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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…

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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?

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.

40 by Design

A mid-career professional. A parent. Wife, friend, sister, daughter. Gen-X’er. Small business owner, consultant, contractor. Learning professional, trainer, instructional designer, e-learning developer and project manager. Networker extraordinaire. I-phone using, LinkedIn promoting, tweeting, latte-drinking, dog-walking, traveling when I can find the time, book-devouring, politics-discussing, homework-helping, volunteer-loving, playing with my kids, desperately overscheduled “but it’s all good stuff”…person.

And now I’m 40. What does it mean to be a 40-year old small business owner, mid-career professional juggling the demands of being supermom (as I define it) while having time to be a great friend, lover, and partner to my husband…while running my own small business? Does it magically become clearer with the new ‘40’ label? “Sure”, she says, while guzzling down 8 more ounces of her doctor-recommended 64 ounces of water per day.

As a teenager, I remember seeing pictures of my own mother in her 30s and 40s and thinking, “she looks younger in her 40s than in her 30s.” My mother came up behind me and said, “That’s because in my 40s you girls were older and I had a bit more time to re-focus on myself and my own career.” All righty then.

What is a career, exactly, in an age where it’s a downsize, right size, virtual, flex-time, technology-enabled answer all the time environment?

My answer? I’m a designer. I design ways to enable people to learn skills they need for their current and/or future jobs…or how to look for a new job when theirs is no longer open to them. As I design learning experiences for my bread and butter, I choose to think of turning 40 as a learning experience to design into my own life. What I know about 40 in my world is that I’m reflecting on these questions:

1.You Want Mustard on that Sandwich?sandwich

(Bread): Kids are growing up fast and they’re only young once. You laugh, you cry, you worry, and you cheer, endlessly, for them.

(Bread): Parents are getting older, health issues are occurring, and they are not local to where we live.

Question: How can I make the most of our time together?

(Cheese/Meat): You! Marriage, parenting, and careers take passion, time, and energy.

Question: How can I be present and in the moment in each of these huge components of life?

Sometimes the pressures of all of these items can make one feel like a sandwich that’s been sitting at the bottom of the laptop bag too long…but it’s still delicious and life-affirming for those who hunger for the sustenance from those whom we love.

2.Who Am I Again?

* Is my life going the way I want it to?
* Am I leaving the world and people around me in a better place than when I arrived?
* What am I forgetting to nurture, encourage, and grow?
* What am I putting off doing until “someday?”
* What doesn’t matter anymore?
* What DOES matter?

3.How Do I Know?

No roadmap for parenting. How do you forgive the crap we all survived as children and let your child live his/her own life, and make his/her own discoveries in and about the world?

Marriage. It’s been awhile now. How do we be sure to keep our own relationship as a couple when there’s always late-night-early-morning work calls, team practices, college scouting, children’s milestones, parents expectations of you…and remember that we CHOSE each other? Turn the phone off, hold hands no matter who’s there, have each other’s back without holding each other back, and get away from the NOISE once in awhile.

Career. Yeah. Onsite, offsite, global, national, titles without pay, pay with more responsibility, travel is awesome except when you miss your spouse, children, dogs. Technology-changing, always reaching, industries closing, more work, less staff. The question is, where are you getting what you need to manage your energy, emotions, and sanity at an acceptable level? Are you working to live, or living to work?

What’s next? Who knows? Flexibility, challenge, ownership of my career is important. Raising community-aware humans is paramount. Making time to spend with people I love is increasingly more important. Not putting up with bullshit ranks up there, too. I am a designer of learning; learning to me equals options.

candlesWhat’s next is that I know there will always be options – that is the design framework for my life. At 40, I can say that with more certainty than before – and that’s a good thing. For me.

Yep, I’m a designer, and no matter how many labels I may have, I will design them into my life in a way that lets me be myself, and be with those who matter, to make the most of my passion and energy for life’s options.

Happy (Belated) Birthday to me.

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?

restroom sign.pngConsider 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 signHow 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?

mazeUpon 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.