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?

What Do They Have in Common?

What do the topics of “followership, teambuilding, and content review” have in common? Keep reading for my suggested answer.

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to attend and volunteer at the American Society of Training & Development’s fourth Regional conference. During this time, I attended three breakout sessions on different learning topics; followership, teambuilding, and content review.

The Followership session was a discourse on a proposed model of four types of employees who follow a leader in an organization. The idea was that employees are either a) yes people, b) slackers, c) criticizers, or d) self-starters.

The Teambuilding session discussed the idea of the parts of a team that can make or break the team. For example, mission/goals, roles, work processes, and relationships are components of a team, and according to the presenters, are also possible areas where teams can break down.

Last but not least, I attended a session on Managing the Content Review Process. We looked at ensuring that our projects have a proper review cycle so that clients/learners are satisfied with the end result.

What common thread weaves through all of these sessions?

Answer: Setting expectations.

Session 1: Followership
How do managers develop their employees, manage expectations, and encourage employees to bring their strengths to the table? As an employee, how are you clarifying your expectations within your workgroups? Do you expect your boss to give you answers or solve difficult situations, or do you handle it to the best of your ability and let the boss know the result? If you have a critique of a situation, do you simply point out the flaw, or do you also propose a solution?

Session 2: Teambuilding
How are teams set up, and how are roles defined so there is minimal confusion as the project evolves? What happens if something goes well? What happens if something does not go well?

Session 3: Managing Content Reviews
How do we prepare project reviewers to give much needed feedback that is specific and timely? Are roles clearly defined so people know where they can benefit the project most? Do people understand the consequences of not providing reviews on a project? Are the right people reviewing the project?

Setting expectations with people we work with, whether we are the lead or the one being led, is crucial to success. Understanding the purpose of our role and the work to be done means that we are free to execute on our responsibilities. Creating a secure environment in which people can discuss both successes AND failures without fail creates a sense of “where do I fit and why do I matter” for all players on the job, on the team, and on the review process.

So, how are we going to work together? Let’s start there!