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.

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Rome

“Why is Learning & Development so slow?” A client was recently asked this question. She and her team of employees and consultants are striving to create training for a massive, division-wide initiative.  She was frustrated, and rightfully so.

My joking response was, “Well, put the answers in terms that the group of engineers will understand. Advise them that we need inputs to produce outputs – just like in all the engineering process flows they want us to train nearly 2,000 people on this fall!”  She laughed, and responded, “the issue is, they don’t understand the importance of developing learning outcomes and then creating learning solutions to meet those outcomes.”

All joking aside, this is a common issue in the field of learning and development; the time spent up front to do a root cause analysis or align training solutions with the business goals is often seen as a) a waste of time; b) not necessary because ‘we just want an eLearning’ or c) slowing down the progress because ‘training needs to happen NOW’.

input model

Consider This…

How would you answer the following questions?

1. When a construction firm builds a structure meant to hold thousands of people, does he/she begin without a detailed drawing from an architect? Are specific outcomes and impacts to the users are considered in the final approved plan, prior to construction?

2. When you plan a graduation party, wedding, or family reunion type event, would you do it without first listing out the what, where, who, why for the various items you need to organize? The number of guests might impact the location of the event, or the budget may determine how many appetizers, for example.

3. When determining compensation plans, is this done without outlining specific individual and team metrics and measures prior to launching the plan?

4. Would you expect an R&D team to create a product without critical product specifications and requirements? If the end product was “create a water bottle,” how likely is it that you’d get a water bottle that met all of your requirements?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions above, you see the value of planning prior to investing hours and resources into an outcome that will impact many people. Additionally, the completion – or even prototype – of a plan is dependent upon getting information from the “expert” in the situation. The learning plan, the building, the party, the compensation plan – none can be completed without input from the ones impacted by the change.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, the training need wasn’t determined in a day, and nor will the finished training product be so. Set expectations for project owners, content experts, and learning professionals. Hold all parties accountable to deadlines set, and likely you’ll see that the process will increase speed.  Creating successful behavior change by using training as a communication vehicle can be well done through a collaborative approach between the project owners and the learning and development team.

Increasing Organizational Influence: 6 Tips for Learning Teams 

Want your learning team to have increased credibility & influence in your organization? Start with these six tips:

Why1. Establish a “Why” Strategy
The “Why Strategy gives your team unified, strong, business-oriented answers to questions they may be asked by leaders in the organization. Can your team professionally, consistently and succinctly answer questions like:

  • Why should we come to your team for solutions?
  • Why is (or isn’t) training the answer?
  • Why does it take so long/cost so much to create the solution?
  • Why are you recommending solution A as opposed to solution B?

2. Get Out of the Cube – Consultative Skillsteam at the table

Meeting business outcomes means the learning team needs to be able to get out and talk to the people involved in (and impacted by) driving the desired outcome. Creating training programs doesn’t happen in a vacuum; learning professionals need the skills to be able to ask questions, observe, review, test, and provide recommendations best suited to the need. A consultative approach identifies needs, assumptions, risks, and desired business outcomes. Sample questions include:

  • Who is the audience?
  • How will the users interact with the __________ (insert topic name here)?
  • What needs to start happening?
  • What needs to stop happening?
  • Why this solution and why now?
  • How will you determine -and measure- success?

3. Practice Project Managementcheck boxes

Business leaders come to the learning department looking for a solution to meet a business need. Have a process in place to define key milestones & deliverables for your project, a desired due date for them, and a clear definition of roles and responsibilities throughout the life of the project. A project management process helps to minimize unexpected surprises during the project and demonstrates the project team’s commitment and agreement to deadlines and expected deliverables.

4. Back Your Team
Stand by your team’s expertise. Coach your team member to find ways to meet the client’s needs through a consultative approach documented with a project management approach. If you consistently allow clients to trim time, budget, or add scope, you increase the odds your team cannot deliver and thus undermine the expertise the team brings to the organization.little plant

5. Processes & Templates ≠ Skill
A strategy, lists of consultative questions, eLearning and instructor-led templates, and a project management spreadsheet are in place. That’s a start. That does not mean your team members have the skills to execute. A template or process is only as good as the skills of those using them.

Coach your team through their first attempts at trying the new skills; attend a project kickoff meeting with your team member and allow them to observe you answering & asking questions while sharing the key information with the client. Better yet, observe your team member, and provide feedback after the meeting. Grow skills to grow influence!

6. Communicate Results
Gather quantitative and qualitative metrics after the rollout of the program to assess the success from the users’ and sponsor’s perspective.

  • Publish the results on your team website or in a company newsletter.
  • Send a congratulatory announcement of success to the learners about their adoption the new skill and its’ resulting benefit the organization.
  • Schedule time for your team member to meet with the project team to determine what went well, what didn’t as the project team worked together? Discover how you might improve your team’s perception from key stakeholders. Communicate how you used  the feedback to enhance future offerings and project collaborations.

One Leaf at a Time

lots of leavesIt was a beautiful and sunny fall morning as we pulled up to Ms. Jackson’s* home to take part in another family volunteer event. The Broady family, consisting of Gabriella, husband Dan, and two sons, volunteered again with the HOME program, which stands for “Home & Outdoor Maintenance for the Elderly.”

Walking up to Ms. Jackson’s front door, we thought, “Oh, this won’t take too long; it’s not bad at all!” We met Ms. Jackson and decided to tour the yard to get a sense of our project. As we went around to the backyard, a sea of golden leaves, several inches think, took us by surprise.

My husband, sons and I raked for nearly 4 hours,  with a five-minute rest to sample a few handmade cookies from Ms. Jackson, who was so happy to see her lawn being cleared. We filled 40 lawn and leaf bags raking by hand; we ran out of the “approved” bag types, and had to leave the rest for when more bags were delivered.

Lessons Learned
How is a volunteer leaf-raking exercise like working on a project?

As a learning designer, I try to reflect on lessons I learn from each project and each client. As the boys and I drove home, exhausted and yet proud of our efforts, we discussed what “we’d do differently next time.” These items apply to good project management skills, too!

1. Know Your Scope: In this case, we had 4 people and 3 hours of available time. We needed either more time, or more resources to get this done. In any project, find out what your scope is (do we need to rake out the garden/flower bed areas too?) and what constraints are, so the project is clear to all parties.

2. Bring the Right Tools: We brought work gloves, bottled waters, and a rake for each person. We also had 40 lawn-n-leaf bags from our host home. We needed at least 10 more bags, and determined that next year, we’d bring our leaf blowers…and maybe even our lawn mowing mulcher! Not having the right tools to complete your project impacts the amount of materials and time needed, not to mention that it can wear out your team!

3. Designate Roles & Responsibilities: We quickly realized that our ten your old son was not going to be able to rake as long as the three adult-size people in our family, but we had a task he was perfect for — jumping in the bags and squishing leaves down so we could fill them as much as possible. He also had the task of taking the bags to the curb after they were full, so we could keep raking. Assigning roles to people on your project teams is critical; even more so, is assigning the RIGHT people to the RIGHT task.

4. Communicate with Your Sponsor & Your Project Teammates: We realized we did not have enough bags, and that we were running out of time. We decided as a family that we would get everything raked into the last two piles, then pick up as much as we could. We talked with Ms. Jackson about hour plan and told her we would stay as long as there were bags needing to be filled.

5. Debrief Your Project Experience. All, in all, it was a great project, and we loved being able to help Ms. Jackson. However, we learned that it’s important to debrief what we liked (sun, helping someone, pretty leaves), what we didn’t (not enough bags, larger yard than we could easily handle), and what we’d do differently next time.

6. Celebrate a job well done. We appreciated the boys’ hard work, and went out for lunch at the malt shop before their sports practices began. Letting your team know how much their efforts mean is tantamount to continued project success and engagement.

Volunteering: Giving Back 
This volunteer event was part of Yellow Giraffe Learning’s 5 for 5 Give Back Campaign. Yellow Giraffe donates 1 hour of time/$ to a good cause, and 1-hour free kickoff meeting to clients as a way to say thank you for 5 years of business ownership. We have now completed 4 projects!

* Name changed to protect individual privacy.

5 for 5 – Give Back Campaign

5 fingersYellow Giraffe Learning Partners (YGLP) celebrates 5 years in business by giving back “5 for 5.”

Owner Gabriella Broady believes in giving back and has been donating money to causes to celebrate each anniversary of her company’s business. This year, she’s decided to take it a step further with the “5 for 5” give-back campaign.

How it works:
Between our 5 year anniversary of March 2014 and March 2015, five clients who contract with Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners for learning & development services, will receive the following benefit from YGLP:

  • One free hour of consulting services (typically a project kickoff meeting)
  • One hour of consulting fees will ALSO be donated to a cause of YGLP’s choosing

Qualifying Projects:

  • Projects must be 100 or more hours to qualify or 1 week of facilitation
  • Donations will occur after YGLP has been paid for 100 hours of work
  • First 5 clients to meet these qualifications will be offered the discount and the donation to charity

Progress Thus Far: 
Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners is happy to report that two client projects have met this criteria so far, and donations will be going out upon project completion and payment.

Thanks to Horizontal Integration (Ameriprise Financial) and Donaldson Company for selecting Yellow Giraffe Learning Partners in 2014.  These projects will be wrapped up by mid-May, and owner Gabriella Broady is happy to consider new candidates for the “5 for 5” Give Back campaign.

“We are grateful to our customers and partners for the past 5 years of success, and we look forward to continued collaborations with current and new organizations to “take learning to new heights.”

Contact owner Gabriella Broady directly at 763.442.9315 or gabriella@yellowgiraffelearning.com.