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…

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.

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?

handshake

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.

We Can Learn Much from Our Children about Interviewing

Recently, I had the enjoyable experience of baking holiday cookies with my 6 year old son. Logan announced happily that he was my “assistant chef at the cookie factory” and that he is “much better than last year, because now I can do everything but crack the eggs.” Logan described his ability to measure, double a recipe, and stir large amounts of ingredients.

Within the hour, Logan decided to promote himself to governor of Minnesota, where we live. He introduced himself to me, and announced that he was “inspecting all businesses in Minnesota, to see if they are doing ok,” and then proceeded to make sure that I had clean hands, a clean oven, and then went to check on his father who was working on a remodeling project in our home. He promptly announced that his father was building a larger cookie factory, and that he better clean up his tools so no one at the cookie factory gets hurt.

The interviewing part comes in next. Logan announced that it was time for elections. “Oh, are you running for governor again?”, I asked. “Nope. I already did that job. Now I am going to be president of the United States!” With a big smile, I asked, “Well, I am glad to see you’ve got ambition, Governor Logan. Tell me, why do you think people should vote for you?”

Logan’s immediate reply made my mouth fall open, as it’s smooth and authentic delivery was something many adults strive for in the interview process. Logan declared, “Well, I think people should vote for me because I am nice to everyone, and I know how to help them with their jobs and their houses. Also, I used to work in a cookie factory, so I can bake cookies for everyone and they will have something good to eat.” I laughed out loud, looked at my husband and said, “Well, that sounds better than a lot of reasons I’ve heard to vote for someone.”

The conversation ran through my head several times, and I reflected that what Logan had done was successfully navigate through an interview! Here are some lessons that resonated from Logan’s conversation with me:

1. Tell the Story:
Logan was able to tell a story about why he was visiting the “cookie factory”, and what his job was as governor, in addition to why he should be elected President. What is your story? Why do you want the job you are applying for right now? Recently I asked a friend why she was interviewing for a job with a healthcare company. She told me a story of how as a child, she was often ill, and remembered all of the paperwork and appointments her parents went to, and that they were often confused about payments and procedures. She determined that she wanted to work in healthcare “to help others feel more comfortable about their health situations.” What a great story to share on an interview!

2. Know What You Have to Offer:
Logan simply stated what he could offer: being nice to people, help with businesses, and cookies. When going on an interview, how prepared are you to discuss your strengths, what you are good at, and what you can offer the prospective employer? It is more than knowing you can make cookies; it is knowing that you can offer a tangible result, such as, “people will have something good to eat.”

3. Connect Your Experiences:
Logan was able to tie in a seemingly unrelated job of his work at the cookie factory with a way to use those skills in his new role as President. These days, the average person has 10 careers over a lifetime, and it is likely that they may be from different industries or using opposite skill sets. How can you tie the lessons learned in each of your work experiences, so they may add to your story? How do those experiences help you do a better job today?

4. Be Genuine:
The enthusiasm Logan shared for his ambition to be President, complete with his belief that he was right for the job could only bring a smile to an interviewer’s face. An interview is a conversation with another person about what you would like to do as an employee or consultant in the organization. Being able to answer the question, “Why should I hire you?” by using tips 1-3 above will go a long way in getting a potential employer to see how you are unique from other candidates.

While Logan has never really worked in a cookie factory, nor served as governor, I have faith that his ability to communicate his skills and ideas at age 6 will serve him well into adulthood.

Suddenly, I am hungry for a cookie.

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.

The Early Bird Gets the…Job?

Creating a well-written resume and cover letter are not the only tools needed to get noticed by recruiters today. These days, there may be hundreds of applications for a single opening. Recruiters and hiring managers often cannot review each application that comes through the door. Job search sites such as Indeed.com, Monster.com, and Careerbuilder.com are displaying a new trend.

You may be surprised to find out that some jobs are posted to a job search site for mere hours before expiring. Employers set a limit at gathering the first X amount of resumes that meet basic qualification criteria, and once they do, the job requisition is closed down to further applicants. On a recent interview, I was told that there had been 155 applicants to the job in the first three days, and only EIGHT people were selected to interview. How can job applicants beat this cutoff for applications?

1.) Apply right away to jobs that pique your interest and match your skills. This may seem like common sense, but I know several colleagues who have waited three, four, even seven days to post for a job while they “think about how to best approach the position.” By this time, the job may be removed from postings.

2.) Set up email alerts that send an email to your inbox each time there are jobs matching your profile. This way, you will get the information quickly, and can respond promptly.

3.) Not all job postings go to the big job search engines. If there are specific companies that you are targeting, make it a practice to check those websites two or three times a week to see if new listings are posted. Some company websites also have email alert capabilities.

4.) Get your internal referrals lined up ahead of time. For example, if you have a friend who will be an employee referral for you at ABC Corporation, get his/her information ahead of time, so that when a job opens up in your area, you can apply right away and use the employee referral. Many times, colleagues reach out to their internal contacts when they see a job posting, asking that person if they can use him/her as a referral; this may cause a 24-48 hour delay if the person is not able to respond right away.

There is no substitute for a well-written resume and cover letter. The same rules still apply there; grammar, spelling, and a clear picture of the person’s qualifications are necessary. However, today’s job market proves the old adage correct: the early bird gets the worm, or in this case, the interview that could lead to a job.

To Say or Not to Say: Corporate Refugee

A new term has hit my radar this week: corporate refugee. At several local meetings, people have introduced themselves by indicating that they are “corporate refugees”. I had not heard this term before, but a few connotations sprang to mind: a) this person was persecuted or had horrible situations occur at his/her last job, and b) this person has escaped from the corporate sector.

After reflecting upon this term, and hearing from the people that used it that they are either looking for a new job or have started their own consulting business, I began to wonder if this is a term that makes sense for people to be using?

Googling the term “corporate refugee” brings up many hits, including links to groups that have formed for people to meet up and network for their next job. One website reference describes the term as “much like refugees from war-torn countries, corporate refugees find the situation in their place of work has become so awful, so inhuman and so intolerable that they would rather risk everything and get out to start afresh.”

As an interviewing coach, I wonder how that next corporation would feel about an interviewee who describes him- or herself as a “corporate refugee”? Is this a way of saying negative things about one’s last employer, which is frowned upon by interviewing experts? Or is the term simply a way of describing a group of people who have been displaced from their former employer?

What do you think? Corporate Refugee: to say or not to say?