Mentorship…The Glorious Game of Paying it Forward

Recently, I had the experience of attending an event that provided an unusual opportunity to network, collaborate and share with a group of peers to discuss topics such as career advancement, leadership and professional development. It was a tremendous opportunity to disconnect from the standard noise of day to day life while listening to others and reflecting on some of my own experiences and challenges associated with managing a career amongst the many other wonderful yet demanding aspects of life.

Throughout the days of the event, a topic that was raised over and over again was mentorship. Who had a mentor? Who didn’t? What makes a great mentor and how does one find a mentor?

For some, a mentor was someone with whom they had built a special relationship at a key stage of their career and they maintained that relationship for decades to come. For others, like myself, their career had been peppered with numerous special relationships that provided unique but valuable opportunities for growth, learning and development. And for some, unfortunately, there was a sense that they had missed out on any opportunities to have a mentor, despite the success that they had achieved throughout their careers. This saddened me a bit and caused me to think about how this could be the case. In each of these scenarios, the individuals were bright, driven and high performing individuals.

I started my first job at the age of 18 at a small but very popular local coffee shop. Perhaps a bit later to enter the world of employment than most kids as I was primarily focused on academics and athletics when I was in high school. Of course these days, the athletics part seems like a lifetime ago, but at least I still have a decent head for numbers. It wasn’t a glamourous gig but I loved it. In fact, I devoured everything about the experience. I worked as many hours as I could and I couldn’t learn enough about all the different aspects of the job. To this day, I have an unhealthy obsession with coffee and could make a flat white that would make most hipsters trade the plaid shirt off their backs for just one more cup. A key part of my love of the job came down to who I was working for. The owner of the coffee shop had spent years prior to opening it, learning everything there was to know about coffee. He researched techniques for roasting, blending, preparing and serving coffee. He never stopped learning and he encouraged his staff to share the same passion for the product and service we were providing. He was a coffee god and had earned a tremendous respect within the community for his depth of knowledge and commitment to his trade. I wanted to be just like him. And over the next 5 years while I finished my degree, he taught me more about running a business, motivating a team, selling product and creating a following than any of my undergraduate business courses ever could. At no point, did I ask him to be my mentor nor did he offer. But I would demonstrate interest, and he would provide me with an opportunity to learn. And while these days our paths have literally taken us to opposite ends of the world, I fondly remember those days and consider them to have provided a significant positive foundation of growth for the next 20 years of my life both personally and professionally.

Since that job, I have had multiple other individuals that have taken the time to coach me and provide opportunities that have challenged me in a manner that has resulted in great personal growth and achievement. While not every “boss” I have had has been a formidable role model (trust me, it hasn’t all been sunshine and rainbows), I have been blessed with the opportunity and ability to build relationships with some very intelligent individuals that were willing to invest their time and energy into my development. For each of these opportunities, I am extremely grateful and have done my best to step up to the challenge.

Two years ago, my husband and I joined KPMG as part of an acquisition of a smaller company we were working for. At the time, I wasn’t 100% sure how I would like this new world we were entering into. Up until that point, I had always worked for smaller organizations and appreciated the comradery and close relationships that I was able to build with the people I worked for and with. What I didn’t realize is that even within a “Big 4″ firm, the opportunities for relationship building would be incredibly strong. In fact, success is very much dependent on it. All of a sudden, there was an expert for everything. I remember coming to work one day and learning that there was a “snow clearing expert” in town visiting us. “Really?” I thought, “There is such thing as a Snow clearing expert? And he works with us?” Turns out there was and he was actually quite good. In fact, the firm is full of smart people like that. Even more so, the firm is full of folks that are willing to share what they know and provide opportunities for someone to step up and demonstrate their abilities. And it was in this environment that I felt more empowered and positioned for growth than I had ever been previously. No longer was it about one single person being my mentor. But the opportunity to benefit from the collective experiences of many and step up to multiple interesting challenges presented to me by true leaders in the area of business, management, technology and yes even municipal services.

And that to me at the core is what mentorship is all about. Seeing potential in someone, providing them with an opportunity and encouraging their growth. But it’s a two way street and for every eager person looking to grow and develop, there needs to be others willing to invest in their growth and provide the venue to succeed. It isn’t always a formal relationship. There isn’t always a life changing moment or formal offer or contract of mentorship. Sometimes it’s a bit of insight and recognition on both the mentor and mentee’s part of the positive potential of a relationship and an informal commitment to trying something out.

In Sheryl Sandberg’s book “Lean In” she has a great chapter on mentoring called “Are you My Mentor?” After reading that chapter, it finally hit home to me how lucky I had been in my career so far. I am regularly paired with opportunities to work with leaders that challenge me and allow me to showcase what I am capable of while still coaching me through the areas that I need to grow in. I am also lucky enough to recognize those opportunities and appreciate them for what they are. However I have come to appreciate that not everybody has been that lucky or potentially not everybody is comfortable stepping forward to seize an opportunity for mentorship when they are given one.

Which is why I think that for any aspiring mentor or great leader, it is important to appreciate those that don’t lean in or stand up. For those folks, we need to make that extra effort to help them see their potential and understand the opportunities for growth that exist just past their scope of vision. We need to match them with coaches and sponsors that help them recognize their true potential and encourage them to maximize their opportunities for growth in the way they are most comfortable.

So in summary, upon reflection of my own career to date, I have two main points that I challenge you to consider if you have made it this far:

  1. If you are in the building stage of your career (which arguably we all are, aren’t we?), are you recognizing and seizing the opportunities that exist for you to learn from others and step up to the plate? Are you maximizing the outcomes of opportunities that leaders are giving you to differentiate yourself and prove your potential? And most importantly, are you appreciating and showing gratitude for the opportunities you have been given? Don’t let them pass by unnoticed.
  2. If you are in a position of leadership, what are you doing to invest in those around you? Do you only provide opportunities to those that chase them or are you seeking potential in those that might not yet have the courage or awareness to step forward? Remember that some of the greatest blossoms might start from a little deeper in the soil. I don’t know if that’s actually true since gardening isn’t my specialty but you get the idea right?

I think that within a career, you can never stop growing. But as you progress through your career, there is a responsibility to give back. Not too long ago, I was lucky enough to sit with someone that I consider to be a wonderful mentor and a great leader. After the discussion I thanked him for his insights and for taking the time to coach me the way that he has. His only response…”Just remember to pay it forward”. A simple reply but with significant impact on me. And it is something that I plan to dedicate a significant focus towards for at least the next 20 years of my career.

Using Content Type Based Folders in SharePoint

When configuring document libraries in SharePoint that will contain folders, a good practice is to leverage the use of Content Type based folders as opposed to the standard basic folder that is enabled by default. Using a folder based on a content type provides the following benefits:

Folder Metadata!

You can add metadata to the folder which will help describe it better within the library. A common type of metadata that is useful is “folder scope notes” or “may contain” which is a column that outlines the type of information that might be stored in the folder. This helps drive better compliance but also provides usability benefits to end users. Another useful metadata field might be “Folder Number” or “Sort Order” which can help with how the folders are listed when alphabetic or date based columns do not align with how you wish to sort.

Limit Folder Creation!

You can choose where folders can be created. With content types, you can choose which content types are enabled under the New Button on specific folders. Therefore you can disable the use of folders by removing that content type on the levels you do not want it enabled. I typically do this after 1-2 levels of folders as I do not wish to have any more.

Level 1

Level 2

Manage View Availability!

You can select which views appear in specific folders. This allows for a very rich drill down experience by setting which views appear as a user navigates through folders. There is an administrative overhead of setting this up, but in the end, you can determine which columns appear in views as users select specific folders for navigation.

Where to Start?

To create a folder content type, simply create a new content type that inherits from the default folder Content Type. Then configure the way you would any other SharePoint content type.

Ironically, the one place this approach typically causes me pain is in areas where I wish to use the Content Organizer in a Records site. In these cases, the control that you use to identify the destination folder doesn’t play well with content type based folders.

Anatomy of the Search Results Page in SharePoint 2013

One of the things I have always appreciated about the SharePoint search interface is the ability to configure it to specifically meet your needs for a particular type of content area.  This has only improved in SharePoint 2013 as the interfaces for selecting and prioritizing refiners has evolved significantly over the years to provide a better search experience after the user has submitted their query (reactive search).

The search results page is comprised of a variety of web parts that complete the user experience related to search. You can reorder, remove or add web parts to further enhance the experience. The key is recognizing that to customize your unique experience, all you need is to Edit the Search Results Page.

Some of the common web parts on a Search Results page include:

Search Box – The location a user will enter their search query. You can configure this web part to do things such as:

  • Redirect to a specific search results page which will thereby reset the search query and start a new one.
  • Filter the web parts on the page.  By filtering the web parts on the page, you will be further refining the search results. It’s important to understand the difference between this and the above option as they will provide a very different search experience.
  • Display the search navigation drop down which appears on your site collections if you have the Search Center settings enabled.

Search Navigation – A web part that provides a tabbed interface to allow a user to refine search results based on some predefined parameters such as result sources (scopes) or content sources.  This web part reads from the Search Settings (Under Site Administration) page of your site collection where you can configure Titles and Pages URLs for the predefined results pages you wish to have appear in your Search Center navigation.  These pages typically will contain web parts that have been filtered to only display a subset of data based on predefined properties.

Search Results

As you can imagine, this web part displays…wait for it…wait for it…search results.  I know, I know, I didn’t see that coming either.  But the fact is this web part is where the results of the search query will be displayed.  You can configure this web part by choosing how many results are to be displayed, how items are displayed and whether they leverage display templates related to the type of result or whether they use the same template for all results.  This web part also allows for preferences such as whether the search results will list duplicate items independently or group together.


Finally one of the most powerful web parts for providing an enhanced search experience is the Search Refinement web part. This web part drives which facets users can select to further refine their search results so that a more specific subset can be listed.  Things you can do by modifying this web part include choosing which properties appear as refiners within in the page, what order they appear in and whether they are single select refiners or multiple select. Depending on the content that is being returned, there may be advantages to fine tuning this web part so that very specific metadata values are displayed. For example in a Contract Management Search Center, you might be interested in displaying custom metadata such as Contract Type, Customer or Department beyond some of the more common default options such as Result Types and Author.

So what does this all mean?

Well the key point here is that out of the box, SharePoint will provide you with a Search Center site template and Search Results page that is already configured to provide a very effective and intuitive search experience. But depending on your business requirements, you may want to extend this further. Many organizations are unaware of the options that they have to fine tune this experience to suit their needs.

SharePoint 2013 – Invalid Field Name Error on Publishing Site

SharePoint Server 2013 offers a Design Manager tool that allows you to export your custom look and feel on one site collection as a wsp file and then import it into another site collection. Overall the concept works quite nicely however if you have done much work with it, you may have discovered that a bug exists whereby the Page Content Type and some of its child content types become negatively impacted. This is true even if you take an out of the box look and feel, export it and then import back into the same site collection.

You have a publishing site for which you have imported a custom design using the Design Manager. However when you go to create a page, you receive the following error message:

The invalid field name error is referring to the fact the content type that they page template relies on is missing a field that is referenced by the Page Layout. This is because for some reason when you import a design using the Design Manager, the Page Content Type (along with a few others) get modified and columns are removed. So to fix this, you need to go into the settings for the Page Content Type and Article Page Content Type (and any others that are being leveraged by your Page Layouts) to add the missing fields back in. The image below demonstrates the missing fields for the Page Content Type.

The process for adding back in can be done by going to the Site Settings page of the Top Level site of your site collection, clicking Content Types, selecting the affected content types (for example Page Content Type) and adding the existing site columns back in.  In the case of Page Content Type, you must add in the items in the above image that are highlighted in yellow. For Article Page, you must add back in Byline, Image Caption, Page Content and Summary Links.

Update: This issue appears to be resolved in Service Pack 1.

Context Has Expired Error in SharePoint 2013

I started receiving this error on my search results pages when I was attempting to make some changes and tweaks.  I mentioned it to Shane and he had said he ran into the same issue a week or so ago and posted about it.  The issue relates to the Timezone not being set for the web application we were using on our virtual machine. To fix, log into Central Admin and change the timezone within the General Settings section of your web application settings.  You will want to do an IISReset and then all should be good.

My Thoughts on Surface Pro After Several Months of Use

Earlier this year when the Surface Pros were released, I was quick to purchase one. In fact, Shane and I purchased his and hers 128gb models on launch day.  Naturally when they first arrived, they were all shiny and new.  The love I felt was overwhelming and I just couldn’t put it down. 

However after 5-6 months now, I have to say, it is still a very solid device and I use it daily. 

  • Note Taking – Possibly the biggest use it gets is as a note taking device.  Naturally I take it to every meeting and have not had a paper based notebook since receiving the device.  This isn’t a big shock for me however since if you flip back to my blog from the early days, I was an avid Tablet PC user in 2003-2004 at which point I became addicted to OneNote.  The fact I can take notes on my Surface and have them synced up instantly with my laptop and phone (via Skydrive) is beyond amazing.  Of course that isn’t a Surface thing so much as a OneNote thing but what is amazing about the surface is the pen.  I love writing and drawing with it.
  • Wireframes - For super low fidelity wireframing with clients, I often find myself sketching out design and layouts on my Surface while projecting on a screen or sharing via Lync screen sharing.  It gives me the flexibility and ease of drawing on a whiteboard, but also instant recording and saving so all my drawings are there when I am done.  If I want to share with participants, I can send out as a PDF or image in seconds after the meeting.  I will use tools such as Balsamiq to produce level 2 wireframes but for on the spot capture of priorities and concepts, I love using my surface as a sketchpad.
  • Airplanes – My Dell M4700 is a beast and serves me well for all heavy lifting. But there is no way I am getting any work done on this bugger on a plane while in economy class.  And as much as I like to fly up front, I spent 6-10 hours a week in a plane and am usually flying econo style.  My Surface fits perfect on the tray even when the person up front decides to recline their seat (which in my case is EVERY time).  Of course the one downfall is when I am in Executive Class which ironically with Air Canada is the one place my Surface doesn’t work well in laptop mode as the trays are very narrow so its hard to balance.  In those cases, I go in tablet mode and all is fine.
  • Presentations - If my presentation is using Office 365 or a remote server, then I am happy to run it from my Surface. However admittedly I rely still on my faithful Dell for scenarios requiring a local virtual image which is still about 50% of the time for me.

Some small things that I would like to see improved are the battery life.  I get about 3-4 hours if I am working hard core.  If I turn down some things as screen brightness and wi-fi, it might get better but for the most part I can make this work. My laptops are always in the same range so I am used to this timeline.  From an App perspective, I am not really lacking as I can install anything I would typically install on Windows but it would be nice to see more apps appear within the store. Its improving all the time however.  Finally I love the way the stylus clicks in the side but I wouldn’t mind if I could stick it inside the device as you often can with other tablets. I have lost a few pens now due to rushing out of a client site and forgetting to grab my pen which was sitting on the side while the surface was charging.

All and all though – a great device and one I am still very happy with after 5-6 months.

Working with Date Formats in SharePoint 2010

As you may or may not know, you can sometimes use the Regional Settings in SharePoint to present dates and currency type information in a format that is typical for your locale. For example, today (March 26, 2012) is typically presented as 26/03/2012 in Canada however in the US you might see 03/26/2012.

By default, my SharePoint Server install was utilizing an English (United States) locale. Therefore when I viewed any date based column on the server, the date would be displayed as MM/DD/YYYY.

However using the Regional Settings option, I can change these dates to follow my regional preference.

Changing Your Regional Settings

To change your Regional Settings, expand the drop down menu that appears to the right of your name as shown in the image below and select the My Settings option.

Select the My Regional Settings link. If you do not see this option, you may not be permitted to change your Regional Settings by your System Administrator.

By default, your profile will follow whatever settings have been defined for the current site you are visiting. However by deselecting the checkbox, you can specify your own preferences for items such as Locale, Time Zone, and Calendar as shown below.

By selecting English (Canada) and saving my changes, I can return to my site and the previously shown list will now be displayed using the date format of DD/MM/YYYY.


Changing a Site’s Locale

You can also tweak a specific site or site collection to follow a specific locale. So for example, you may have your Newfoundland and Labrador sales team site use an English (Canada) locale but your Texas based sales team site would use the English (United States) locale. To change the locale for a specific site, go to the Site Settings area and select Regional Settings from the Site Administration group of links.


But What About Other Formats That Are Not Regional?

Some organizations have adopted a format that is compatible with ISO 8601 as the standard format for dates. This format would present the above referenced date as 2012-03-26. This is very common for organizations that are multi-national or have adopted a more standardized approach to Document Management and Records Keeping. Unfortunately, out of the box, SharePoint doesn’t offer a very simple way to format all dates in this manner. However there are workarounds. As with all workarounds, you may want to ensure you have considered the long term impacts of such approaches when it comes to manageability and maintenance.

For such scenarios, you can create custom calculated columns within your content types (recommended) or lists to display the date in the format desired. For example, to display content in a format that is consistent with ISO 8601, I would create two custom columns to represent ISO Formatted Created Date and ISO Formatted Modified Date on my content types called “Organizational Document” and “Organizational Item” which act as the parent for all my custom content types. This allows me to make these columns available throughout my SharePoint environment on all my custom content types that inherit from these parents.

To do this, I created a calculated site column called “Creation Date” with the following settings:

And another called “Modified On” with these settings:


Then in my various views throughout my site collection, rather than displayed the default Created and Modified date values, I would use my custom columns as shown below.

SPTECHCON 2012 in San Francisco – Thanks for Coming Out!

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of heading down to San Francisco for the SPTECHCON conference. This was a great opportunity for me since I hadn’t spoken at this conference before and also because…well it was February and any place with a warm climate is a welcome change to the weather here in Newfoundland during February / March.

To make the trip even more worthwhile it was wonderful to see some of my old friends from the SharePoint world and meet some new ones. There really is no way to describe the value I get out of connecting face to face with other members of the SharePoint community. It is such a vibrant and exciting world to work in.

I presented two sessions while there so I figured I would share my slide decks on here even though I believe they were also hosted on the conference website.

  • SPTECHCON – Building a Records Management Practice
  • SPTECHCON – The Core Pillars of an Effective Document Management Solution (I even squeezed some pics of Gros Morne and Cape Spear in this one)
  • If you were there and I didn’t get to chat with you. Drop me a note as I always love to hear from people. Thanks to Cary J. Calderone for his kind words on his blog regarding my sessions. It always makes the long trip worthwhile when you see that people enjoyed your session like that.

    SharePoint 2010 Quick Hints – Where Are All The Templates?

    So one of the things that you may notice when you create a new site collection in SharePoint Server 2010 based upon the Publishing Portal is that your initial options for creating new content areas such as lists and sites are limited.

    For example, when you attempt to create a new site, you may only see the following as options:

    In addition, you may want to create a simple collaboration list such as a contacts list, but when you go to the list creation options, you only see the following:

    However have no fears! You can still create items based on the missing templates, you just have to enable the options for these other templates first. So here are the steps you need to follow:

    Configuring Which Site Templates Are Available For Use as a Subsite

    1. Select Site Settings from the Site Actions menu.
    2. From the Look and Feel section of links, select the Site Templates and Page Layouts option.



    3. From this location you can either select to all subsites to use any template or you can specifically select your desired templates to allow from this list.


    So you might be thinking, “Why didn’t they just allow all site templates to be used from the start? It’s so lame that I have to complete this step”.

    Well the truth is that this is just a single step in configuring the Publishing Portal (or any site collection) for use and it’s a valid consideration when planning your SharePoint site collections to determine which subsites you are going to allow from specific areas. As an example, in a Projects area, you may only want users to create sites that are based upon the templates you have defined for managing projects. Therefore you would restrict the Projects landing area to only allow those templates as subsites. Similarly if you have a Departmental sites area and you have defined a standard template for Departmental sites, you would apply this setting there so that people couldn’t just choose any site for that area.

    Configuring the Publishing Portal to Allow All Common Collaborative List Templates

    1. Select Site Settings from the Site Actions menu.
    2. From the Site Administration section of links, select the Site Features option.
    3. Scroll to the Team Collaboration Lists feature and click Activate.


    Now when you return to the list creation screen, you will see all the common collaborative list types including the missing Contacts list.

    Again you may be asking why this wasn’t enabled by default like it was in 2007. Well the truth here again comes down to initially limiting choices to those most commonly required for a specific site type or usage scenario. Because the Publishing Portal is a template designed for usage around a communications type site using the publishing capabilities of SharePoint, collaborative features are not turned on by default. However as you can see, they can be added if required by following the above described steps. That said, I do advise to use careful planning when turning on features to ensure you are activating features in the places where you actually need them. To quote a great mind in the SharePoint world, just because you can doesn’t always mean you should. In a lot of cases, you don’t really need or want to be adding collaborative content to the top level of your communications site collection.

    Site and Site Collection Level Recycle Bin

    Previously a common question I would get from folks new to SharePoint would be “How do I recover the site I just deleted via the Recycle Bin?” to which unfortunately my reply would be “Umm you don’t.” This was a little scary for some situations since in many cases in SharePoint, we might use a site as a container for a group of documents rather than a folder and it can be a bit of a headache to do a site level restore from a larger backup. Plus let’s face it…If I accidentally delete something, I don’t necessarily want to run off to IT to confess to it.

    With SharePoint 2010 Service Pack 1, one of the new features that was introduced was a site and site collection level recycle bin.

    Once Service Pack 1 has been installed within your SharePoint environment, deleted sites will appear in the Site Collection Recycle Bin ((Site Settings -> Site Collection Administration -> Recycle Bin) under “Items Deleted From End User Recycle Bin”.

    If you have a deleted Site Collection that you need to rescue, you can run a Powershell Command to get your site back.

    First you must run the Get-SPDeletedSite command to retrieve information regarding deleted site collections that exist within the farm.

    Then once you know the ID of the deleted site collection, you can run the following command.

    Restore-SPDeletedSite -Identity ENTER ABOVE VALUE FOR SITEID

    And just like that your site collection is restored!