Steven Jong for STC Vice President

Candidate Information Sheet

Here is the information I provided to the Nominating Committee, very slightly edited. Sorry about the length, but they ask a lot of questions! (A shorter, more conversational version is here.)

My photo

Steven Jong

 
Associate Fellow
Principal Technical Writer, Oracle, Marlborough, Massachusetts
 

What year did you become a member of the STC?

1982

 

 

 

List the STC communities that you belong to. This could be SIG or geographic communities.

Detail your STC service, honors, and awards. Organize your information as follows: society activities, then community activities, then any society and/or community awards, in reverse chronological order (that is, most recent first).

Society:

Community:

Awards:

Detail your education and other (non-STC) professional affiliations, honors and awards. Include your degree, major field of study, and full name of the granting institution.

Education:

Non-STC Professional Affiliations:

Describe your professional experience related to technical communications and leadership.

What experiences do you have working with diverse and global teams?

In my career I’ve worked on teams that were diverse in geography, culture, religion, gender, race, age, and orientation. I think our teams were stronger for the range of approaches and viewpoints the members brought with them. I’ve learned from everyone I’ve worked with, and I think I’ve contributed something to each team.

I currently work on diverse teams, with members across the US as well as in China, India, and South Korea. There are many challenges in working with people with different cultures, time zones, and even “weekends.” For example, while I have the luxury of working in my native tongue, some of my colleagues work in a second language (which is more than I could do!). To communicate successfully in English, I have to meet them more than halfway, writing and speaking with precision and clarity. It always helps to be patient and respectful. Finally, we always have to remember that it’s late at night or early in the morning for someone on every international conference call.

Provide an example of a time when your integrity was tested and you prevailed.

Two short stories:

As a company sports league commissioner, I thought of a rules change that would benefit the league as a whole but hurt my own team. I could have kept the idea to myself. But instead I proposed the change at a captains’ meeting, recommended its passage, explained my conflicting positions, and voted against it as my team’s captain. (My proposal passed.)

At a get-acquainted meeting with our boss’s new manager, our trainer sang the praises of a document I’d written that had reduced his setup effort from months to days. Partway through his paean, I realized that he was talking about a document written by Engineering, not me. I could have kept my mouth shut; his praise was making me look great! Instead, I corrected the record.

What are your personal reasons for wanting to serve in this role?

I’m a second-generation technical writer and lifelong technical communicator. To me, our profession isn’t just a paycheck or a stepping-stone to another field—it’s my career and my passion. I enjoy my work, I improve documentation, and I bring new people into the profession and the Society. I’m fully committed!

Likewise, I’ve been an STC member for 34 years. I know its value to me and to the profession. I also know the Board literally inside and out. I’ve served on the Board and on Board-level committees. But I’ve also served as chapter president, and dealt with STC as head of an independent organization. I’ve worked directly with six STC presidents. I offer a unique combination of skills, experience, and perspective.

Serving as President won’t bring my employer new business, advance my career, or complete my personal brand. And I know what I’m in for; this is not a ceremonial job. So why would I want it? Because I can make a difference! I think I can move STC to a healthier path.

What positions have you held that involved similar duties and responsibilities of the office you are seeking, what specific responsibilities were assigned to that position, and what was the result of your efforts?

As the first chair of the STC Certification Commission, I was responsible for implementing, after 46 years of talk, a certification program. I worked with a dedicated group of commissioners, the Executive Director, volunteers, a few consultants, borrowed STC staff, and a tight budget. We incorporated the commission; drew up budgets; designed policies and procedures; developed a competency model, evaluation criteria, and a judging process; recruited and trained evaluators; built a processing pipeline; and set up a website. In some cases we used STC as a model but in others we created entirely unique elements.

I chaired monthly board calls, organized meetings, and created content; negotiated business relationships with STC, other organizations, and vendors; made personnel decisions; and represented the Commission to the membership and the Board.

The result of our efforts was the successful development and launch of two separate certifications, and the first certification of applicants.

Have you ever had difficulty getting others to accept your ideas (for example, to change or improve a system)? What was your approach? Did it work?

The STC Board of Directors is a challenging venue in which to advance ideas. High-drive leaders, used to taking charge and getting their own way, discover that they have just one vote and have to persuade peers to agreed before they can succeed. Some never do. Proposals get transmuted, and their origins are lost. Ideas don’t come with nametags. People may forget who proposed an idea, but it only matters that they adopt it.

When I served on the Board previously, I did my homework on the issues to marshal and arrange facts. But I also asserted, persuaded, and negotiated. I used logic, humor, and my passion for what I believed in. I listened, made myself heard inside the room, and built relationships outside it. Finally, I learned enough of Robert's Rules of Order to maneuver effectively. (Parliamentary procedure is very important for board members.)

I knew I’d arrived and that my approach was working when my ideas began to be advanced by peers who were echoing me without realizing it.

Provide an example of a time when you requested more information or declined to make a decision without more information.

For a documentation project I led, a signoff reviewer didn’t accept our approach, but wouldn’t say what approach he wanted. This was a blocking issue because we had to have his approval. Management asked me to provide an estimate of how long it would take to implement the reviewer’s required changes. But what were they? We didn’t know. At my suggestion we, along with our management, met with him to listen to his needs, but he was vague.

In light of the unclear requirements, someone on the team wanted to give an estimate of 2 years to complete the work! I knew that response wouldn’t do. Instead, I declared that we couldn’t provide an estimate at all until we knew what he wanted from us.

In the meantime, I incorporated review comments on hand into my book to keep advancing the ball. After 2 weeks we got the information we needed, and I could reduce the estimate for my book by 2 weeks because I had kept working.

Describe a decision you made within the last year that you are very proud of.

Last fall I took over as managing editor of the moribund New England Chapter news website. I was able to revive it as a vehicle for timely communication with chapter members. We published about two articles a month through the chapter year: promotional articles before each upcoming program and news articles afterwards, reviews and how-to articles, and coverage of our regional conference.

But I’m also pleased that the website gave some new members publishing credits, and attracted new volunteers into the mix. With their help we published fine articles that I enjoyed reading!

Give an example of a time when you performed duties that were beyond the scope of your job description. How did you handle this experience?

As a contractor at a startup, I was asked to compile a last-minute RFP response—no writing involved. Unfortunately, given the scarce resources of the company, contributors scrambled late on the night before the deadline to complete their sections, and each section was substantially different in tone, style, and organization. Just doing what I was asked for would have left an incoherent, amateurish document.

Instead, I reformatted the pieces into one style and organization as much as I could in the time available, and judiciously edited to unify organization and terminology. It was an exhilarating, if exhausting, experience. You’ve earned your Word stripes when you fix broken autonumbering at 3 am.

Afterwards I recommended ways to avoid cutting things so close in future. I also went back and split the individual pieces out into reusable chunks, so that for the next RFP they could assemble them from a directory quickly and efficiently.

Give an example of when you worked on an extremely difficult assignment with little or no resources. What did you do and what was the result?

As chair of the Certification Task Force, I was responsible for collecting the information the Board needed to make a decision on offering certification. This issue had been discussed for 46 years, with strongly held views on both sides. All previous efforts had failed. Associations typically spend a million dollars establishing effective, legally defensible certification programs, but our budget over this period was zero.

As committee chair I:

The result was that the Board accepted our recommendation and approved a certification program.

Give an example of something you failed at, what you learned from it, and how it changed your perspective.

I didn’t get a management job I wanted. It was the worst interview of my life—or was it the best?

The hiring manager said in the phone screen that writers had no time to document the product because of a stream of unplanned, rush-job release notes. So did every in-person interviewer. Then the product manager came in. She asked for my impressions. I mentioned what I’d heard, intending to pivot to my approach to solving the problem. Instead, she immediately took offense, denying there was any problem and asking who’d said there was. I’d identified the root cause. I thought of being obsequious, but realized if I did that I’d never be effective there. Instead I stuck up for writers whom I’d never met. No surprise: I never heard from them again.

What did I learn? Some jobs are not worth pursuing. Based on their plight, I quietly applied my ideas at my own job. And I learned that a question can be as revealing as an answer. My perspective now? Keep your eyes open going into new situations.

How do you identify and manage risk?

Risk avoidance leads to inaction, and an inactive board is an ineffective board. I have experience and formal training in risk assessment. Experience tells me how similar efforts, or my own previous efforts, have run into difficulties, so I know what can go wrong. I also generate “what-if” questions to suss out risks. Here are two effective formal methodologies I have used:

Once you’ve identified risks, you develop mitigation plans. But since any meaningful action carries risk, another approach is to take advantage of it; that is, frame risk so that it spurs, rather than inhibits, action.

What makes you someone that others would want to work with?

My performance reviews say I’m agreeable and pleasant to work with, so I have that going for me. I strive for calm, and people notice that I have a calm, respectful demeanor.

I get stuff done. As a peer, I more than pull my weight; I have a long track record of being conscientious and reliable. I keep my commitments. I’m a good listener, and I try to understand other peoples’ perspectives. I am responsive to requests.

As a manager, I try to be the kind of person I’d want to manage me. I don’t ask my people to do anything I wouldn’t do myself. I am supportive; I intercept criticism but distribute praise. (My team’s mistakes are mine; their good ideas are theirs.) Perhaps as a result, I’ve gotten job leads from people who wanted me to come manage them again.

What do you think are the top one to two qualities of a good board member for STC?

The most important quality for a good STC Board member is breadth of perspective. Some people come onto the Board thinking they represent one member constituency when they really need to consider instead all members and the Society, as well as practitioners and the profession as a whole. Other people, accustomed to running organizations or their own company, adopt a hands-on approach that soon becomes micromanagement and drives away volunteers. The Board’s perspective must be strategic (where do we need to go tomorrow?), not just tactical (what do we need to do today?).

The other important quality is the ability to work collaboratively. The Board can only direct the Executive Director; the staff reports to the Executive Director, and everyone else is a volunteer. No one on the Board, not even the President, gets to dictate or order. (I’ve seen attempts to do so go badly awry and yield nothing but ill will and resistance.) Instead, you have to motivate, persuade, and influence—in and out of the boardroom.

Provide links to any social media accounts you wish to share. (Examples include a link to your Twitter handle, Facebook, or a blog.)

Twitter: ErnestScribbler

Facebook: facebook.com/stevefjong

Blog: stevenjong.net/WordPress26

As president, you are in the spotlight as the “face of STC.” You must sometimes set aside your personal opinion and represent the society; you might also be the target of member frustration or anger (and praise). Describe a time when you were in a similar situation and how you handled it.

To be an effective member of a board, you should advocate what you believe in. But once a decision is made you must set aside your opinion and support the decision of the board without reservation. Because every decision upsets somebody, the best practice is to do what’s right for the organization, acknowledge criticism without undercutting the decision, and move on. But the head of the organization is the de facto owner of all decisions and staff issues, responsible not only for what is said but what is heard. The President takes the heat.

As the “face” of the Certification Commission I experienced this personally. While we were establishing our process, I had to explain to some unhappy applicants why their assessments were delayed. (Honest apologies, plus a little flexibility, went a long way toward customer satisfaction.) Once we were operating, a few angry applicants who weren’t awarded certification confronted me, demanding to know why. (In this case we adhered to our standards.)

What would be the primary goal you have as president? What would be your approach to achieve this goal?

My primary goal as President would be to lay the foundation for a healthy, vibrant, and growing STC, providing value to both members and practitioners so that they, and their audiences, can succeed. This is broader than the strategic goals of the past 15–20 years.

My approach would be to persuade the organization to look around (get outside the boardroom mentality and the trap of “boardroom groupthink”), get around (benchmark with other organizations that have overcome similar challenges), and ask around (convene focus groups of both younger members and non-member practitioners, using members at larger companies as facilitators).

The information we obtain by looking around, getting around, and asking around would both persuade the organization of the need for transformation and suggest specific tactics we can use to achieve the goal.

Give an example of a time you developed a strategy for something and how you separated the strategic and tactical parts of the effort/initiative.

As team leader for an enterprise network management product, I wrote documentation plans for each release, but also an overarching documentation architecture. The documentation plans listed documents, contents, writers, and schedules for the next release; the architecture plan laid out a 3-year, multi-release plan to achieve a complete, unified documentation set.

To create the architecture plan, I had to understand the ongoing plans for the product and then establish an overall documentation organization (what went where) that served as a vision to be reached incrementally over multiple releases.

Describe your governance or leadership philosophy, skills, and experience. Provide an example of a situation where you applied your philosophy to address a challenge and discuss the result.

I’ve managed and led groups. What’s the difference? Managers tell, but leaders also persuade. Leaders need to know the way, go the way, and show the way. I believe in honesty, transparency, clarity, accepting criticism and sharing praise. I find listening is better than talking; trust offered is trust returned; and setting high personal standards, and treating people fairly and respectfully, give best results.

I’ve led in businesses and non-profits. I try to be the kind of leader I want to be led by: calm, supportive, and positive. I have my stuff together, and people ask to work for me again.

I led a team of 12 writers assigned to document a critical new enterprise-level product. I created the information architecture, but I also introduced a new documentation methodology and presentation. I couldn’t make them use it; I had to persuade them. Persuade them I did, and we created award-winning documentation. We were a good team and did good work. And we socialized for years afterwards.

This role requires you think strategically about the Society’s future goals and objectives, while maintaining fiscal viability in a changing landscape. What experiences have prepared you for the strategic planning and fiscal oversight required of this role?

My experiences at corporations, the Board, the Certification Commission, a community chorus, and even at company sports leagues have given me experience in strategic planning, shoestring budgeting, and fiscal oversight.

As with technical writing itself, fiscal responsibility means to do the best you can with the resources available. I served on the STC Board in 2008, when the Society fell a year or two away from insolvency. To meet that crisis we adopted a financial plan to be viable in 5 years. The measure of that plan’s success is that we are still here to talk about it.

I’ve had formal training in strategic thinking, planning, critical decision-making, and problem solving. I’m experienced making tactical and strategic decisions in for-profit and non-profit organizations. I’ve also had budget responsibility in these organizations. I have independently studied strategic thinking, decision-making, and the impact of demographics. I understand how we operate and how members view us.

This role demands some of your time during normal business hours. Describe the corporate support or alternative resolution that you currently have in place to allow your full participation in STC board activities.

Oracle, my current employer, is a Corporate Value Program member, reimburses STC membership, and has an excellent record of supporting STC and other professional organizations. I have been supported in my past and current Society-level activities at the highest level of the organization (business unit), and I am assured that support will continue.

If you have previous experience working on a board (including the STC board), please provide a brief overview of the board and your role.

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