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Yes, and…

status quo

It’s been a decade since I left the large, global, corporate world. During the biggest economic downturn the U.S. had seen in a long time, I started my learning and organization development practice.

Working in a global organization, despite many successes, the clash between work and life values was impacting my health. I loved the idea of the job; the reality, not so much. At 34 years old, with two young sons and a spouse who worked full-time, I decided I needed to make a change. Yes, it was scary, and yet, not changing seemed scarier.

People, you know, “they”, “them,” …”those” people, even some close to me, said I was crazy not to look for another “real” job in corporate; consulting was “too risky”. Though I interviewed and considered other internal corporate opportunities, the closer I got to an offer, the more I felt like I was suffocating. I needed a break from the “traditional” route, and I’ve never been one who’s afraid to shake up the status quo.

Several people knew I’d been doing consulting on the side while working full-time, and encouraged me to consider consulting full-time because, “you know everybody, people need your skills.” I had interviews and had secured two contracts within days of leaving my corporate job. Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners, LLC. was born. Ten years later, through partnership with many organizations, the Yellow Giraffe is still Standing Tall.

Over the past decade, colleagues and friends have asked me to talk to people and “share my secret to success.” For a few years, I thought it was luck, frankly. According to many online sources (Forbes, BizJournal, and others), over 50% of businesses fail in their first five years. Now that a decade has passed, perhaps it’s not been mere luck. I had instinct and determination combined with a healthy dose of fear.

Three years ago, I decided to shake up the status quo again by returning to corporate. Saw a job posting by sheer happenstance; the role offered an opportunity to help create a learning practice within a rapidly growing organization. Once again, out came the naysayers, the worriers of good intent, wondering why on Earth I would take a pay cut to go “back inside.” Yes, I like a good challenge, and…I wanted another opportunity to create from scratch. Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners continued to provide learning & development services, outside of my current internal job industry; clients were happy to partner with my bench of learning consultants to help them with their projects.

That instinct, determination, and fear? They serve me well in corporate, too. Taking a role that had never existed at the company before, a consultative “bring it” approach was needed to educate others on what I could do, and to build credibility before I started deviating from the status quo around learning and development. Everything from learning strategy, building a team, branding, templates, project management and processes; the entrepreneurial mindset has come in handy.

What’s your next “yes, and” moment? A leadership facilitator once shared a perspective that still resonates with me today. It is the idea that saying, “Yes, but…” tends to negate or shut down a conversation; on the other hand, beginning your thought with, “Yes, and…” allows for more expansion of possibilities, more inclusive conversation. As you think of your desired future path, and you hear, “yes, but…” in your head, change it to yes, and…”

Here are some of the tips that I’ve shared with people who’ve wanted to know more about my navigation from internal employee to consultant. When “yes, but” started to creep in during times of great change, I thought, yes and…

  1. Start! It doesn’t have to be fancy! Swap skills with colleagues. My accountant set up an Excel spreadsheet to  mymanage business finances, saying; “you don’t need to buy fancy software at this point!” I still have that spreadsheet. To minimize startup costs, can you barter skills? I did this, and I gained a website and a company logo. My network gained resume/interview coaching and social media training.
  2. Be true to your values. What is important for you in your work, the type of people, schedule, industry, etc? What other values are important to consider in your life? One tough choice for me was to decide between a project that fit my love for global work, (scope changed to 12 weeks abroad), and my love for family. Family won; great mentors ensured me opportunities would come again.
  3. Define success. I found this a surprisingly challenging exercise and have refined my own definition over the years. Create a list or vision board that shows the behaviors, attributes, lifestyle you want if you are successful as a consultant.
  4. Bring it! Clients hire you for your up-to-date expertise; you may need to respectfully challenge and broaden their thinking from the original request as you assess current state; many are leery of speaking up in fear of losing the client. You are there to guide and improve their business.
  5. Commit to your field of expertise by joining professional associations. Even more effective for your professional reach is to volunteer with those organizations – whether you are a consultant or an internal employee. The relationships there will serve you well.

As Seth Godin says, “If you’re not upsetting anyone, you’re not changing the status quo.” Sometimes the people we may upset includes ourselves, too. Learning begins when you get outside your comfort zone. Yes, and…

That Doesn’t Count (in Their Eyes)

I write this as a voice needing to be heard about career growth in the field of learning and development. This article is a compilation of conversations I’ve had with many senior professionals who are dedicated to continued professional growth while striving to develop talent within organizations both internally & as external consultants. 

You, the Experienced Professional

team shotYou have several years of experience and a Master’s degree in your field. You’ve been a Senior-level, a Specialist, a Consultant, a Partner, and a Project Manager – but never a Training Manager. “Influence without Authority” is your mantra.  The projects you led have been in the millions of dollars. You’ve interviewed, selected, and hired multiple vendor resources and made decisions on resource allocations and pay rates. But, you’ve never been a Training Manager.

You’ve run your own consulting firm for several years, hiring multiple subcontractors and developing their competencies on relevant software, project management, and client consulting skills. And yes, you’ve even had to fire someone you hired. You’ve run your budget to determine what software, office equipment, and marketing avenues to pursue, and which conferences/certificates to obtain to keep up with your own learning. You write proposals, network with stakeholders, influence, learn from and form partnerships with your peers. But, you’ve never been a Training Manager.

You’ve provided several years of service on the board of local non-profits in your field where you were in charge of a six-figure budget, including a year as president during which you lead a board of a dozen members and oversaw a chapter membership of several hundred. Your graduate school advisor asks you to come back and serve as part of a panel on successful alumni in the field. You are sought out by undergrad and graduate students, as well as those in job transition, for coaching on how to get into and succeed in the field. You’ve presented at conferences on learning topics such as building teams, leadership development, project management, business acumen, and performance management. But, you were never a Training Manager.

The Work Environment

Your bosses or clients are Training Managers, Directors, or Vice Presidents of Learning & Development. In a matrixed organization, your indirect bosses are leaders of functions such as HR, IT, or specific business units. It is not unusual that, at a minimum, 80% of your bosses have no formal background in training or learning and development. They have a background in sales, finance, marketing or engineering or other not directly applicable fields.

Executives at your organizations say that “learning people need to speak the language of business!” The managers you report to, as described above, have experience in certain facets of the business. They have the title “Manager” and yet, are not trainers, facilitators, e-learning developers, instructional designers, graphic designers, or video producers.

As a consultant, you work with several organizations where the Training/Design Manager, Director of Training, or Learning & Development Manager has few direct reports; several organizations have managers with ZERO direct reports. They are, in essence, program managers who own and train content on a particular topic. But, they have the title Training Manager.

The Interview

interview conversationAfter your years of experience internally at the senior individual contributor and program manager level – but not people manager level – and after building an external consulting business from the ground up, successfully building relationships and increasing profits for those who hire you and for the team you hire, you feel you are ready to lead a team at the manager level on an internal basis.

You apply for several full-time roles with no response. Soon, however, you get an interview for a direct hire manager role through a third party recruiter. The interviewer questions you on decision-making, experience with budgets, managing performance and developing people. She is impressed with your resume and the scale, variety, and complexity of project teams you’ve led and the tough decisions that you have had to make due to stakeholders’ budgets or time constraints. She asks to submit you as a candidate to the position.

Two days later you get a call from the recruiter. “I’m sorry,” she says, “but the company we’re working with says that they really don’t want to hire someone without previous management experience.” You ask, “What about running a business and hiring staff for the past several years? Managing subcontractors and clients nationally and globally? Or serving as President of a non-profit board for a chapter with several hundred members? Or being an internal program designer and project manager for leadership development programs valued at several million dollars annually?”

“That doesn’t count in their eyes,” the recruiter says.

Employers, Talent Development, Recruiters

Recruiters and Talent Development experts promote selling one’s “transferable skills,” those skills that carry across different jobs. (An example of this might be managing a team on a non-profit for 3 years to use skills that would transfer to leading a team in the corporate sector).  Why then, does managing a team of consultants, or leading teams of non-profits, building relationships and executing and outperforming business projections as a small business owner, not transfer over to “counting” toward managerial skills?

You as an experienced professional count, as do the many others like you. You count, and you are out there, applying for managerial jobs. Perhaps the definition of what “counts” as managerial experience needs to be expanded. If a successful Sales Representative can become a Training Manager with no training background, then an experienced learning professional who has written, trained, facilitated, led teams, and  project-managed hundreds of workshops, and demonstrated people leadership in several places surely deserves an equal opportunity to be a Training Manager, right?

“That doesn’t count in their eyes,” you were told. Your reply might well be, “Oh, then it’s not the kind of place for me to seek work.” The search for a place to fully utilize your talents, leadership, business, and management – and of course, training – skills continues.

A Hopeful Success

“How did you finally land your job back in corporate as a Training Manager?” You ask a colleague and friend. “I’ve been thinking about the same thing, but I keep hearing I don’t have the ‘management experience.’ I know you have a similar background; how did you do it?”

Your colleague sighs, “Oh. It was not easy and I heard the same thing you’re hearing – it took me two years. Really, it came down to someone giving me a chance. I have a small team and I still get to dig in and do the work.”

You are happy for your colleague; her perseverance has paid off after a long wait. She has also gotten an opportunity to work for a leader who believes in developing others.

She is a Training Manager. You can be too, with the right organization, willing to look past the title on the resume, and talk to the person who’s lived it.

40 by Design

A mid-career professional. A parent. Wife, friend, sister, daughter. Gen-X’er. Small business owner, consultant, contractor. Learning professional, trainer, instructional designer, e-learning developer and project manager. Networker extraordinaire. I-phone using, LinkedIn promoting, tweeting, latte-drinking, dog-walking, traveling when I can find the time, book-devouring, politics-discussing, homework-helping, volunteer-loving, playing with my kids, desperately overscheduled “but it’s all good stuff”…person.

And now I’m 40. What does it mean to be a 40-year old small business owner, mid-career professional juggling the demands of being supermom (as I define it) while having time to be a great friend, lover, and partner to my husband…while running my own small business? Does it magically become clearer with the new ‘40’ label? “Sure”, she says, while guzzling down 8 more ounces of her doctor-recommended 64 ounces of water per day.

As a teenager, I remember seeing pictures of my own mother in her 30s and 40s and thinking, “she looks younger in her 40s than in her 30s.” My mother came up behind me and said, “That’s because in my 40s you girls were older and I had a bit more time to re-focus on myself and my own career.” All righty then.

What is a career, exactly, in an age where it’s a downsize, right size, virtual, flex-time, technology-enabled answer all the time environment?

My answer? I’m a designer. I design ways to enable people to learn skills they need for their current and/or future jobs…or how to look for a new job when theirs is no longer open to them. As I design learning experiences for my bread and butter, I choose to think of turning 40 as a learning experience to design into my own life. What I know about 40 in my world is that I’m reflecting on these questions:

1.You Want Mustard on that Sandwich?sandwich

(Bread): Kids are growing up fast and they’re only young once. You laugh, you cry, you worry, and you cheer, endlessly, for them.

(Bread): Parents are getting older, health issues are occurring, and they are not local to where we live.

Question: How can I make the most of our time together?

(Cheese/Meat): You! Marriage, parenting, and careers take passion, time, and energy.

Question: How can I be present and in the moment in each of these huge components of life?

Sometimes the pressures of all of these items can make one feel like a sandwich that’s been sitting at the bottom of the laptop bag too long…but it’s still delicious and life-affirming for those who hunger for the sustenance from those whom we love.

2.Who Am I Again?

* Is my life going the way I want it to?
* Am I leaving the world and people around me in a better place than when I arrived?
* What am I forgetting to nurture, encourage, and grow?
* What am I putting off doing until “someday?”
* What doesn’t matter anymore?
* What DOES matter?

3.How Do I Know?

No roadmap for parenting. How do you forgive the crap we all survived as children and let your child live his/her own life, and make his/her own discoveries in and about the world?

Marriage. It’s been awhile now. How do we be sure to keep our own relationship as a couple when there’s always late-night-early-morning work calls, team practices, college scouting, children’s milestones, parents expectations of you…and remember that we CHOSE each other? Turn the phone off, hold hands no matter who’s there, have each other’s back without holding each other back, and get away from the NOISE once in awhile.

Career. Yeah. Onsite, offsite, global, national, titles without pay, pay with more responsibility, travel is awesome except when you miss your spouse, children, dogs. Technology-changing, always reaching, industries closing, more work, less staff. The question is, where are you getting what you need to manage your energy, emotions, and sanity at an acceptable level? Are you working to live, or living to work?

What’s next? Who knows? Flexibility, challenge, ownership of my career is important. Raising community-aware humans is paramount. Making time to spend with people I love is increasingly more important. Not putting up with bullshit ranks up there, too. I am a designer of learning; learning to me equals options.

candlesWhat’s next is that I know there will always be options – that is the design framework for my life. At 40, I can say that with more certainty than before – and that’s a good thing. For me.

Yep, I’m a designer, and no matter how many labels I may have, I will design them into my life in a way that lets me be myself, and be with those who matter, to make the most of my passion and energy for life’s options.

Happy (Belated) Birthday to me.