Yes, and…

Learning occurs outside your comfort zone. Using “yes, and” thinking to conquer career change.

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…

In or Out?

team_icon_freepub domain

Today marks three years of being “back inside.” Working as an employee inside of an organization, that is, after 7 years of being an “outside” consultant as an owner of my own learning & development firm. First, let me acknowledge that I am forever grateful for having the space & opportunity to choose – I chose to become a consultant, and I chose to return to corporate. I kept a journal for the first year of both experiences, and spent a bit of time reading through my reflections, and here is the first of several:

#1: Team is what you make it. Trust is essential. One of the downsides of being a consultant is that you may not have a team to work with on a daily basis; there is a necessary boundary between consultant & client that is different from peer work teams.

  • As a consultant, I created my own teams by prospecting for too much work and then hiring consultants to team up with me, at least for the length of the project. It was great to work together, and to blow off steam as inevitable changes to project scopes occurred.
  • As an internal employee working on a geographically dispersed team, I was reminded of the importance of role clarity in shaping (positively or negatively) team dynamics. Being the sole person with that type of job on the team…or in the organization, is a challenging space to be, I was reminded. More on that in another post.

Team is a feeling of trust, camaraderie, whether you are on the outside, or on the inside. The Center for Creative Leadership shares a model for team trust based on the Three C’s: Trust in Capability, Trust in Character, Trust in Communication (https://www.ccl.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/why-trust-is-critical-team-success-research-report.pdf).

No matter where your “team” is formed – on the inside or the outside, your sense of belonging, cultural fit, and commitment is affected by how you answer these questions about yourself and your team:

  1. Do I trust the capabilities of others on my team? My own capabilities? How can I help others grow? Can I trust them to help me grow?
  2. Do I trust the character of others on my team? How does my own character show up? Is there consistency in behavior? Do our team members honor commitments they’ve made? Do we have a shared goal – and commitment to that goal?
  3. Do I trust communication that happens on the team? Is information shared freely & proactively? Transparently? Can I admit mistakes? Can others? Do I trust the people on my team, and do I add or detract from trust in a work relationship?

One of the main reasons I rejoined the corporate world was for the sense of team – a set of shared experiences of people who work together toward a common goal. In the end, I (re) learned that team is what you make it.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

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When you are walking in a public place in a group, what happens when you see another group coming toward you? Do you:

  • Compress your group to walk single file so the other group can pass without shifting?
  • Keep walking 2-4 people wide so that the other group needs to walk single file?
  • Shift to the right, but keep walking 2-4 people wide, so that both groups may pass?
  • Do nothing and let the other group figure out how to make it past your group?
  • Stop in the middle of the sidewalk, oblivious of the needs of others on the sidewalk?

Some people tend to be the ones who flex to allow others to have room on the sidewalk, while others tend to be the ones who want others to have to flex around them. Other people make room for both groups to be on the sidewalk, and others do nothing to acknowledge or flex to incoming groups.

This same attitude translates into daily work life. Let’s ask the question this way: When new teams and/or individuals join your organization, or join a project team, how do you flex your behavior so that both of you know where you “fit” on the sidewalk? Do you:

  • Create space for both groups to pass with little interaction necessary?
  • Actively create space for everyone to fit, with both groups flexing to accommodate needs?
  • Wait for others to come to you, you were here first?
  • Not concern yourself; your roles are different?

Ask yourself these questions, and then ask your team. Ask those outside your team how they see interactions with your group. Are there cracks in the sidewalk? Ask yourselves, does anyone deserve more or less space on the sidewalk?

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.

The Office is Closed Today

The new year is almost here. Have you loaded your organization’s annual holidays into your calendar yet? Of course you have. This next question is a bit more challenging. How does your organization work with contingent staff when it comes to holidays where the office is closed?

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At first glance, the answer may appear obvious; everybody knows what days organizations are typically closed, right?

Not so fast. Here are some additional tips to ensure your organization and your external staff are on the same page for the holidays:

  • Contingent staff do not typically get paid for holiday time. Does your project budget allow for contingent staff to work 40 hours during a holiday week if so desired, or do you estimate billable project hours based on the office being closed one day (or more) that week?
  • Do you need your contractor to put in 40 hours during the holiday week, due to project constraints? When do you set this expectation?
  • Does your project timeline factor in access to key employees during a holiday season? For example, will your contract staff be able to hold meetings or get information from people if half the office is gone the Friday before Memorial Day?
  • Do you know what your contractor’s holiday plans are, and how they may impact the project? What expectations do you set for getting this information in advance?
  • Who at your office is responsible for ensuring that contractors know which days your office is closed?
  • Does your company have additional days where the office is closed that may not be as common in other industries? For example, a consultant I know once showed up for work at a large global organization on Good Friday; she had no idea the organization was closed that day!

At the end of the day, it is important that the project owner and the contingent staff are clear about the expectations of availability before, during, and after the holiday(s).

Contractors do not typically get paid for holidays as they are not working, but may assume they can still work 40 hours that week. You may be assuming they will not bill 40 hours that week. To avoid disappointment in an otherwise fabulous organization-consultant relationship, have the conversation before the day the office is closed.

Are You the Buyer or the Seller?

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You’re both at the table. The small talk has begun. One of you is hiring for an open position, the other is seeking to find a job. If we think in terms of consumerism, which one of you is the buyer in this situation? Which the seller?

Let’s examine this from both perspectives. In today’s economy, one might say that it’s a “buyer’s market.” We’ve heard stories about there being more homes for sale than people out looking to buy, and retailers slashing prices. And in the job market, there are fewer jobs than there are people seeking those jobs. But still, at the interview table, who is the buyer, and who is the seller?

The answer? Both of you.

What are You Buying and Selling?

The Hiring Organization:

  • You are buying talent. You’ve done your homework and have prepared your job description based on desired competencies. Now you’ve got to buy the skills and characteristics needed to fill the role. You are buying execution – a person who can get the job done and help your organization meet its bottom line.
  • You are selling your entire organization. You are selling that your organization is the place to work and will be inclusive of the applicant’s values. Your offer entails a compensation/benefit package and career growth opportunities built to recruit & retain new employees.

The Job Seeker:

  • You are buying a job. You are buying a role that challenges you and provides you a salary. You are buying a “home” that you may spend more time in than the home you rent or pay a mortgage on. You are buying a boss you can relate to, a team you can work with, and an organization whose mission and values you consent to.
  • You are selling your skills and your experiences. You are selling the knowledge you’ve gained from school, work, and life. You are selling a fresh perspective and your willingness to join or lead the team to get the job done.

It’s a Buyer’s Market
You’re still at the table. You’re having the conversation, a mutual exchange of questions and answers as you discover what you each have to offer. Just remember, it’s a buyer’s market. And you’re both buyers.