Are You Going to Write That Yourself?

It’s the last month of the year, and to everybody, that means a holiday break ahead! It’s a toast to traditions, time with family and a little downtime before we begin 2022.

When we come back for the new year, it will launch with great fanfare around the internal sales conference, commonly known as the SKO. Many companies are back to in-person meetings, and the excitement of being together is already building across the sales team and all the supporting functions. The SKO meeting is back on track!

Tenured employees will bring big expectations to reset on everything they’ve missed in the last two years. New employees will bring anticipation of things they haven’t had over the last two years. And both groups will roll expectation and anticipation together as they settle into their seats eager to hear the vision and direction on what lies ahead.

There’s a small group that carries the burden of delivering on that.

It’s the small band of leaders from sales, product and marketing, who have to deliver on that pent-up expectation. This isn’t the routine, annual conference. This is the reset conference, the opportunity to set retention, commitment and conviction across a sales team that’s had to work a little outside the boundaries. The demand and pressure on their roles has intensified; the support and camaraderie across the team has been a little challenged. So, the stakes are higher, and the ask is bigger. And that’s why we wonder: Are you going to write that yourself?

If you are, then you have an added task to complete before the year wraps up. Your holiday cheer needs to wait until you craft the right storyline this year. The message is different based on what’s happening within a company and the goals defined for sales in 2022. But the pent-up expectations seem to be building in all companies. And that’s why our advice is put in the extra time this year. Aim for more than just telling them what to do. This year needs to be inspirational. It’s a reconnect like no other as you pull the group together.

And while we don’t want to put pressure on a speaker, we are saying you should up your game this year. The timing of these presentations is always tricky. It is the holidays, and leaders deserve a little downtime, too. The virtual component took pressure off as most leaders didn’t stand in front of their teams last year; they read notes from a screen and kicked things off virtually.

The virtual SKO was fine, but it introduced some potential bad habits. Preparation was easier. Leaders thought about their message a week in advance and scribbled notes in a document that they referenced as they delivered the keynote kick-off. We know. We’ve seen the videos, and it’s pretty easy to see who’s scanning a screen. It’s also easy to see the drop in audience engagement. That’s why many groups are back in person this year. And it’s your opportunity and responsibility to step up and deliver on it.

Here are the three steps we use to get a speaker ready.

STEP ONE: Create a Clear & Compelling Storyline.

That’s different than pulling together a group of slides. The storyline has to be anchored by a clear message and the big takeaway of the meeting. You’re painting a picture of what’s ahead and the role the sales group will play in helping the company get there. It has to be clear; it has to be compelling, and you have to get the entire room to want to join the journey.

They’re looking to you to define it. They’re looking to you to communicate it. And this is the year to exceed their expectations.

STEP TWO: Find Your Secret Sauce.

During the pandemic, colleagues have missed colleagues. And they’ve also missed leaders. They want to feel connected to you, and the best way you can do that is to add elements to the storyline to personalize the experience. This year, go beyond what you want them to hear and focus on how you want them to feel. It will take personal experiences and a little storytelling to help them reconnect with you. It’s your secret sauce. And it will make the difference in what gets remembered and repeated once the meeting is over.

STEP THREE: Deliver It Like You Own It.

Let’s be honest. The virtual keynotes have created bad habits. No one works that hard at delivering them. So, you may be a little rusty when you take the stage. The energy and effort from a stage is very different than behind your laptop. And an audience can tell the difference between someone who thought about what they wanted to say, and someone who practiced what they wanted to say.

Practice isn’t practice until you’re up on your feet going through the motions. Practice with intention brings the storyline and the delivery together and helps you shift your focus away from following a string of ideas to engaging every individual in a room.

And maybe that IS a little added pressure. But this year is a little more important. And if you don’t want to write it yourself, we’re here to help. The SW&A team gets leaders ready for these events every year. And with a coaching team behind you, we’ll lead you through the steps above and get your plans set in time for holiday cheer. It’s everything you need to exceed their expectations.

You just have to call us when you need us! 

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

2022 Learning & Development Trends

With only eight weeks remaining in 2021, we’re close to launching a new year with new priorities to adjust to new trends. And while 2021 was considered the year of resets, the year ahead promises to be less about realigning and more about accelerating forward in a new way. The uncertainties seem behind us, and learning and development teams have assessed the skill gaps and identified priorities for helping leaders, managers and teams feel confident in their roles.

Communication and influence remain a key need, although the “hybrid” work formats have created a broader interpretation of those needs, from helping people brush up on in-person presentations to imposing a more consistent approach to virtual meetings. And for many people, the greatest need is how to handle the constant shifting between both mediums from one day to the next.

Expectations have reset as promotions, broader roles and expanded responsibilities have created both opportunities as well as gaps in confidence and effectiveness in leading bigger teams and influencing bigger decisions.

And that’s why learning and development teams are looking for new programming and flexible formats. Here are three of the programs SW&A will introduce in 2022 to support the expanded development needs.


The Quantum Leap: From Manager to Leader

It’s a quantum leap from managing a team to leading an organization. And one area where it shows up quickly is communication. Most new leaders assume that moving from managing a team to running a division or organization will leverage their existing skillset. But they quickly see that the role is very different and the experiences that they’ve had as managers don’t easily transfer.

Add to the leap an immediacy of high expectations. Leaders aren’t allowed to be “first-time” leaders the way they were allowed to be “first-time” managers. There’s no “on-the-job” training for leaders; you have to show up ready to go.

In the last two years, seasoned leaders have retired at a rate 60% higher than pre-pandemic years. That means more young managers will be promoted into senior roles in the year ahead. And the difference in those who make the leap well will be based, in part, on the support they get to accelerate their own journey and settle confidently into a leadership role.

In 2022, we’ll introduce a custom program that takes a new leader through three elements of impact:

  • Step One: The Responsibility of Leaders
  • Step Two: The Messages of Leaders
  • Step Three: The Presence of Leaders


Managing a Hybrid Workforce

For many managers, managing during the pandemic might’ve been the easy part. After the initial chaos of shifting teams and processes to a virtual model, everyone was more or less working in a similar manner.

But now as companies return to work, there are new expectations on managers. Every company is setting guidelines a little differently, but all companies are looking to their managers to interpret those guidelines and set clear expectations for their individual teams.  Hybrid models seem like a great compromise on paper, yet they put more strain on managers. To reset a team, a manager has to become rigorous with process and clearer with communication.

In 2022, we’ll continue our work to give managers an intentional plan for how their teams should work.

The program introduces three steps:

  • Step One: Lead the Team
  • Step Two: Manage Individuals
  • Step Three: Run the Processes

Each step is a combination of discussion and exercises to understand tools, and then we tailor those tools to fit a manager’s team. This provides the opportunity to leverage the thoughts of peers as we consider how the concepts can be adopted by different groups.


Stewarding Your Career

Disruption happens every day in most business settings.

Resets are more frequent and often unexpected. And they disrupt employees who aren’t prepared to position themselves for the next opportunity. It’s why talent leaders advise individuals to take ownership for their own career path and development.

Those who thrive in disruption understand two things that will most impact their ability to navigate disruption and reset their careers: they know how to position their brands and they know how to tell their own stories.

We published the book on disruption in 2021, and we’ll introduce the concepts in a new workshop in 2022.

In this program, we help participants take ownership for their career direction and journey by constructing a compelling career narrative. We uncover the stories within a career and coach participants on how to elevate a brand and illustrate their experiences. And we pull the tools together through roleplays designed to coach the positioning of you and your skillset.


All programs are set to run as full-day experiences, virtual modules, and even 1:1 coaching engagements.

2022 is going to be an exciting year for leadership development and a crucial one for compelling communication. And at SW&A, we can close the skill gaps and help your leaders and managers feel more confident and effective in the year ahead.

We’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Quantum Leap

It’s happened in companies across the globe.

In the last two years, seasoned leaders retired at a rate 60% higher than the pre-pandemic average. And whether they were pushed out, walked out or took advantage of the crisis at hand, they created gaps in the leadership and knowledge experience in companies.

Those gaps have created opportunities for millennials who are the largest generation in the workforce. The oldest millennials turn 40 this year.  And when you look at the age of people who are in management roles today, it’s split down the middle between leaders who are under 45 and those who are over.

So, it’s fair to say that there’s less tenure in leadership.

And the question is: Are the new leaders ready?

In many ways, yes.  Young leaders bring a new way of thinking, a new way of working and some of the skills that will help companies evolve to the next generation of products and services. But the gap that’s a little trickier to solve for is leadership skills. And as these new leaders settle in, we’re seeing gaps in their experience as well as a lack of awareness about just how different their new role is.

Every new leader says: “It’s more different than I thought it would be.” They assumed that moving from managing a team to running a division or organization would leverage their existing skill set. But they quickly see that the role is very different and the experiences that they’ve had as managers don’t easily transfer.

One area where it shows up quickly is communication.

Leaders communicate differently than managers.  Not because they’ve changed, but because the expectations have. And while previous leaders had an opportunity to experience the shift in expectations as they moved up a corporate ladder, the millennial leaders stepped up fast and the skills just haven’t developed.

How can it be so different? It’s just people talking to people, right?  Well, people are at the root of the difference.

For a new leader, relationships aren’t the same.  When you step up to run an organization of teams versus a single team, you just don’t know people as well. Layers are added, and your ability to see how things are done and trust that things are getting done blurs. You have to work through others in a different way.  You have to let go of details, empower others and trust.  That’s hard. And most new leaders say it’s a significant shift in understanding how you should lead.

For an organization, everything about leadership is communication. Employees want to know where the organization is going; they want to feel inspired and motivated to work toward a destination and an outcome. No more meetings run with notes on a napkin; leaders have to put the time and effort into being effective every time they communicate.

Add to it the immediacy of those expectations. Leaders aren’t allowed to be “first-time” leaders the way they were allowed to be “first-time” managers.  There’s no “on-the-job” training for leaders; you have to show up ready to go.

That’s why the increase in coaching mirrors the increase in retirements.  Giving a new leader the support to develop a stronger toolkit and the guidance to understand expectations makes the difference in those who settle in well or those who find themselves trying to recover from missteps throughout their first year.

It’s a quantum leap to step up to leadership, and there are three broad areas where we guide the transition.

MESSAGING: Managers who are good at inspiring groups are standouts. Leaders who can’t do it…fail fast. Messaging goes from an asset to a requirement overnight. The impact of not doing well is felt quickly, and the most common feedback we hear when a new leader is struggling is the inability to inspire a large group.

We coach leaders on how to build messaging effectively and to think about the big themes as part of an ongoing communication plan and strategy. A leader’s focus on clarity can accelerate work productivity and lift morale quickly. The lack of clarity or direction from a leader can stall organizations and lead to disengagement or attrition. Clear communication becomes one of the most critical skills to understand and master quickly.

PERSONAL BRAND: Many of the millennial leaders are being promoted from within a company. That means that employees are being asked to see a colleague or a former manager differently. It’s not an easy transition, and we work with new leaders to be intentional about how people experience their brand in a bigger role. Interestingly, because they are younger, their resumes alone don’t give instant credibility.  They have to earn respect and they often feel as if they’re trying to prove themselves for several months. While leaders build relationships with their direct reports, they find it hard to influence the broader group that they don’t know well. They need to build internal tools for feedback, insights and a pulse on how the organization is feeling and reacting to their leadership.

CONNECTION: New leaders hear the pressure to shift their skills, but they want to find their own, authentic way to get there. They quickly miss the connection they were used to as a manager and the involvement they had in working side by side with others. They need new ways to connect with people and engage the entire employee base. Employees see them differently, and leaders search for ways to deliver consistently on all the expectations in a way that is both authentic and effective for them. We help leaders find their way to drive engagement across their organizations.


It’s a quantum leap from managing a team to leading an organization.  And the difference in those who make the leap well will be based, in part, on the support they get to accelerate their own journey and settle confidently into a leadership role.

Call us when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates


Work from home continues to get lauded for efficiencies and innovative approaches. The pandemic years will be remembered for a major shift in how and when we work. But there are also some real pain points, and supply chain is one of the groups dealing with a lot of those challenges.

Lockdowns prevented the flow of goods at every step. We’ve seen every industry impacted by manufacturing shortages. And consumer demand has driven inventory shortages. It’s hard to miss the struggles of supply chain.

Supply chain leaders are managing against an uncharted set of circumstances and external factors that are causing real consequences to businesses. That’s why they’re in the hot seat. Not because they did anything wrong, but because they’re managing one of the biggest pain points felt in companies today. Company Boards and top leaders are pushing for answers and insights on what’s happening. They feel the business disruption and need to know how to resolve it quickly.

So, they create “hot seat” moments for supply chain leaders. Those managers and leaders come prepared to communicate specifics and details of the problem rather than packaging the full picture of what’s happening. In fairness, they’re communicating what they’re asked to share: how to resolve pain points quickly. But it’s a rookie mistake at a senior level within a company. And it’s causing many supply chain communicators to feel caught in the hot seat.

Here’s how it happens. Supply chain leaders are asked to explain the problem and quite literally, that’s what they do. They come into executive-level meetings and communicate where the pain points are. They tell senior leaders what they’re working on to solve the problems, and they share details of steps and timetables to manage expectations.

The communication gap is this: what senior leaders ask for doesn’t translate into what they actually want. They want the full story, not just today’s problem. And when a supply chain manager or leader brings them the details of the problem, senior leaders worry that the leader is too reactive and managing against the problem of the day versus managing toward a broader view of what’s ahead of them.

It’s the difference in someone who is viewed as a strategic thinker versus a tactical thinker, and it all comes down to communication. It’s solvable, and it’s how we coach functional managers and leaders to organize their thoughts from a senior leader’s perspective.

Here’s how we build the broader view:

First, set context.
Before you give the details of your company’s problem, set context for the senior leaders.

Offer perspective on what’s happening and why you believe it’s happening across supply chain processes. Build your credibility as someone who understands the challenge from the factors outside your company to the impact those factors are having within your company. Company leaders and Boards like to hear what’s going on all around them. We call it external perspective, and it’s illustrated through examples of other companies and industries.

Context raises the altitude of a conversation and tells the full story from the beginning rather than just the problem which feels like starting in the middle.  Senior leaders find common ground with a communicator when they understand the full view of what’s happening and why it’s happening. It’s a broader view that makes it easier to see how a manager or leader got to the details of what they’re solving today.

Second, clarify the ideal state.
Senior-level audiences and boards ask for information about where things stand today, but they always contrast it to a snapshot of where the company wants to be tomorrow. Their perspective is that a clear sense of where we want to be leads to good decisions about managing today. While they ask for input on a current situation, they really want a clear picture of getting beyond the problem.

It’s the difference in someone who talks about a moment in time versus someone who can paint a picture over time.

Third, lead to a recommendation.
While every communicator should make recommendations to guide senior leaders’ decisions, they should also position options that show well-thought-out choices for decision making and compromise. Clearly define the way you think things should run. Then, explain the choices and options that senior leaders have to get there. This is where they consider resources, technology and all factors that can be managed to get to a modification of the recommendation.

Options are often based on moving slowly or quickly, comparing least disruption to greatest disruption, or considering lowest impact to highest impact. Three is the magic number when highlighting options that lead to a final recommendation. And because options are presented, it validates the communicator’s considerations and gives a senior leadership team some room to negotiate the best step.

Fourth, define the big steps.
Even with a strong storyline, every manager or leader wants to show the full range of steps and details behind actionable items. Organize the specific steps into broader steps. Keep the actions to three or four big concepts framed in a way that makes it easy to see there is detail below it. When you show a senior team 20 steps, they get into the weeds with you and analyze each and every step. That’s how conversations get off track, and it’s difficult to get them back on track.

Company challenges create visibility moments for individuals. And with the pressure on supply chain today, those moments are quickly becoming career-defining. Some managers and leaders will leverage those moments to illustrate their ability to think and communicate strategically. Others may miss the opportunity by focusing too much on the details of today and not offering a broader picture of what’s ahead.

It all comes down to communication. And with a little help on senior-level communications, you can turn your hot seat moment into a career-defining opportunity.

Call us when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Can I Get Back to You On That?

Jeff is leading a strategy discussion about a new product that his team hopes to roll out in 2022. His team has invested a lot of time and effort to get product capability and customer needs aligned. It’s been an 18-month journey, and it culminates today in this meeting around this ask of the executive team. He feels the pressure of representing the team and getting a green light to move ahead.

Ten minutes into the presentation, he feels confident. He has a compelling storyline, and he sees heads nodding as he connects the opportunity and describes the market gap for his listeners.

And then the Head of the Western Region jumps in and asks:

“How do you see this product performing in 2023 when we accelerate our global growth strategy?”

Jeff can feel the rush of adrenaline, and his flushed cheeks, and he realizes that he has no idea how this product would perform on a global scale. His team and his effort have been so focused on driving 2022 revenue in the US market that the road ahead of that wasn’t even considered. He’s caught off-guard and tries to recover with “Can I get back to you on that?”

Every executive-level conversation is different, but they all involve questions and answers. It’s the most dynamic part of the conversation and the hardest part to prepare for. Some say the virtual setting has made it worse because communicators can’t read body language on leaders or anticipate the emotion and reaction behind the questions.

Like Jeff’s experience, many communicators feel that the effort in the storyline gets forgotten if the Q&A doesn’t deliver the right responses. It’s not quite that cut and dry, but handling questions effectively is an “in the moment” skill to develop.

It helps to understand both perspectives in a Q&A discussion.

The communicator feels like they’re in the “hot seat” when questions are fired their way. They feel pressure to get answers right, and they worry about giving the response they think leaders want to hear. As a result, they tend to overload a response which makes their answer hard to follow.

Leaders don’t view Q&A as a test. In fact, some of the questions they ask don’t have clear answers. Their interest in Q&A is all about connecting ideas. Their role is to think about a topic more broadly to see how it impacts other initiatives. As a result, their questions aren’t easy because they leave out context that helps a communicator understand why the question was asked.

Communicators would feel less pressure if they understood more about the leaders’ intent. Leaders could clarify their intent with more context around their questions. So, there’s room to improve on both sides, but the pressure to improve Q&A falls heavily on the communicator.

There are three things a communicator can do to improve the outcome of Q&A:

Anticipate the questions. Not from your perspective, but from the leaders. More than 75% of questions are predictable. You just have to learn to think from the leader’s perspective. What are the priorities across the company? What are they talking about in town halls and quarterly meetings? If you think through how your topic connects to their priorities instead of waiting for questions that stretch the conversation, you’ll feel prepared for what they’re likely to ask to broaden the topic.

Adjust the questions. All communicators jump in to answer whatever they’re asked. But the better practice is listening to the question and resetting the scope of the question, when needed. Because if the first question seems a little vague, the follow-up question is guaranteed to make the communicator uncomfortable.

Consider Jeff’s question above. He could “guess” at an answer and say:

“I think the product will continue to do well into 2023 and will support our global expansion plan.”

The leader will come back with:

“How much revenue can you commit to the plan and how will we adjust the product to global requirements?”

Now Jeff is out on a limb, and his lack of knowledge is going to feel more exposed. He’s in danger of saying the wrong thing and misleading a leader. His better option is to adjust the question. It’s too broad for what he’s comfortable owning about the new product.

His adjustment would be:

“I can’t speak to a global impact or two years out in 2023. But I can tell you what we’re projecting for the US in 2022 and the momentum we expect to have at the start of 2023.”

Answer in a single sentence. In an attempt to answer with confidence, most communicators start talking while they’re forming an answer. Their plan is to talk their way to an answer. The problem is they ramble a good bit along the way. The leader gets lost in the rambling details and feels as if there wasn’t a definitive response. The best way to answer a question is with a clear, single sentence and then provide the context to support it.

And if you don’t know the answer? “Can I get back to you on that?” Yes, you can always get back to them. But get back quickly. Within the same day, when they’re asking for a missing data point or number you referenced but can’t recall. Within 48 hours, when they’re asking a more complex question like the comparison to a different product or historical data that supports trends. And if you can’t get the answer that quickly, be sure you manage expectations of when you will have it.

And what about the question that’s out of your sweet spot like Jeff’s was? As the meeting wraps up, ask the leader if they want you to expand your topic to include it. In many cases, they don’t want to go further with the question or they don’t mean to add it to your plate. They’re simply bringing their perspective and forward-thinking into the conversation.

Handling questions is a critical communication skill, and coaching all aspects of executive-level presentations is our sweet spot. And we can help you and your team strengthen the skills it takes to manage questions.

As always…… call us when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Accelerated Leadership & Unexpected Risks

One behind-the-scenes consequence of the pandemic was the number of seasoned leaders who left the corporate world. Whether they were surprised by it with layoffs, guided toward it with early retirement or chose it of their own volition, the departure of seasoned leaders created a wide gap and broad opportunities for new leaders to step up.

It has brought new energy and fresh ideas to the leadership table…as well as some unexpected risks. In most companies, it was an intentional choice and an understood risk to pull forward less experienced leaders. And what we’re now seeing that companies didn’t consider was that the lack of experience could lead to a lack of confidence, which is paralyzing to a leader.

Here’s an example of the conversation that we’ve had with hundreds of these new leaders:

“In the last year, I moved up two levels and now run a region for our company. It has been an incredible opportunity for me and one that I didn’t expect to get for another five years. I’ve settled in with the five teams that now report to me, and we have begun to build a new way of working together. It was going smoothly until I dealt with a manufacturing delay. It happened a week before our senior leadership meeting where I planned to talk about the delay and ask for ideas for solving it. And that was a rookie mistake!

In less than five minutes, it was clear this was not the place to talk through “my” issue. The manufacturing delay, while not my fault, was my responsibility and no one in that room wanted to solve it with me. I felt foolish for bringing it up and embarrassed that I didn’t know how to resolve it.

And that’s when I realized the difference between me and the peers in the room was experience. I lost my confidence in that first meeting, and I’ve been trying to get it back ever since.”

For many leaders, confidence comes with experience. Every situation isn’t the same, but years of experience builds a repertoire of managing conflicts and bringing enough gravitas to discussions to drive toward a resolution. That isn’t easy if your repertoire is a few specific experiences vs. years of on-the-job training.

And it’s magnified by two other dynamics:

First, many corporate cultures feel “training” ends when someone reaches a director level. So, new leaders aren’t likely to feel comfortable seeking traditional training to strengthen their skills. And in many companies, it doesn’t even exist at the right level with the right focus.

Second, when these leaders were managers, they talked openly about uncertainty with their teams. They got kudos for being open and authentic. That has risks for a leader. It’s one thing for employees to know a  manager isn’t sure; it’s a very different feeling for employees when they know a leader is unsure.

And that’s why new leaders, and the leadership development teams who support them, are looking for new ways to strengthen personal confidence and expand executive learning.

There is an accelerated way to build confidence, but it requires a new leader to have good resources and make good choices in five key areas.

Here’s how we guide a new leader through the choices:

Reset Your Own Expectations – It may seem contrite, but many new leaders think about their roles as the next step beyond a seasoned manager.  It’s not. It’s a big leap.  When we engage with a leader, a common question is “Why does communication matter so much now? I’ve always had pretty good success influencing groups to date.” Well, expectations go up overnight. “Pretty good “ on a manager is “not good enough” on a leader.

Brand Your Superpower – While you may not have the experience of your peers, you do bring new thinking to a leadership team. Make sure this shows up quickly among your new peer group. Leaders are rarely subject matter experts. Instead, they bring a superpower that most companies are counting on to accelerate results and find new opportunities.

Build a Feedback Loop – As a new leader, you need to know your blind spots, and you need real-time insight on where you aren’t having impact.  No one is going to tell you. It’s risky to give a leader feedback, and even if you get honest input from a few, you’re relying on them to represent the perspective of a large group. Add a feedback loop into the communication process you put in place. Make it easy and safe for employees to provide feedback and reaction.

Know Your Skill Gaps – As I mentioned, you may not “learn” what you need to know in the traditional training format. That’s OK; you can find other ways and resources to continue to build out your skill set. But recognize that you need to continue to build it out. We help new leaders build a development plan that includes a blend of training for specific tools and 1:1 coaching for personal guidance.

Create a Support System – While it gets harder to ask for “help” internally, you can find a lot of support among peers in similar functions outside your company. Whether you get to a peer group through an industry cohort or you build your own cohort less formally, there are peers who are also settling into accelerated careers. A good sounding board and shared experiences builds trust and support quickly.

The concept of accelerating leaders has brought some unexpected gaps within organizations. But the gaps don’t have to widen. In fact, the steps above can narrow the gap quickly. There is unlimited opportunity for today’s new leaders; they just need a little help jumping in with momentum. Today’s leaders will gain experience in new and different ways, and it’s a topic we’re passionate about.

If you’re a new leader or you’re trying to help a group of new leaders build confidence, we’d like to share more about our approach.

Call us when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

“Said the CISO to the Board…”

Information security is a standard agenda item for most corporate Boards, and an area of focus that continues to get their attention. As it should. Fraudulent activity and security incidents are up more than 20% as workforce settings expanded and new work models took shape.

It’s not just a change in how employees work. It’s also a major shift in criminal activity. Security teams have gone from tracking bad characters to monitoring criminal enterprises, and from blocking breaches to managing every dimension of risks. There is no greater threat to the livelihood of a company than a breach in data security. Breaks in security efforts can put a business “out of business” overnight. And every Board member is well aware that’s a lot of liability and risks to manage.

That’s why they often say: “We want to hear from the CISO.”

They ask for an overview of the security strategy, a view of risks and indicators, and a brief on security governance. And every CISO will tell you there’s nothing brief about it.

The world of a CISO today looks a lot like a NASA command center with dashboards, indicators and a small army of resources deep in the trenches of multiple things on any given day. It’s monitoring, assessing, measuring, building, reviewing, testing, and reporting – all in a day’s work.

And it’s one of the toughest communication challenges in companies today.

Because if you’re the CISO, you have to figure out: What do they need to know?

Every CISO has presented to the Board this year. Some more successfully than others. And all CISOs are finding it’s becoming a significant part of their role. So, understanding how to communicate complexity in a clear and concise manner is an essential skill.

And that’s why we’ve helped hundreds of CISOs find the right approach and altitude with Boards.

The focus varies from one company to another, but we use these general guidelines to help CISOs cut through complexity and develop effective Board presentations.

Know your Board – The starting point is to gauge the current perspective of your Board members.  A review of backgrounds and involvement tells you where current inputs on security may be coming from. Do they sit on other Boards or are they currently leading a company with high risks? Most CISOs face a mix of perspectives with some Board members having a decent amount of insight and others having very little. Your content will need to focus on those who know the least as you can’t dismiss the perspective of anyone in the room. But you can leverage the insights and experiences of the more informed if you know their perspective in advance. This gives you a few supporters during the presentation and can identify the more informed questions that will come your way.

Understanding vs Knowledge –  Most CISOs approach their content with a desire to educate a group. And that leads to confusion, a boatload of details and information overload. Unintentionally, the CISO causes this by trying too hard to impart knowledge on a group. Boards don’t seek knowledge; they seek a high level of understanding. And there’s a difference. They want to understand enough about your priorities and strategies to trust that you have the knowledge to run a complex enterprise. But they aren’t seeking to become experts on security topics. So, tell them less about what you know and illustrate more about what you’re doing with that knowledge.

Outside-In View – The Board perspective will be influenced by the latest event or report that has hit the newsstand, other Boards or their colleagues. Leverage external events and security topics to align quickly to how a Board may be thinking and what they’re hearing as current priorities or shifts in the corporate environment. Relate those topics to your internal perspective. This helps them easily contrast the two and consider what may or may not be relevant as they engage with you.

Define What & Why – The hardest discipline to learn is staying away from HOW you deliver on things. They asked for overviews, but they really mean a broad view of what you’re doing and why you’re focused on those areas. They want very little of HOW your team literally does it. That’s too much detail. And it’s when their eyes glaze over. Boards don’t think confusion comes from their lack of understanding. They view it as your inability to be clear. Avoid talking over their heads because the response could knock you off your feet.

Illustrate with Examples – The only place for a little detail is in examples of programs or initiatives. These should be shared as stories or illustrations of a specific program that yielded impact or outcome. Think about these as stories and examples that a Board member might remember and repeat. The detail comes in the set-up and context, not the detail of how the solution was implemented.

Repetition and Structure – These presentations aren’t going away. Just ask the finance group! They’ve got the most experience keeping Boards informed. And they’ve learned to do so with a repeatable structure and high-level enterprise view. CISOs need to find a repeatable structure that allows them to present information in a consistent way. That’s the fastest way to engage and build trust with a Board.

It’s also where we can help. We’ve developed a format and a storyline structure that has helped hundreds of CISOs define the right overview for their organization. And I bet we can help you!

We’re here when you need us.


Want a free 15-minute consultation with Sally to see how she can help you or your team prepare for these conversations? Book a call with her now!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Should I Get a Coach?

The timing has never been better for self-reflection, professional development and a little guidance through the uncharted times still ahead.

The last eighteen months were a test for all leaders, and many pulled it off well. But as companies reset and introduce hybrid work models, few leaders have the toolkit or the skill set to manage this way. And very few realize that the expectations of their leadership have reset as well.

Through company surveys and individual assessments, we’re seeing the trends and gaps emerge from the pandemic work styles. Efficiency came through, but so did a drop in impact and alignment with culture and overall inspiration from leaders. Many leaders are surprised to see that employees aren’t as attached to their teams or as aligned to their strategies. Many got too focused on the day-to-day detail and lost some momentum and focus on connecting the bigger picture for their teams.

The shortage of talent doesn’t help because while you may not talk to every employee every day, someone does. Through LinkedIn, social media and online ads, there are constant offers and opportunities put in front of employees to entice them to look around.

A recent survey by Pew Foundation showed that while 65% of employees were happy in their roles, up to 80% said they would consider another opportunity. It’s testing the waters. And it’s all a part of the reset we’re in now and will continue to be in for months to come. Most leaders are trying to juggle all of it.

So yes, the timing has never been better to engage with a coach.

Finding the right coach is an important part of the decision to hire one. As coaching has increased by more than 20% in the last year, there is some confusion about who to hire for what. When we start an engagement, we always ask if the leader had prior experience with a coach. And when they have worked with another coach, we ask them to rate the experience. The collective response is average, and that’s disappointing. It’s a signal that the leader didn’t get what they needed or didn’t take the time to leverage the engagement. A coaching experience should be one of the most valuable tools a leader gets, and that’s why it’s important to understand what you’re asking the coach to deliver.

The term “executive coach” has become a generic one and covers a lot of coaches who do very different things.  Some executive coaches are generalists, and they combine their experience with coaching certification that gives them a process for covering a broad range of topics.  The best ones have tailored their approach and can tell you how they plan to lead you through an engagement. Many coaches are aligned to companies, and they work with teams of leaders in support of business strategy more so than individual skills.

There are coaches who support sales, marketing, technology, finance and just about any function within a company. All are leveraging their experience to help you accelerate yours.

Communication coaching is distinctly different. Working on someone’s brand and influence within a company takes more than experience. An executive coach who has had experience leading a company and galvanizing employees can’t give you that skill. They can only give you that advice. And that may be what leads to disappointing results from an engagement.

To improve communication impact, you need someone who has experience AND expertise. You need more than advice. You need skills coaching and support to develop new habits and intentional choices that change the way you approach communication. It takes true expertise to work on body, voice and connection. And it takes proven tools to help you simplify your approach.

So, choose a coach wisely and determine if you’re looking for advice or skill development. Ask about both the experience of the coach and the deeper expertise in the area that you want to improve. Once you’ve found a coach with the right expertise and chemistry for you, you can get much more than an average experience.

In the year ahead, coaching can help you:

  • Consider your brand and how well you’re gaining visibility amidst company momentum and endless opportunity.
  • Evaluate your impact as a communicator and support your adjustment to a different way of leading a hybrid team.
  • Leverage the lifespan of a project by adding a compelling storyline and key soundbites that make the direction memorable and sustainable over a period of time.
  • Lead a young team to a high-performing team with expanded responsibilities and broader scope.

This year, it will be the difference in leaders who can shift from competent communicators to compelling ones.

It’s already an unprecedented year, and the expectations of leaders will continue to reset. You should take advantage of every opportunity offered to step up and speak out. And we’d like to help you succeed at it.

Call us when you need us!

Sally Williamson & Associates

Managing a Hybrid Workforce: Resetting Offices, Employees & Expectations

We’ve reached it … the other side of work from home. And as companies begin to layout new plans, a variety of options are emerging. Some workers are already back in the office every day, some will continue in a work-from-home format, and many will shift to a blended schedule that includes time in the office and time at home.

And with all of these transitions, managers will have to reset expectations.

Here’s why.

Work from home was all over the board…for good reason. Managers pulled together WFH employees and found a way of working together that was different and effective. In many instances because there wasn’t a good alternative. Because many people weren’t in the office, they weren’t aware of how different some of the choices were among managers, across teams and from company to company. We’ve heard it all, from teams that get together every morning to groups that haven’t really met as a team for more than a year. And we’ve seen it all, from employees who got no support to set a home office environment to those equipped with the lighting and camera requirements to emulate a true office setting.

That’s why the reset will be different. While managers tried ways to keep teams connected and involved with each other, the overall takeaway is that the company culture struggles when people don’t have a place and a community that brings them together. Not every day, but most days, so that individuals don’t lose the power of teamwork. And companies know that the employee experience needs to feel consistent and connected across all teams. They also know that they can manage impressions much better in a work environment.

Impressions never really went away. We noticed when someone wasn’t really dressed for work; we noticed when someone seemed distracted, and we noticed when technology failed. We saw it all, but since we were all in it together, we tried harder to focus on what we heard vs. what we saw.

And that’s where the shift begins.

Once a few people went back, the expectations came back as well. It doesn’t really matter where you are when you talk to a manager or a customer, but how you show up for that discussion does.  And if someone has given you their attention, the expectation is that you will do the same.

Can you deliver a presentation with poor lighting? Sure, but the impact drops by more than 50% when people can’t see your face. Can you meet with a client from your bedroom? Sure, but it isn’t where they are anymore and they notice the difference. In fact, more than 80% say they’re distracted by it. And can you demonstrate product capabilities if your internet freezes? Sure, but more than 75% of viewers place some of that responsibility on you. They assume you weren’t prepared and didn’t check to be sure you could deliver the presentation well from your location.

The bottom line is that people working in offices now have a home-court advantage. The office environment makes it much easier to show up well. And when some people show up better than others, impressions can lead to assumptions that are hard to overcome.

Right now, and for the next few months, managers will have to reset expectations of what participation, intention and focus look like in different settings.

As employees adjust to blended schedules or hybrid settings, managers will need to redefine what work from home really means. Is it about a relaxed schedule and flexible hours? Is it a decrease in hours and more time to manage family and personal time? Or is it simply a different location with the same expectations as in-office expectations?

In short order, we will feel the shift from “we’ll make it work” to “why aren’t you doing what I’m doing” comparisons. Clarity on expectations will be key. If people are held accountable to the same expectations, then companies will need to provide the right tools to help employees improve their home work environment. And if you haven’t done so, it will take training to help a virtual employee think about intention and impressions in an “out of the office” setting.

Over the last year, we’ve trained thousands of people to leverage virtual tools and show up with meaningful intention. And while it was a survival tool for many, it has shifted to a differentiator in impressions of people, products and companies.

The gaps and comparisons will only continue as we begin to mix the format and experiences between office settings and virtual settings. It doesn’t have to be a handicap; it can be a great choice as long as it comes with guidelines and expectations. We can help you do it as you focus not just on where people will work but how they drive influence and impact in any setting.

Want some help defining expectations and managing a hybrid workforce? Schedule a call with us and we’ll share our insights and tools to help you reset your team.

Sally Williamson & Associates

“I Need Resources” is the Wrong Message!

As companies reset for a new chapter in 2021, there has been a lot of reflecting on how companies and teams made it through the uncertainty and disruption of 2020. One way was to reallocate resources or reduce teams. It drove efficiencies quickly, and it saved money. At the time, it was a difficult, but smart, step.

And now, managers tell us that what they saw as a temporary situation seems to be the new and expected normal on their teams. They’re stuck in the “do more with less” direction, and it’s causing burnout as employees continue to manage their roles and a part of someone else’s. Managers feel an urgency to reset and pull their teams out of the overload. And they’re headed into executive-level conversations with this message: “If we want to complete our project on time, I need five resources to do X”, “If we add 10 employees back to the team, we can do X.” It follows our message format, but it falls short of approval by most leaders.

Here’s why.

It’s the most common request leaders hear in companies. “I need more people.” It was the most common request before 2020 took place. So, you can imagine what it must be like now as more teams are short-staffed. If every manager added a headcount, the company would be right back to the pre-2020 bottom line. And leaders aren’t interested in backing up. They believe a lot was learned from 2020 and efficiencies – doing more with less – resonates as a positive outcome.

But the managers’ predicament is not an excuse; it’s a real challenge and a real threat to the retention of talent. Managers need to have these conversations, but they need to shift the storyline from “I can’t do it without people” to “we have choices to make about how we accomplish this”. It means shifting the storyline to focus on a business decision and outcome rather than the challenges they’re feeling to deliver against it.

The starting point is messaging that focuses on choices and actions that lead to outcomes. Take people and headcount out of the equation. It seems like odd guidance, but it makes a big difference. When managers look at initiatives, they think from the desired outcome backward and map out how to get the work completed. They map a single path to completion, and they quickly see the need for resources to complete tasks.

When leaders look at initiatives, they consider multiple paths to lead to the outcome. They rarely see it as a single path. So, when a manager comes to them and says: “If we want to deliver X on time, we need five additional people on the team.”, leaders ask questions like: “What other options did you consider?” And when managers don’t have that context, leaders get frustrated that multiple options weren’t considered.

The best way to lead these conversations is to learn to think more from the leaders’ perspective. If you have a project in front of you that doesn’t seem doable without adding resources, pull back and think about all the options/paths you have to get there.

Assume you’re down four people and have been since last year. You have been given a tight timetable to deliver product Z, and it’s the same timetable you delivered against with those four people you no longer have. You know you can’t do it without the full team in place. That’s fair; it’s how you delivered products prior to 2020. But before you head down the single path with a message that says, “I need resources,” think a little broader.

You could:

  • Partner with another team by prioritizing product Z over a product from another team on a similar timetable.
  • Outsource some of the product steps to avoid adding FTEs and instead add specific help to specific steps.
  • Push out the delivery date based on a new timeline that seems feasible to the team you have in place.

When a leader is presented with options like this, they look at the situation differently. They hear 1) change the approach 2) double efforts on critical steps or 3) change the timetable. They see that you’re thinking through options to get to an outcome instead of bringing challenges you have with a single path. It aligns more with the types of decisions they’re used to making, and it’s the most effective way to help them consider compromise.

The second point for the communicator to consider is setting context. In our workshops, we call it “Framing the Situation,” and we provide a methodology to help a communicator align a leader to the topic of choices that have been made to date. Instead of jumping to “How are we going to do this,” a good communicator will reset what’s already happened to date. This helps a leader see that they have already made some of the decisions that have led to the current topic.

A manager who is down four resources might begin a storyline like this:

“Last year, with uncertainty in front of us, we reduced the team by four people. And we asked the remaining six to work tirelessly to get product Y into the market in six months. They did that, and we have seen the product perform well by delivering expected revenue and good customer reviews. So, it was a success last year out of working differently on the team.

“But it came with compromise. In order to get product Y to market on the timetable, we skipped two critical points. We reduced testing, and we eliminated some of our protocols for integration. You may remember this conversation and debate last May. We made the decision to skip steps at the time, because we felt product Y so closely aligned to product X that launched the previous year. We seemed aligned with customer response and felt the break with protocols would have limited risks. In this one case, we were right.

“This year, product Z doesn’t align in the same way and following the modified steps would create bigger compromise and increased risks. As a product team, you have asked us to reset the “best practices” and protocols of development that you put in place three years ago. And when we do that, it will create some different choices to consider for product Z.”

This context aligns the leader to the topic and the broader reset they’ve put in place across the organization. They have agreed to the best practices and protocols for product Z before hearing the choices they need to make. And as you probably noticed, it calls out steps they value and a process that they put into place. So, it’s easier for the leader to consider options when they’re trying to avoid product compromise and risks.

The idea of adding back resources hasn’t come up. But it may be brought up by the leader. Because as they think through the options above, they may ask: “What if we didn’t change the approach or the timetable and instead of relying on contract resources, we added people back to your team?” When it’s set in the broader picture, it now looks like the least disruptive solution rather than the only way you can figure out how to solve a challenge.

Learning to lead conversations from a leader’s perspective is something we’ve been helping managers do for more than three decades. If you’re preparing for a tough conversation, we can help you develop the storyline that leads to the desired outcome.

So, whether you’d like to schedule a coaching session to focus on a specific conversation or book a group workshop to learn the fundamentals, we hope you’ll call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson & Associates