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

In or Out?

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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.

Keep on Shooting

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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.

Pull It Up to the Front

There is an old saying that goes like this; “out of the mouths of babes, oft times come gems,” which essentially means that children have been known to say insightful things. Recently, my

basketball

Recently, my eight-year-old son and I took advantage of a beautiful day to take the dog for a long walk. During our walk, the subject of the previous night’s basketball practice arose.

My son was describing strategies, positions, reactive strategies, and many other pieces of information about how the game of basketball is played.

My son was describing strategies, positions, reactive strategies, and many other pieces of information about how the game of basketball is played.  After about 20 minutes of chatter about such things, peppered with my questions, I said, “Wow, Logan! You really have to keep a lot of things in mind at the same time. I don’t know how you remember all of that in the midst of a game.”

His answer certainly surprised me. “Well, mom,” said Logan, “you see, it’s really easy. You know your brain, it’s pretty big. So what I do when I have a game or practice is, I bring all the basketball stuff to the front of my brain. I take all the other stuff out, and shove it to the back of my brain, so it doesn’t get in the way.”

I asked him, “How do you do that?” The answer was, “Well, I just focus really hard on what I am doing – it gets easier to just pull it (the basketball “stuff) to the front after you practice it for a while. Then, you just play basketball and everything is clear.”

Did my son just describe the concept of attention density in an amazingly simple story?

brain

 What we choose to focus on is where the increased density of our attention occurs. It’s no secret that allowing ourselves to be distracted by emails, texts, phone, or meetings can impact our ability to be productive and make decisions.

Neuroscience research shows that we actually can make circuitry changes in the brain with our thinking patterns. Attention density is a way of focusing on something to come to a decision or increased clarity.

A simple example of this is the experience we often have after we purchase a new car, or even a new cellphone. Suddenly, we see our exact same car or cell phone everywhere, because now we are paying attention to that item.

What we choose to focus on is where the increased density of our attention occurs. It’s no secret that allowing ourselves to be distracted by emails, texts, phone, or meetings can impact our ability to be productive and make decisions. Neuroscience research shows that we actually can make circuitry changes in the brain with our thinking patterns. Attention density is a way of focusing on something to come to a decision or increased clarity. A simple example of this is the experience we often have after we purchase a new

How might this idea of attention density impact how we design learning materials? For that matter, how might it impact the way we allow our teams to structure their day? The idea of time for reflection and focus during our work and learning processes is where I see the potential for increasing attention density.

To learn more about the fascinating research on neuroscience and attention density and its implications for business, innovation and leadership, access the Neuroleadership Institute. For myself, when I find myself needing to focus, I now mentally picture myself pulling information to the front of my brain, and shoving the irrelevant information “to the back.”