The Golden Age of the Admin with Shannon Gregg


Today on the Salesforce Admins Podcast, we talk to Dr. Shannon Gregg, Ph.D., MBA, and president of Cloud Adoption Solutions. She’s also the author of It’s About Time, a book about refocusing on the things that you think are really important.

Join us as we talk about how work has changed since COVID, why it might be the Golden Age of the Admins, how to start getting out there as a speaker, and much more.

You should subscribe for the full episode, but here are a few takeaways from our conversation with Shannon Gregg.

Work-Life Integration

2020 and 2021 saw a lot of changes to how many of us work. “No more is it work-life balance, it’s work-life integration, and I think that’s exciting,” Shannon says. Everything was changed around very rapidly to enable people to work from home, but now we need to catch up on what that means in the long term.

“Now that people aren’t returning to the office in droves, we need to ask how we can make sure everybody has what they need to do that in a way that is sensible and flexible as their roles continue to change,” Shannon says, “at first it was just access, but now it’s optimization.” One good thing to come out of how long the pandemic has extended is that we’re not simply turning the lights back on and getting right back to it—we’re dipping our toes in the water and reexamining how much time in the office is actually necessary.

The Golden Age of the Admin

One thing Shannon thinks admins need to learn how to do in a world without SABWA is to be more proactive to get inside of their users’ experiences. Screen sharing is a powerful way to get inside of a workflow and really figure out what’s going on, and it’s become much more of a normal thing in a work-from-home environment rather than something that might come across as intrusive or overstepping.

“I think now admins have the ability to say, ‘I’m going to take this bull by the horns and give you something you weren’t expecting because you didn’t even know it was possible,’” Shannon says, “and that to me is amazing because I feel like now we’re in the rise of the Golden Age of the Admin.” She has some great suggestions for how you can get a broader view of how your entire organization is working together to figure where you can create new efficiencies. This especially includes the kinds of things we tend to put off because they don’t seem essential, especially security.

How to Get Started With Public Speaking

Shannon has been doing a lot of speaking, and her advice, if you want to get out there, is to make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about. “For me, that’s always been that user adoption is driven by thinking like or interacting with the user,” she says, “and great technology isn’t great if nobody’s using it.”

You need to be able to put your ideas out there without the fear that someone is going to disagree with you. “It’s not about me as a person, it’s about the topic,” Shannon says, “and being able to segment those things is a challenge that’s really worth doing.” Engaging in a spirited debate is a positive thing because it helps you expand your perspectives and think about a topic from all sides.

There’s so much more in our conversation with Shannon, so be sure to catch the full episode to hear all of her amazing insights.

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Full Transcript:

Mike: Welcome to the Salesforce Admins Podcast, where we talk about product, community, and career to help you become an awesome admin. For this episode, we are chatting with Dr. Shannon Gregg, PhD, MBA and president of Cloud Adoption Solutions. She is also the author of It’s About Time, a book to help you refocus on what’s really important, and recently recognized as a Top 10 Most Influential Woman in Technology for 2020. This is a great conversation. Let’s get Shannon on the podcast.
So Shannon, welcome back to the podcast.

Shannon Gregg: I am so excited to be here, Mike. Thanks for having me.

Mike: Yeah, it’s been a while. At one point in time, we presented on stage at Dreamforce.

Shannon Gregg: It’s incredible to think about being on stage when we’ve been at home so much for the past year and a half.

Mike: Yeah, my home office, I have part of it staged for video calls now.

Shannon Gregg: I think a lot of us have things staged.

Mike: Yeah. How many of us haven’t seen that cartoon of work from home and it just shows everything perfect that the camera can see and then just chaos behind the video camera?

Shannon Gregg: I love it. I even get marketing emails that are like, “Hey, here’s your Zoom shirts.” They’re not even trying to sell you pants anymore.

Mike: Yeah, but socks are still selling. I feel like I’ve ordered a lot of socks lately.

Shannon Gregg: It’s nice to have socks when you’re home. For sure.

Mike: So you’ve been up to a lot on top of just the book that you wrote, which actually was pre-COVID, but I think it’s important. Let’s kind of jump off with exactly what we were talking about. It’s crazy to think that for the last 18 months now, most of the US, dare I say the world, has gone under a change of working conditions.

Shannon Gregg: It’s been incredible to watch it happen and sort of Monday morning quarterback it and say, “At the beginning we really thought this is what this was going to look like.” And we thought it was going to be a couple of weeks. And so people made small adjustments to their home, to their home office, to their systems, everything that they were working with and watching that evolution and reflecting back on it actually gives me a lot of hope for what the future looks like and how people can integrate their work and home life. No more is it this work-life balance, but it’s this work-life integration and I think that’s really exciting.

Mike: Yeah. I recall a few coworkers of mine immediately migrating to a kitchen table. I had been working from home for a while and that kitchen table quickly turned into an IKEA desk, which quickly turned into a better IKEA desk, which quickly turned into screen behind it and a nicer chair.
But I think there was a lot of quick reflexive changes both in the workplace and in technology that organizations made March through July. And then I’m guessing come, say, August of last year, we started to realize it was a little bit more of a permanent thing.
I’m wondering what you saw now that I would say we’ve kind of gone from, if we were building a road, in March 2020 [inaudible], it was just throw down some gravel to how are we actually reworking that road, because now we have so many people going down it, we probably need to put some concrete on. I’m guessing the changes that you’re seeing in organizations are, “We did a whole bunch of temporary fixes. And now we’re having to maybe rethink that because our customer service people aren’t going to come back to a customer service center?”

Shannon Gregg: You’re exactly right. And that is how we’ve seen it play out where there was this sort of emergency, “Hurry up and let’s get it so that everybody can work from home. Let’s get them more access. Let change the way that profiles look. Let’s make sure that the data that’s available is what they need and not more and not less.” And so there was a lot of that sort of reflexive, “Let’s hurry up and get the technology where it needs to be.”
And now people are catching back up and saying, “Well, it’s time for us to think about the people in the process as well.” Because now we’re seeing people aren’t returning to the office in droves, and they’re saying, “How can we make sure that everybody has what they need to do that in a way that is sensible and flexible as their roles continue to change?” And so when we’re looking at Salesforce in particular, at first, it was just access and now it’s optimization and people are coming up with some of the most innovative approaches that I have seen in the past decade, which I would say has been really powerful in technology as it is, and I think that is incredible to watch.

Mike: Yeah. And then, in addition to that, I feel like we’re moving towards an “in-office, sort of” environment, right? I think it’s October. We thought probably October of last year, “We’ll just turn the lights on and be back in the office.” And I think what we’re realizing is we’re slowly turning the lights back on.

Shannon Gregg: It’s a nice way to reintegrate, isn’t it? Because instead of saying, “Okay, now you’ve gone from zero days in office to five days in office,” companies are coming up with these sort of flexible approaches to say, “Maybe you come in two to three days and we want to make sure that we are tracking the number of people who are coming in and we want to make sure that you have what you need when you’re here, so that when you are in the office, it’s productive and it’s a safe environment.” And I think that’s so much better than had we just run back to the office last October, we would’ve been really unprepared. And now when we’re looking at collaboration and productivity, I think that’s really been thought through. And so this semi-return, I think, is a really positive movement.

Mike: So what are you seeing like from a Salesforce admin standpoint as to where admins should be looking to stay ahead of that curve? Like are there areas of collaboration or technology that it’s like, “Hey, instead of being reflexive, let’s be proactive.”

Shannon Gregg: Definitely. And I know I learned from you, SABWA, “Salesforce administration by walking around,” and that is not entirely possible. And so what it’s done now is admins, I think, are now being more proactive to say, “Okay, why don’t screen share and show me exactly how you create that opportunity.” Or, “Why don’t you show me your screen and show me how you’re managing all of your tickets. I want to see that.”
And so I think admins now, where before they felt a little bit like, “Maybe I’m on the IT team. Maybe on the sales operations team, but I don’t have control over these people because I don’t manage them. And so how do I be more influential?” Where admins now are saying, “Hey, look, I want to see how you’re doing those things. Show me proactively, so I can come up with something that’s going to suit you better, that will help you do your job better.” And I think now the ability for admins to say, “I’m going to take this bull by the horns and I’m going to give you something that you weren’t expecting, because you didn’t even know it was possible.” And that to me is amazing because I feel like we’re in the rise of the golden age of the admin.

Mike: Maybe that’ll be next year’s keynote title.

Shannon Gregg: I love it.

Mike: And so what are you, I guess, with not specifically any client, but a trend overall that you’re seeing admins really have to kind of sit back and say, “Oh, this becomes now a prioritization”?

Shannon Gregg: I think what we’ve been seeing is people adding more capabilities to Salesforce in general. So people who were just sitting in Sales Cloud have added Service Cloud, and now that they have Service Cloud, they’re thinking more about engagement, they’re thinking about marketing. And so the idea, the promise of that 360 that we’ve been thinking about for years is coming into fruition. And I think one of the things that’s really exciting for admins is, one, they’re able to now see holistically what’s happening in the organization, where before they might have been siloed into, “Okay, I work with the sales team every day. I know what their problems are.”
Now that everybody’s home and you can’t just sort of walk around and get the answers you need, admins can reach out and say, “Well, where are your challenges here? Where’s the handoff challenge?” Or, “If you’re value stream mapping this, where are the holes?” If you use your road analogy, “Where do we have these deep potholes that I can fix?” and I think that is something that we’re going to continue to see that will have to be pervasive as people return to this hybrid type of working.

Mike: Yeah. I didn’t even think about potholes. I was too busy making a good road. So sometimes we speak very ethereally and best case scenario on the podcast. And often then I’ll read Twitter or I’ll look in the Trailblazer Community and the questions are very pedantic. So if we were to boil that down, next week as a Salesforce admin, I should…

Shannon Gregg: I would start with security because that’s what I’ve been seeing. So many challenges where people just kind of went with this default where everybody in their organization has admin privileges or they’re either able to make changes that can affect everybody’s system-wide. And so the first thing I would do is take a step back and say, “Let me go all the way back to ground level one and look at who has access to what? Is it appropriate? And as we see regulations roll out have I done what I need to do to keep things secure?” And I think that is where I would start, if I were saying, “Let me take a fresh eye look at my org,” I would look to say, “What are we doing here with security?” And then take a look at hierarchies because I think those are things that don’t feel exciting. You’re not always like, “Hey, what I want to look at today is security.” Because that’s not as fun as building. So I think that that is an area that I have seen in many orgs this year that is a huge challenge.

Mike: Well, and from a fun standpoint, often user adoption is always tied to, “How does the technology feel to the user?” And if they feel they have too much information, then maybe they feel overwhelmed and they don’t feel like engaging in the technology. And they could be overwhelmed with too many fields because nobody’s done a security audit to look at what they should or shouldn’t see to really hone in on what’s important to them.

Shannon Gregg: It’s so true. And when you’re saying “feelings” and I love the way that you used your voice to italicize it, because that is what it is. And you have users who will say, “I hate Salesforce.” And you are like, “Well, it’s inanimate, so…” [crosstalk]

Mike: I know. It probably doesn’t feel that way about you, but it’s okay.

Shannon Gregg: You’re so right. But you’re right. That’s exactly what it comes down to is like, “What have we led them to feel?” And if we’ve opened too much up to them, that feels overwhelming and can cause so many people to just shut down.

Mike: Right. Yeah. Now I feel like… “I feel.” Here we are feeling. Oh, feelings. I feel like… Look up a song about that.
It’s always interesting, when I look at things that are titled “For 2020” and one of the things that you were recognized for was Top 10 Most Influential Women in Technology for 2020, which I think is amazing. I say that because to me, 2020 feels like one of those years where it’s like, “Wow, that did happen.” But also that had to have been incredibly hard because we were all in our houses in 2020, but I also look at the number of people we have in our community, the number of great stories that are out there and I wonder why we don’t have more influential women in technology.

Shannon Gregg: 2020 was a really challenging year for women and if you read the reports and the research, a lot of it says 2020 was the year a lot of women said, “I just can’t do it all. I can’t do it.” And I think primarily when you’re thinking about caregivers and that role is not always held by a woman, but the research that is out there is showing a lot of women dropped out of the workforce or dropped down in the workforce. And I think a lot of times it is because of the same thing we just talked about with our users, they’re overwhelmed. And so thinking about how to integrate your work and your life together is challenging to do alone and something that I think a lot of employers, when they didn’t have their employees in their faces had a harder time stepping back and saying, “How do we help you in this way?”
And we know from organizations like Super Moms, that there are loads of people out there who are willing and able and incredibly smart and bright who want to donate their unique perspective to the workforce, but they just aren’t sure how to yet. And I think what we’re going to see from these more flexible workplaces as people start to say, “Well, how do we bring these people back to the workplace?” Flex time, flexible schedules, those types of things are going to really help women in general.
And I think when we look at the ability for people to make a difference in technology, we have to be really structured to say, “Well, how do we do it when people aren’t in the office and how do we know when somebody is vying for promotion and we need to give them those stretch projects?” And a lot of times it requires somebody to reach out their hand and say, “I can see you’re destined for something greater and I really want to help you.” And one of the things I love about the Salesforce community is there are so many people out there who are willing and able to do that.

Mike: Title “influential” is a big word because it means you have to be out there. And it also means that you’re interacting with a lot of people. I would love to know, because it’s different for everybody, what was the biggest fear or the biggest hurdle you had to overcome to be out there, to do public speaking and stand and give presentations?

Shannon Gregg: I think the first thing that you have to be really secure in is your idea and your platform. So for me, that’s always been user adoption is driven by thinking like or interacting with the user and great technology isn’t great if nobody’s using it. And people like to debate that. People like to debate that with me. And so I think the first thing is being able to say, “Well, how secure am I in what I believe in?” And being able to put that out there without the fear of somebody saying, “Well, I think what you say is crazy.”
And that’s one of the biggest challenges I think a lot of people have is, “How do I take a stand that feels very authentic to me? And how do I say, ‘I’m okay with it’ if people disagree with me?” Because it’s not about me as a person, it’s about the topic and being able to segment those things is a challenge, but it’s one that’s really worth doing because when you’ve got something that you’re so passionate about, engaging in some spirited debate is actually a positive thing because it helps you see other perspectives and other people’s lived experiences are a really good way for you to really broaden your horizons so that you can be sure that you’ve thought really fully about the topic.

Mike: Yeah. Switching topics a little bit, but on the same kind of vein, one of the things that you talked about in your book, It’s About Time, is refocusing on what’s really important. So what’s really important for you right now?

Shannon Gregg: What’s super important for me right now, number one, is making sure that my nine year old has everything that she needs as she’s growing up in a pandemic. And so that’s my number one priority. I always am thinking, “How can I make sure that this child feels emotionally stable and healthy and happy and gets everything that she needs?”
And after that, I’m really passionate about making sure that people can do their job in the best way that they can without anything else getting in their way. So whether it’s working with people on Salesforce to say, “Tell me the things that you’re [inaudible]. Why do you hate Salesforce? You tell me about that because I want to help you through it.”
I teach a course a semester at a university and really saying to those students, “Here’s how I can get you prepared. Forget about the topic. The topic’s important. You’re going to get a grade in this class, but how can I get you prepared to be productive members of society?” And so really thinking about how I can use my platform in a way to help other people is always something that I’m thinking about.

Mike: So if you were to give advice to somebody waking up tomorrow morning to think about, “How do I refocus and, and find what’s important to me?” What should they do?

Shannon Gregg: I love lists, so I would say write it down because lists become non-emotional. Write it down. Write down the things that are important to you, and then write down the things that if you had to be immersed in it for three to five years and think only about that, which ones would keep you excited and passionate every day. And really thinking that through is critical. And I think a lot of people who we see are standouts, helpful, impactful people in the Salesforce community have identified their niche and said, “This is the thing I’m the most passionate about.” Just because you love Marketing Cloud doesn’t mean you can’t also be super interested in Service Cloud. But saying, “This is the thing that I am going to go so deep on, so that if somebody does build that road and there is a pothole, I know who I can call on to fix it.” and that sort of thing is critical, knowing what your audience is and where your passions are and how they can intersect.

Mike: Yeah. And I would add to that, knowing your level of curiosity, because you can totally want to dive into something, but if it doesn’t hook you and your curiosity runs out awfully quick, that can slow your progress down and make you frustrated faster than what you’d anticipate.

Shannon Gregg: You’re so right. And you can’t see me, but I’m nodding my head vigorously right now. Being curious is really, really critical. And it’s not a curiosity to, “Let me just do a search and find this out.” Or take a class or a course or a Trailhead module, but really saying, “Would I spend Friday nights reading up on this?” And if so, that’s probably your thing.

Mike: Yeah. Often I look at people too often viewing the answer as the end, when really the journey is the most important part. You mentioned Googling the answer. If you’re just after an answer, then have at it. But it’s more, to me, about getting on that journey of figuring something out and going through that learning path, because that’s how you learn. Building a formula, building a flow that doesn’t work and then debugging it and debugging it and debugging it. That means now that I know something more about myself and the way things work, as opposed to just getting the answer-

Shannon Gregg: It’s so true.

Mike: Which to me is more important. Now there are times that I’ve been building apps and it’s like, “I just need this to work. I’m heading into a presentation in 10 minutes. I just need this to work.” But it’s because I’ve exhausted that level of trying to learn through it. I also have learned Salesforce in varying stages. So yeah, it’s often that curiosity that will help drive you through varying problems and frustrations and interesting topics and rabbit holes on the internet.

Shannon Gregg: You’re right. It’s critical to say, “This is something that will hold my curiosity and not just something that after I lose interest in it will become like vaporware.”

Mike: Right. Yeah. 2022 is just around the corner, which feels crazy. Without trying to make too many predictions, are there ideas or things on your personal roadmap that you’re looking for?

Shannon Gregg: I think one of the things that we’re looking at now is when last year we said, “How do we make technology work for a bunch of people that are all of a sudden home bound?” To this year saying, “How do we optimize it?” I think next year, it’s refocusing on the culture piece. “How do we make sure that we’re maintaining all of our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives and how are we making sure that people have equitable access and equitable expectations?”
And I think that’s going to be a really interesting challenge as we see people now, who may have started a job where they interviewed over Zoom and never met anybody in person and never had a happy hour and didn’t do any team building other than an online cooking show. And as they sort of migrate their way into new and other jobs, how do you keep that cultural piece? How do you focus that? That’s one of the things that I think is going to be really critical in 2022 to say, “Let’s make sure that we’re continuing to build this culture,” especially for our youngest and, really, most vulnerable employees who may have never stepped foot in an office before in their lives.

Mike: Yeah. I’m thinking of quite a few team members on our team alone that have started and I’ve never met them in person. And also I haven’t been in the office in forever. For me the workday starts when you open up a Zoom or a Google Hangout and it pauses periodically throughout the day where the window closes.

Shannon Gregg: And one of the things that I love that you always remind everybody, Mike, is, “It’s okay if we see your dogs and your cats and your babies. We want to.” That’s okay now, where at the beginning of the pandemic, if you heard your child in the background, it was like, “Oh no, everybody’s going to think I have a kid.” They know you have a kid.

Mike: Yeah. I do think about that and I’m glad that that culture, and maybe it’s just the bubble I’m in, but that culture of dismissiveness, of “things have to be perfect.” You look back to… How many people haven’t watched the clip of the CNN dad kind of shushing his child out of the room and it was this kind of false impression that, “No, we can hold it all together even if we’re at home and we’re making it work.” And I think it’s the idea that, for some reason, it’s like out of sight, out of mind. We believed people who worked from home weren’t as productive as people who came into an office and drank the horrible coffee and kept food in the refrigerator for entirely way too long and really understood the shelf life of Tupperware. But somehow that equals productivity.
And then March hit, of last year, and we realized, “Oh wait, actually people are getting everything done.” It’s just give them that freedom to… I don’t know, the euphemism’s “let your hair down.” Wear sweatpants and not worry about your dog walking in the background.

Shannon Gregg: Please let your dog. We love your dog. We want to see your dog. It’s great, because now you’re getting close to that harmony of your work and your personal life, where before everything was so compartmentalized, it was harder to understand where people were coming from and now I think it’s really cool to see people’s spaces and their dogs.
And one of my favorite things, Mike, during the height of the pandemic was when Leslie Jones from SNL was rating everybody’s rooms. So she was saying whether their room was good or not good. And I thought, “That is so cool because now we see, we understand how you live and what your workspace is like.” And I think that sort of thing is so critical as we think about, “How do we maintain a sort of fellowship amongst other employees and coworkers?”

Mike: Yeah. The reason I remind people is, when you’re on a Zoom and somebody comes in, dog or a family member, it’s the only shared experience that you and that person have. And when we’re in our hybrid workspaces, as we are now, where some of us are in the office, some of us are at home, we’re not doing offsites. We’re not doing team meetings. and we don’t share… That’s the hardest thing is relating to those coworkers when you don’t have that shared experience to kind of pivot around.
Even, I find, reconnecting with friends that I’ve been texting with, but haven’t really seen, you kind of sit down, you’re like, “Oh, I’m so excited. I haven’t seen this guy in a while and I’m going to sit down and catch up with my buddy.” And you sit down, like the first five minutes, you’re talking over each other. And then after five minutes, you’re out of shared experiences to talk about because your experience of binge watching a show was different than their experience. The show is the same, but the experience is different and you don’t share that. You can’t talk about that time that you went to the football game or that that time that you did X, Y and Z. And so I feel like that’s the common thread is, “Well, we can talk about things in our house because we can all relate to having a pet or friends with pets or children.”

Shannon Gregg: Right. Or somebody with their chainsaw outside, right when you’re about to get on a really important call. Those are the things we’re bonding over now and that’s critical.

Mike: That or construction. “Everybody, I have to go on mute. There’s a chainsaw outside my window.”

Shannon Gregg: It’s surprising. When we went into offices, we didn’t know how much construction was happening.

Mike: Maybe none was.

Shannon Gregg: Right. Who knows?

Mike: Very apropos that you choose “chainsaw outside of your window” for an October podcast, you know.

Shannon Gregg: I’m here for spooky season.

Mike: Welcome to Halloween. We all have Michael Myers outside of our window.

Shannon Gregg: You never know.

Mike: Little did we know the creepy stuff that was going on in our houses while we were in an office.

Shannon Gregg: That was so good.

Mike: Crazy. Well, Shannon, thanks again for coming back on the podcast. We’ll have to get some sort of presentation together again. Do a 2.0 from what we did of Dreamforce 100 years ago, I feel like.

Shannon Gregg: I look forward to that with such a big heart. I can’t wait for that.

Mike: Yes. So with that in mind, thanks a bunch for coming back and staying virtual hybrid and helping our admin community out.

Shannon Gregg: Thanks for having me, Mike. It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.

Mike: My guest today was Dr. Shannon Gregg. You can follow her on Twitter @ShannonJGregg. You can also stay up to date with us on social for all things Salesforce Admins. We are @SalesforceAdmns, with no “I” on Twitter. And of course, if you want to learn more about all the things that we talked about on today’s episode, please go to to find those links and many more resources. And with that, stay safe, stay awesome. And stay tuned for the next episode. We’ll see you in the cloud.

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