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Yes, and…

status quo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Voice: Accountability Speaks

Voice

Communicating who you are
Out loud or in your silence
Through action or its lack.
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
Featured

Keep on Shooting

shootbasketball

Sometimes, we don’t “get things right” on the first, second, or even multiple attempts. How do you keep persevering when things aren’t going your way, or seem more challenging than you expected?

Recently I attended my son’s 7th grade basketball game. Both teams just began their seasons within the last 2 weeks, and were pretty evenly matched opponents. It was a close score throughout the game.

If you’ve spent time watching or participating in sports, you have probably experienced a game where an athlete appears to be having an “off” game.

My son was having one of those days on the offense side of his performance. His defensive game was fantastic, resulting in several steals and assists toward teammate’s scoring buckets. On the other hand, he could not seem to score a basket on any of his own shot attempts! One time, the basketball circled the rim nearly a full 360 degrees before falling off – no points other than via free throws. His smirk of chagrin and quick shake of the head showed he was well aware of his struggle during his several attempts for a basket.

The game went into overtime. At the end of overtime, it was still tied. The teams then compete via “sudden death”, where the first team to score becomes the winner of the game. The other team had the ball first, but missed their shot. Back down the court they went. The ball passed from my son to a teammate, and the shot was missed. Our team rebounded the ball, and passed it to my son.

He took the shot. Swish. His team won! The team was excited and rushed him on the court. His perseverance to keep playing his best, to keep taking the shot, was critical during a pressure situation.

Lessons from the game:

  1. Keep Shooting. Sometimes when we don’t succeed fast, we stop trying. Instead, keep working for your best angle toward the basket – toward your goal.
  2. Keep Your Chin & Your Grin Up. Find ways to “shake it off” and remain committed to your goal. A sense of humor about a situation, no matter how bleak (or public, as in a court full of peers and parents), can go a long way.
  3. Play the Long Game. Define long-term success, celebrate the little successes along the way, and learn from the missed opportunities. Work with your team to adjust your plays to get the results you want.

No matter what, keep shooting. You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.

Featured

Say What?

communicationfarce

I was born with a hearing loss. As a kid, I wore hearing aids in both ears, and as one might imagine, the teasing was merciless. I will never forget my first day of high school as a 13 year old, walking into my first period history class and Sam, a boy on whom I had a crush, saying loudly, “Hey look! It’s the deaf girl!”

Wearing hearing aids was not high on my list as a teen, and I did not wear them all through my undergraduate days, though I could have used them in those 100+ people lecture halls. The moment I realized I didn’t care anymore that I have only 60% hearing in one ear, and 68% in the other? The day I became a parent. I didn’t want to not be able to hear my son calling me, or be able to hear school performances (microphones and large echoing gymnasiums are not my friend when it comes to being able to hear). Now, I don’t care who knows: I sometimes struggle to hear.

The reality? According to the National Institute for Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD http://www.nidcd.nih.gov/health/statistics/pages/quick.aspx ), one in eight people in the United States aged 12 years or older has hearing loss in both ears, based on standard hearing examinations.

That being said, in the spirit of creating increased awareness, I offer a few tips for the workplace that may help all people have better heard conversations:

1. Ups and Downs. Avoid conversations in stairwells where heels are clacking, many people are using the stairs at the same time, and you are unable to look at the person to whom you’re speaking.

2. Flush First! Please do not have work-related conversations while in the restroom. It’s uncomfortable for many reasons, poor acoustics aside.

3. Music/Other Background Noises. Conversations or presentations where people are speaking with music in the background can make it difficult to hear. Consider this when having work conversations or designing training programs or eLearning courses with music accompanying audio.

4. Whispering Woes. If you need to share some information that you don’t want everyone to hear, don’t whisper in the cubicle; find a place to have the conversation privately so that you can speak in a normal tone and volume.

5. Phone Ps & Qs. On conference calls, hold each other accountable for practicing good phone etiquette, such as: muting the phone when not speaking, saying your name before stating your comment (not all people can differentiate voices easily), and not having side conversations that mute the speaker’s voice.

6.  ABCs and 123s. A simple way to ensure people are getting the right information is to, where possible, say numbers and letters in such a way that there is no mistaking them. For example, B and P (or S and F) may sound alike via the phone or even in person, to someone with a hearing difficulty. Why not say, “B as in Boy, P as in Popsicle?” Consider numbers: Nine-five-two, fifty-six-oh-three. I have to ask, did you say “5 – 6-0-3, or 6-6-03?” When giving directions, say, “get off the elevator on floor 5” rather than “fifth” floor.

7. Check In vs. Call Out. If you are aware that a person on your team has a hearing loss, check in with him/her on occasion to see if how things are working is in a way that they can hear. It’s not necessary to single out the person in a meeting by saying, “Gabriella, can you hear?” (This happens more than one might think.)

8. Face Time. On occasion, I am asked, “Are you ok? You look mad.” I had a boss ask me this after a conference room meeting filled with many attendees, plus those on speaker phone. I was so surprised. Actually, I had been concentrating so hard to hear that apparently my brows were furrowed. I work very hard not to do this now; I am not always successful, but at least my boss understood that my face meant, “focused” and not “furious.” Have you ever learned a foreign language? Had to concentrate so hard just to understand what the speaker was saying? That is my reality, particularly in situations where acoustics are poor, or the setting is made up of many competing sounds. Which leads me to #9.

9. Be curious. You may be amazed the things you learn from someone who has a physical difficulty. For example, I often hear BETTER than others in a crowded cafeteria where I am facing the person to whom I’m listening, because I read lips. I will never forget the graduate advisor who thanked me for teaching him about what a person goes through to get accommodation when he/she can’t hear in a university setting. I never thought about it that way before, and it reinforced my resolve to never be ashamed to say, “I’m having trouble hearing you. Can we have this conversation when we get to the bottom of the stairs?”

Yes, I have a hearing loss. Yes, I am listening, and I want to hear you and be successful in my working relationships. Will you hear me?

Cracks in the Sidewalk

gridWhen 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?

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.