people we’ve identified, sometimes multiple times and hours. Of these, approximately 75% are women and two third are located outside the US, representing our interest in increasing our diversity along multiple axis.

These conversations are not about “do you want to be a board member?”. They are pretty detailed explorations of a person’s sense of the Open Internet, Mozilla’s role, our initiatives, challenges and opportunities. The conversations are invitations to engage with Mozilla at any level and explorations of how appealing our current initiatives might be.

In the next week or so I’ll do a follow up post about the Board search in particular.

The Mozilla communities are part of what I love most about Mozilla. I remain deeply involved with our current communities through the work of the Participation team. This new focus broadens the possibilities. The number of people who look to Mozilla to help build an Internet that is open and accessible is both motivating and inspiring.

What is the Role of Mozilla’s Executive Chair?

May 27th, 2016

What does the Executive Chair do at Mozilla? This question comes up frequently in conversations with people inside and outside of Mozilla. I want to answer that question and clearly define my role at Mozilla. The role of Executive Chair is unique and entails many different responsibilities. In particular at Mozilla, the Executive Chair is something more than the well understood role of “Chairman of the Board.” Because Mozilla is a very different sort of organization, the role of Executive Chair can be highly customized and personal. It is not generally an operational role although I may initiate and oversee some programs and initiatives.   

In this post I’ll outline the major areas I’m focused on. In subsequent posts I’ll go into more detail.

#1. Chair the Board

This portion of my role is similar to the more traditional Chair role. At Mozilla in this capacity I work on mission focus, governance, development and operation of the Board and the selection, support and evaluation of the most senior executives. In our case these are Mark Surman, Executive Director of Mozilla Foundation and Chris Beard, CEO of Mozilla Corporation. Less traditionally, this portion of my role  includes an ongoing activity I call “weaving all aspects of Mozilla into a whole.”  Mozilla is an organizationally complex mixture of communities, legal entities and programs.  Unifying this into “one Mozilla” is important.

#2. Represent Mozilla and our mission to Mozillians and the world

This is our version of the general “public spokesperson” role. In this part of my role, I speak at conferences, events and to the media to communicate Mozilla’s message. The goal of this portion of my role is to grow our influence and educate the world on issues that are important to us. This role is particularly important as we transform the company and the products we create, and as we refocus on entirely new challenges to the Open Web, interoperability, privacy and security.

#3. Reform the ways in which Mozilla values are reflected in our culture, management and leadership

This is the core of the work that is intensely customized for Mozilla. It is an area where Mozilla looks to me for leadership, and for which I have a unique vision. Mozilla’s core DNA is a mix of the open source/free software movement and the open architecture of the Internet. We were born as a radically open, radically participatory organization, unbound to traditional corporate structure. We played a role in bringing the “open” movement into mainstream consciousness. How does and how can this DNA manifest itself today? How do we better integrate this DNA into our current size?  Needless to say I work hand-in-hand with Chris Beard and Mark Surman in these areas.

#4. Strategically advise Mozilla’s technology and product direction

I’ve played this role for just over 20 years now, working closely with Mozilla’s technologists, individual contributors and leadership. I help us take new directions that might be difficult to chart. And in this role I can take risks that may make us uncomfortable in the shorter term but yield us great value over the longer term. By helping to point us towards the cutting edge of our technology, I reinforce the importance of change and adaptation in how we express our values.

#5. Help Mozilla ideas expand into new contexts

I’ve been working with Mark Surman on this topic since he joined us. We’ve expanded our mission and programs into digital literacy and education, journalism, science, women and technology and now the Mozilla Leadership Network. I have also championed Mozilla’s expanded efforts in public policy. I continue to look at how we can do more (and am always open to suggestions).

So these are the different parts of my role. Hopefully it provides you with a framework for understanding what I do and how I see myself interacting with Mozilla. I’m planning to write a series of posts describing the work underway in these areas. Please send comments or feedback or questions to “office of the chair mailing list.” And thanks for your interest in Mozilla.

All Change, All the Time

April 5th, 2016

Mozilla is in a time of change.  For those of us deeply involved with Mozilla, we see this everywhere we turn.  Projects are changing, organizational structures are changing, product direction is under constant discussion, process is changing. Even more disorienting, the changes often don’t seem to be well connected.  And even within a particular group the changes are not always consistent — sometimes there is change after change in direction within the same group.

This amount of change can feel bad.  For many, it’s deeply destabilizing.  Nevertheless, it is required.  We need to be doing this, and the degree of change will not slow down anytime soon.  At least I hope not.  We need massive change to build openness into the next era of the internet and online life.  A working principle for us these days is that  change will be a constant.

Ongoing change is the iteration process through which we test ideas, iterate, change direction (“pivot” in Silicon Valley lingo), take what works, discard what doesn’t and repeat.  On the product side, this is classic Silicon Valley product and idea exploration.  We are also doing the same thing with our tools, engineering processes, organizational structures and skillsets —everything from how we build our software, to our toolchain, to how volunteers and employees interact, to how we build our values into software.

This process to test, iterate, magnify what works and drop what doesn’t can feel inconsistent.  If something doesn’t work well today, then tomorrow we won’t be doing it and we’ll be trying something else.  The new idea you just got used to is gone and now it’s time to talk about a different idea.  And next week there might be yet another focus.

This is where Mozilla is today.  For example, the Firefox team is testing ideas for what keeps Firefox great today.  I like their ideas today better than their ideas nine months ago, or six months ago.  (They probably do too 🙂 .)  That doesn’t mean the previous ideas were bad.  It means they are trying things, iterating, taking what they learn and trying new things.

We should expect this everywhere for a while.  It’s how we design the future.

We  can do a better or worse job of execution during this time of change.  There is a whole genre of literature on start-up iteration, “change management,” and leadership. So here I’ll note two things I find particularly important for Mozilla.

Mozillians identify with the mission, and with the sense of more people having more ability to affect our own lives.  As a result, building grass-roots and distributed understanding and engagement is extremely important and effective at Mozilla.  That in turn requires a bunch of things, which we can dive into shortly.  The key will be finding ways to do this that are also quick and nimble and allow rapid iteration, especially when we don’t have a consensus.

Second, change that is happening *to* me feels different than change that is happening *by* me.  Given Mozilla’s goals of distributed leadership and engagement, I predict that making the change process itself inclusive and empowering is also particularly important and effective at Mozilla.

That’s more change.  I’m excited about these kinds of activities; they should make life better for all of us.  I’ll be working on this, with the work on decision-making as a first step.

Simultaneously I encourage each of us to think about our own adaptive capacity — how do we assess and respond to change, both internal and external?  How do our teams, and how does and should Mozilla?  This is a rich topic for exploration and culture development.

Co-Chairing the US Commerce Department’s Digital Economy Advisory Board

March 29th, 2016

This blog post originally appeared on the Mozilla blog.

The U.S. Department of Commerce has just created a Board of Advisors for topics related to the Digital Economy.  I will participate as one of the two co-chairs, along with Zoë Baird, President and CEO of the Markle Foundation.  The Digital Economy Board of Advisors is to provide regular advice to the Secretary of Commerce from leaders in industry, academia, and civil society on the Department’s new Digital Economy Agenda. The Agenda is focused on advancing the Internet and the digital economy across many frontiers, including promoting innovation, a free and open Internet, trust online, and Internet access for all Americans.

The Board of Advisors has been charged with taking a broad, strategic look at the digital economy, including how best to promote innovation and development of new technologies, and the impact of Internet policy issues such as cybersecurity and privacy on the digital economy. I expect the the Board of Advisors will consider whether, when, and how the U.S. government should take direct regulatory and policy action, and when not to do so. The Department of Commerce has a key leadership role within the U.S. government on these issues.

Read more about the Commerce Department’s Digital Agenda here and see the Advisory Board’s announced appointments here.

 

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