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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…

Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day

Rome“Why is Learning & Development so slow?” A client was recently asked this question. She and her team of employees and consultants are striving to create training for a massive, division-wide initiative.  She was frustrated, and rightfully so.

My joking response was, “Well, put the answers in terms that the group of engineers will understand. Advise them that we need inputs to produce outputs – just like in all the engineering process flows they want us to train nearly 2,000 people on this fall!”  She laughed, and responded, “the issue is, they don’t understand the importance of developing learning outcomes and then creating learning solutions to meet those outcomes.”

All joking aside, this is a common issue in the field of learning and development; the time spent up front to do a root cause analysis or align training solutions with the business goals is often seen as a) a waste of time; b) not necessary because ‘we just want an eLearning’ or c) slowing down the progress because ‘training needs to happen NOW’.

Consider This…input model

How would you answer the following questions?

1. When a construction firm builds a structure meant to hold thousands of people, does he/she begin without a detailed drawing from an architect? Are specific outcomes and impacts to the users are considered in the final approved plan, prior to construction?

2. When you plan a graduation party, wedding, or family reunion type event, would you do it without first listing out the what, where, who, why for the various items you need to organize? The number of guests might impact the location of the event, or the budget may determine how many appetizers, for example.

3. When determining compensation plans, is this done without outlining specific individual and team metrics and measures prior to launching the plan?

4. Would you expect an R&D team to create a product without critical product specifications and requirements? If the end product was “create a water bottle,” how likely is it that you’d get a water bottle that met all of your requirements?

If you answered ‘no’ to any of the questions above, you see the value of planning prior to investing hours and resources into an outcome that will impact many people. Additionally, the completion – or even prototype – of a plan is dependent upon getting information from the “expert” in the situation. The learning plan, the building, the party, the compensation plan – none can be completed without input from the ones impacted by the change.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, the training need wasn’t determined in a day, and nor will the finished training product be so. Set expectations for project owners, content experts, and learning professionals. Hold all parties accountable to deadlines set, and likely you’ll see that the process will increase speed.  Creating successful behavior change by using training as a communication vehicle can be well done through a collaborative approach between the project owners and the learning and development team.

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?

office chair.jpgAt 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.

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.