Voice: The Gift of a Question

askquestions
Part 2 in a series on Voice. (Part 1: Voice of Accountability)

Why do people ask questions at work? Is it because they weren’t paying attention? Might they be new to a job or process? Could they be curious? Is it possible they are seeking to understand before offering an idea?

Think about the last five questions people at work have asked you:

Did it matter who was asking the question, when or how the question was asked? Did you respond differently according to the who, when, or how?

Now, think about the last five questions YOU asked others at work.

What was your reason for asking those questions? Were the responses given in a way you were expecting?

Being asked questions is a daily part of the work environment; it’s important to consider the impact of how we hear, react, and respond to questions asked of us during our busy day.

Tips for Receiving Questions at Work

  • Assume positive intent
  • Assure the questioner that it is “ok” to ask questions and that you appreciate them asking
  • Use appreciative inquiry; seek to understand the why behind the question
  • Consider the impact if the question had not been asked
  • Ask for time to consider the person’s question and get back to him/her; it’s okay not to have an answer right away

Your response to questions has the power to encourage – and discourage – others from asking questions and perhaps seeking your input in the future. Are you seeing the gift in the questions being asked of you?

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…

Voice: Accountability Speaks

Part 1 in a series on Voice. 

Communication is loud, whether through words, actions, or silence.  After a return to the corporate world, the concept of ‘voice’ has been a consistent source of reflection; the voice that is heard and the voice that is not. Where can you use your voice? Where do you make yourself heard?

The Voice of Accountability: Owning Outcomes

At work, every one has a role to play. Part of the reason we were hired is to bring our voice as a contribution to ‘getting things done’.  There is the the voice of expertise in a skill that you bring, but just as importantly, there is the voice of accountability.  Consider a few common workplace scenarios – do any of these questions resonate for you?

Scenario 1: When you’re on a work team, and others are not doing what they said they’d do.

  • Do you ask them why?
  • Do you share the impact it is having on others’ work?
  • Do you wait for the boss to do it?
  • Does your boss do it?

Scenario 2: When you collaborate with others on a project, and credit is given to only one person.

  • Do you give credit to others who helped you?
  • What do you say if others’ take credit – or don’t acknowledge – work you have done?
  • Do you hold others’ accountable for recognizing others’ efforts?
  • Do you hold yourself accountable?

Scenario 3: When you see something broken or have an idea for improvement on a process, a team dynamic, a product.

  • Do you bring it forward to your boss or do you complain to others on your team?
  • Do you brainstorm with others on ways to fix it?
  • Do you seek a solution to the issue?
  • Do you examine the role you may play in making things better or different?

These and countless other scenarios allow your voice – or your silence – to be heard. Consider the impact your voice has on yourself, and on others in the workplace.

  • What does the voice in your head say to you if you are silent? If you are not?
  • What is the message your silence portrays to others?
  • What message is sent to a team if some are not held accountable?
  • Are you sharing the voice you want? 

The voice of accountability comes with many choices. The choice to speak, to act, to be silent, to not respond. Each of these choices contributes to your voice in the workplace.

What is your voice? 

Image credit: thingswesay.com

A Public Restroom: Design Matters!

Ideas come in the strangest places. A reflection on learning design comes from, of all places, the ladies restroom at the public library. How would a visit to the ladies room at the public library translate into reflections on e-learning design, you might ask?

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Consider this story for a moment. I was on my way out of the library, and decided to stop at the restroom first. As I got closer, I noticed a woman in a wheelchair trying to open the door to enter the restroom. She was maneuvering herself as best as she could but then started to wheel away.

“Can I open the door for you?” I asked. After making sure she made it to the stall, I started thinking, ‘well, now how is she going to get out?’ I asked the librarian to check on her to make sure she could get back out of the bathroom when needed.

As I left the library, a few key thoughts about how this scenario relates to e-learning were running through my mind.

It’s beautiful, but does it work for everyone?

The library referred to in the story is about 2 years old, and boasts sun panels and a gorgeous contemporary design, comfortable seating, and a large selection of books. However, the restroom does not have a handicapped accessible door that the woman in the wheelchair could reach.

How are we designing our programs to reach the audiences for which they are intended?When it comes to the library, what do we want our users to be able to do? You might answer: check out books, study at the tables, bring children to story time, use the computers for free, etc.

An important design consideration in this case, is also to reflect on the fact that we want people to spend time at the library; hence, an accessible bathroom is also important.

When it comes to designing learning courses, meeting this “basic need” could be as simple as providing a glossary link, links to printable handouts, and a searchable menu, so that the learner will spend time in your course and get their needs met with tools designed for them to use on the job.

Access is everything!

do not enter sign

How might your learner’s perceptions be colored if they couldn’t access or understand how to navigate your course the first time they try it?

What do you think the woman’s perception was of the library when it was difficult to fulfill a basic need? When it comes to designing courses, we have a plethora of tools from which to choose, and many fantastic graphic and interface options.

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

At the same time, one of the most common laments I have heard is “we have all this great learning, but nobody knows where or how to access it?” Other examples of where beautiful design doesn’t always succeed when the rubber meets the road include:

  • English-only options for a global audience;
  • No transcript printing availability for those who have English as a Second Language, or a hearing impairment;
  • Designs that are so labor intensive that it takes 6-9 months to build them, when the information is needed NOW;
  • Not available in multiple formats, such as iPad or mobile devices

They’re in, but can they get back out?

maze

Upon entering a public restroom, one expects to be able to exit at some point. Sometimes you need to go back the same way you entered; in others you need to exit through a separate doorway.

At the library, the woman was not going to be able to get back out, given that there was only one way to exit – a door handle she couldn’t reach. This is not helpful design for the user!

When it comes to designing learning programs, an important consideration has to do with navigation and “do-overs.”

  • What happens when the learner tries to go back and review an earlier section in the course? Can they do so; are the screens and animations reset so they can experience the content again, if needed?
  • What happens if the learner needs to leave the course in the middle? Will it track where the learner left off, or will he or she have to start over upon returning to the course?

Certainly there are more implications for design that you may think of, given ample time. I simply suggest that design “good learning” courses, where accessibility and applicability trump beauty and flashy tricks that don’t add to meeting the learner’s needs. Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out -with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

Let’s try not to trap our learners –in or out-with our designs and processes for accessing needed information.

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.

Not Your Grandmother’s Catalog

Do you have enough years on this planet to remember using card catalogs to find books at the local library? Not online card catalogs, but paper, roledex-like card catalogs?

When I was a kid, my grandma worked at the public library. I vividly recall visiting her there when I had research projects for school, or wanted to try out a new author. She would help me find books when I was unsure how to spell the author’s name or book title, and best of all, she would help me when I couldn’t find items such as “The Great Gatsby” under the letter “G”, because it was located under “T” for “The” instead.

card catalogueLearning the rules for how card catalogs worked helped me immeasurably with finding information I needed. Grandma showed me how to try other options to find what I was looking for, if I didn’t succeed on my first search. Little did I know, but Grandma was teaching me how to use metadata or “tags” to search under words related to my desired topic.

In a recent article by Elliott Masie in CLO Magazine, Elliott proposes that one of the “jobs of the future” for learning departments is that of librarian. With all of the content and formats that exist today, the challenge is “discoverability” through use of metadata, search readiness, and content taxonomies.

How will you set up learning opportunities so that employees can access them? What naming conventions will you use, and how will you cross reference “like” materials? How will you know when data is no longer valid and needs to be removed from the catalog? These are just a few of the many questions needed in the new librarian’s role.

One thing is certain; it’s not grandma’s card catalog, anymore.

Onboarding Consultant Staff: Tips to Minimize “Ramp Up” Time

Your department has a project that needs to be done, and you don’t have the resources. You’ve been given a budget to hire a consultant to come in and work with your team to meet the project deadlines. What can you do to make sure that he/she can help drive your project forward to completion? What communication is needed so that your current team is also “on board” with the addition to the project team?

Here are some simple tips to minimizing “ramp up” time for new consultants.

Prior to Start Date:

1.) Request access to all computer systems, laptop/desktop equipment, ID badge, and other supplies needed so that the consultant can become operable shortly after joining your project team.

2.) Preparing the internal team for the arrival of a consultant is also crucial to the success of the project. Share information with your existing team about who is coming, why the person is coming, and expectations of what the consultant will be doing, and impacts to the project and current team members. Team members who are unsure of the consultant’s role may feel they need to compete with the consultant, may worry that their own jobs are in jeopardy, or may not understand how to best utilize the consultant’s time and skills.

3.) Compile a list of internal websites, SharePoint sites, and other applicable internal information centers, and provide access to the consultant.

4.) Put together an “onboarding” checklist for the consultant, and ensure that key people are available to spend some time with the consultant. For example, many times the hiring organization begins by giving a consultant access to a list of SharePoint sites to “check out”, and then leaves the consultant to his/her own devices to look for pertinent information.

There have been times when a consultant may waste more than an hour trying to figure out where project documents are stored – especially when there are many projects, and many sites to examine. Does your organization really want to pay for someone to spend time searching for things that could be pointed out in a matter of minutes?

Potential Onboarding Checklist

There are many details that consultants will need to know when they begin a project with you and your team. Having information prepared ahead of time will minimize the hours that the consultant spends searching company websites to find answers, or wandering hallways to find meeting rooms – hours for which your organization is paying!

Following is a list of potential items to have ready to share with the consultant within the first few days of beginning the project.

Who

  • Who needs to meet with your consultant to facilitate execution on this project?
  • Who are team members, and how do they fit into the organization/team/business unit (org chart)?
  • Who can help show the consultant how to navigate company websites, SharePoint sites, and other internal information? (It is not recommended to simply email a list of website links without providing context)
  • Who is accountable for providing information, and to whom is the consultant providing information?
  • Who are the contacts for key areas such as administrative support, IT support, invoicing issues and other items that support the consultant’s ability to get work done?

What

  • What are the deliverables of the project?
  • What is in scope, and what is out of scope for the project?
  • What expectations are there regarding turnaround time (responding to emails, voice mails, project draft documents, etc)?
  • What is the consultant’s role in relation to others on the team?
  • What concepts should the consultant be aware of that promote understanding of corporate culture? Are there “mottos”, leadership models, acronym glossaries, standards for quality, for example?
  • What processes are in place around this project? (For example: are there SharePoints for sharing documents, are there project hours that must be posted to a PM plan, etc)?

Where/When

  • Where are project documents stored?
  • Where are conference rooms?
  • Where/when does the consultant submit invoices?
  • When are deliverables due?
  • When will feedback be provided?

How

  • How do project team members communicate? (Virtual, In Person, Email)? How will the project team resolve conflicts?
  • How often and for how long does the project team meet?
  • How does the feedback loop work on this team?
  • How will we know if the project is successful?

Providing clear and consistent communication to consultants and internal project team members and stakeholders is critical to achieving project success. Clarity and preparedness in the onboarding process reduces the time and dollars spent on consultants and allows the organization to gain the consultant’s “value add” on the project team in the shortest time possible.

Spending the time to onboard at the beginning reduces the time spent later in correcting assumptions about the project – not to mention having a consultant wandering the hallways looking for that conference room.