Speaking Up May Be Harder Than You Think

It’s true that feedback is a gift. But sometimes, managers go beyond sharing insights and they offer the employee the “perfect” solution for how to resolve it. With communication feedback…that can get a little tricky.

That’s certainly been my experience as I’ve coached people who got feedback to “speak up”.

It’s one of those phrases that seems so simple. In reality, it means different things coming from different managers.

  • Some use it to tell someone that they’re soft-spoken and need to speak up so they can be heard… They’re guiding projection.
  • Others use it to suggest that someone isn’t adding to meetings or discussions, and they need to “speak up more”…They’re guiding brand and impressions.
  • Still others use it more generally to suggest to someone that they need to speak up in a setting or with a specific group…They’re guiding executive presence.

As we’ve explored this further with clients across the globe, we continue to learn the meaning of the phrase across different backgrounds and diverse cultures. More formal cultures guide respect by not speaking up unless you’re asked to. There may be a “sir” or a “Ms. Jones” added as part of it. For this employee, “speaking up” may be harder than you think.

Many people have shared their beliefs that they don’t have the right to speak up unless someone calls on them or asks for their input. Sometimes gender plays into it and skews their confidence in speaking up.

Still, others shared their upbringing and beliefs about being assertive. They were encouraged to be assertive, so they weren’t ignored or tuned out. They enter a lot of business settings ready to defend their perspective and may be seen as pushy or aggressive. Their goal has always been to “speak up.”

And the best way to approach feedback with any of these perspectives is to start by understanding the WHY instead of jumping in with WHAT they should do differently.

The manager’s perspective is right. People do need to be seen and heard in settings to establish their brand, their experience and their way of thinking. No one sees you as a strategic thinker unless they hear you as a strategic communicator.

But everyone may not get there in the same way.

Here are a few suggestions for uncovering the WHY behind “speaking up.”

You have an employee who is soft-spoken.
Start this conversation by asking “Has anyone ever told you that you’re soft-spoken?” Technically, they need to understand how to get their voice forward and project more effort behind their words. But they may have known that since they were six years old, and they may have tried multiple ways to do this. Most people have the ability to do it; they hold their voice back for various reasons. It could be because a parent spoke softly, and they learned to follow that speech pattern. It could also be the opposite. A parent spoke very loudly, and they spoke softly to avoid mirroring an overbearing speech pattern.

Some women view soft-spoken as demure, and they may be in a culture that fosters that. Some men view soft-spoken as respectful, and they may be illustrating a more formal upbringing.

By allowing someone to tell you more about the WHY behind soft-spoken, you’ll know whether there are some perceptions to work through as well as skills to support voice strength.

You have an employee who doesn’t speak much in meetings.
Start this conversation by asking: “Do you want to add to conversations?” And then allow the employee to tell you WHY they don’t speak up. It could be that they don’t want to speak up because others speak too much, and it makes meetings run long. They may hear the feedback as a suggestion to show up more like a peer who talks too much. Managers often give guidance by saying “You should speak up like Jeff does in meetings.” Jeff may monopolize conversations more than you realize, and an employee who is more introverted than Jeff will never follow that advice.

As you explore the WHY, you may also learn that an employee doesn’t think as fast as others in the room. They may say that they have thoughts to add…. after the meeting wraps up. They just need more time to think it all the way through.

Every manager should know the make-up of a group and the different kinds of thinkers in the room. Someone who is more process-oriented needs time to think it through before they’ll jump in with an idea or answer that may be wrong. If you knew this, you could help this employee by providing agendas ahead of time. A process thinker will be great if given the time to prepare.

You might also have an employee who isn’t speaking up from a place of respect or a more formal upbringing. And they may literally not know when to do so. You can learn more about this by asking “If you have something to add, what keeps you from jumping in?” If you knew this, you could create openings in conversations and invite a more hesitant employee into the conversation. So, they’ll worry less about when it’s appropriate and speak up more when you invite them into the conversation.

You have an employee who talks too much.
Start this conversation by saying: “You had a lot of enthusiasm today. I felt like you said the same thing multiple times. Why?”

If someone was guided to be assertive, they may continue to “speak up” again and again until they feel acknowledged or as if they won the discussion. They may be seeking some kind of validation or credit that isn’t likely in most meetings.

So how do you guide the “over-talkers” to a better balance?

Their blind spot isn’t really how much they’re speaking. It’s the lack of focus on everyone else. There may be insights in the WHY behind someone who feels the need to be heard the most. For this employee, the real opportunity or learning is the perspective of everyone else. Get insight on how they feel heard by asking “How did the group react to your idea? What was the reaction you were expecting?”

You can guide this person through awareness of team dynamics and the concept of a great team player who not only speaks to share their perspective but also speaks to move a topic toward an outcome that includes everyone’s input.


“Speaking Up” can mean something different to each of us. If you have an employee who needs to show up differently, start with a better understanding of WHY they don’t speak up. Be less quick to solve it from your perspective and more patient with understanding the WHY from the employee’s perspective.

Feedback is a gift, and spending the time to understand the WHY behind a behavior gets everyone to a better outcome. If you’d like to improve the way you give feedback, we can help.

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

Doubling Down on Your Off-Site

It seems every people leader is now responsible for hosting an off-site meeting. And for very good reasons! It’s an opportunity to bring a team together, ignite collaboration, clarify direction and invest in personal development.

We’ve seen twice as many off-sites completed and planned for in the last year than the last three years combined. Off-sites have become the new team meeting, and most of these “away” meetings are getting rave reviews from employees.

We’ve been a part of many off-sites over the last year, resetting team dynamics, facilitating the discussion of team priorities or developing skills needed to reach top priorities. And we’ve seen what works and what doesn’t with employees.

If you’re planning your off-site in the next few months, these pointers may help you consider the new dynamics before you’re confronted with them. Because, while “off-sites” are back, they need to be planned and led a little differently than before.


Here are seven dynamics to consider:

Invest in the setting. Most managers have a team event to kick-off the year or touch base on a quarterly basis. And we called it an “off-site” even when we held it down the hall in a conference room. You can’t do that anymore. Those are team meetings, not “off-sites”, and employees think of them differently. Add to it the continued push to get people back into offices. If you’re planning a day with your team in the office, consider that a team meeting. If you want the group to view it as an “off-site,” make the commitment to host it somewhere else.

It doesn’t have to be an airplane ride, but no one will be disappointed if it is. It should be a few nights away, and it should be mandatory. You can’t connect as a team if you’re missing colleagues. There may still be an occasional absence due to illness, but for those who are able to attend, invest the effort and the money to take the team to an interesting setting. It increases their desire to be there, and that’s worth a lot.

Teams aren’t as close as you think. Sure, they talk over virtual platforms all day. Or they see each other in the office once a week. But the full group is seldom all together, and it’s one of the biggest mistakes we see leaders make at off-sites. They assume people are comfortable together. And they jump right into a heavy agenda. I continue to be surprised by the number of people who haven’t met or haven’t seen each other in quite a while. It takes intention to reset people, and they need a little time to settle in and connect with each other before they connect with the work.

People can’t sit still. We assume people sit all day when they work virtually. But they move around more than you realize. And when you ask them to sit through an eight-hour agenda, it’s not something that they’re used to doing. If you can reserve a meeting room with natural light, do it! But most conference space is in the interior of a hotel or resort, so the choices can be limited. Add plenty of breaks and even a group-led stretch throughout the day. Be specific about expectations on devices and breaks. It’s disappointing to bring people together for collaboration and in short order they’re all on laptops and phones. But it happens – and it’s much more frequent these days. As the leader of the meeting, you need to set the tone and the expectations. Otherwise, people allow their own priorities to override the group setting.

Every voice counts, even the soft ones. Group dynamics have gotten harder with less interaction. And it takes more intention to be sure that everyone is participating, and the louder voices don’t overshadow the softer ones. Depending on the size of the group and the objectives of the leader, it’s often best to bring in a facilitator to run the discussion. A good facilitator will balance the energy and input to keep everyone involved, and they can provide good insights to a leader on what they observed once the off-site wraps up. It’s hard for the leader or another team member to run the agenda and participate in the discussion simultaneously. It confuses the group and often shuts down the employees’ perspective.

Are we having fun? You need to because that’s what most employees come for. Make sure there’s a cooking class, scavenger hunt, incredible race or something that’s meant to be just fun. You’ll get lasting benefits out of organizing a few fun events. Some groups like competitions; others prefer less strenuous activities. Ironically, this was one of the hardest roles of a leader during the pandemic…finding ways to entertain their teams and creating virtual games or events to bring them together. Hire someone to do this for you. Most conference centers or resorts offer corporate games and will manage the entire experience.

Let’s focus on me. Professional development is the number one ask of employees. While they like a flexible work environment, they know they’ve fallen behind on development opportunities. And the off-site is a great time to add some training to the mix. Even if it adds an extra day, it’s more cost-effective to deliver it while the team is already together versus scheduling it as a separate event. And it’s often the highest-rated portion of the meeting because it feels as if it’s focused on the employees’ benefit rather than the benefit to the company.

And… did you bring stuff?  Everybody loves bling and logo wear! It’s a great way to keep teams connected to the company brand. Send it home with them in a pullover, a cooler, an insulated cup, a cookie, and hundreds of other items. The off-site gets off to a great start when they check into their rooms and find corporate gifts. It’s one more retention strategy, and it adds to the fun factor when employees go home with a gift from their manager.


Do you already have some of these practices in place? If so, increase your efforts this year and you’ll have a happier group and better takeaways from the off-site! Or if you’re just getting started and would like a little help meeting the new expectations, we can put great ideas into actions with you.

This is the year to double down on your off-site….and we’d love to be a part of helping you get great results.

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

Our Top Three Challenges – 2022 Case Studies

When we’re called on to address a new situation or think outside the box and develop a new approach, we’re always up for the challenge! And when we bring curiosity and creativity together, we get great outcomes.

As we looked back at the broader application of our work this year, there were three programs that stood out with innovative thinking, accelerated learning, and great results.

Here’s a quick look and a profile of some of the development projects that seemed to resonate most this year.


CASE STUDY #1: Getting to the Heart of the Matter  

Situation: More than a handful of times, we were asked to work on a refresh/reset/redesign of company values. In some instances, it was a request to bring values to life and help leaders get creative with storytelling to illustrate the values. And in other instances, it was a total overhaul or fresh start for the values themselves.

Solution: In each case, we started the project with leadership interviews to understand the current state of the values and the perspective across the senior leaders. And regardless of how we got to the table, each company was surprised at the insights we uncovered. They weren’t very favorable. Values took a hit during the pandemic, and few leaders know how to revitalize them. Or worse, they don’t agree on what revitalizing means.

We went to work to shape up a set of principles that the group could discuss and shape into their own. Then, we put processes in place to get input from employees and captured what resonated and what didn’t. Finally, the process led us to a communication strategy that brought new energy and creativity to how leaders illustrate values and involve employees in living them.

Impact: Whether it was a new or renewed group of values, we saw interest and alignment take shape within each organization. And the unexpected outcome was that the project seemed to energize leadership teams and solve for some of the concerns around bringing clarity and connection back into the culture.  And for a few groups, it was a great way to get teams back into their office a little more, too.

Interested in this topic? Talk to us about Values Reset


CASE STUDY #2: Ready or Not…

Situation: As all companies struggled to fill leadership gaps created during the great resignation, an immediate ask was to help managers show up as leaders …. quickly. And it got us thinking about the tools we give new leaders through coaching as they onboard to bigger roles. We gathered the insights to be sure we understood the gaps, and we built a program to simplify the tools to an “emergency kit” that built confidence quickly. The goal was to equip a new leader with insights that allowed them to settle in and consider new ways of building trust and alignment with a more complex team.

Solution: With multiple programs under our belt, we discovered commonalities that ran deeper than we originally thought with the new generation of leaders. All said the learning didn’t come fast enough, and they were relieved to have a “starting point” for evaluating a team, inspiring a group and thinking through decision-making.

Impact: Our work with these groups lifted confidence in a single day by introducing proven tools. But each workshop also linked new leaders to each other. We kept small groups engaged in coaching circles to share ideas and problems with a coach and a few peers. And while our work wrapped up, all of the coaching circles we activated are still intact and proving to be a great way for new leaders to grow together.

Interested in this topic? Talk to us about Manager to Leader


CASE STUDY #3: Do we have a match?

Situation:  There’s been a lot of focus on the job market, from a shortage of candidates to a plethora of opportunities. But no one has said a lot about the impact all that activity and movement has had on the hiring managers themselves. And once we discovered it, we knew we could help. Interviewing is a task most managers take on a few times a year. They rarely describe themselves as great at it, but they can find the candidates they’re looking for through some trial-and-error interviews. When you speed up the rate of turnover and the number of candidates, that approach doesn’t work. Today, managers interview frequently and need a consistent way of getting to the experiences and foundational skills sooner.

Solution: So, we built a workshop that helps managers think about what they want to know, and we developed the tools that help them observe and compare one candidate with another. We introduced an interview format that covers the foundational behaviors and drills down to previous experiences. It helps a team align on a common approach and work through how to evaluate candidates more effectively.

Impact: And what was the result? Well, better interviews for starters! The instinctive and “seat of the pants” approach with candidates became more structured and measurable as a tool. And even the tougher concepts, like gauging culture fit, can take shape as teams talk them out.

Interested in this topic? Talk to us about Compelling Interviews


So, with four weeks to go, we’re energized by bringing curiosity and creativity together to solve the development priorities we heard about this year. And we’re already intrigued by what’s ahead as early planning suggests that 2023 holds new challenges with skill gaps and communication challenges. We can’t wait to partner with you to explore it.


Here’s to the year ahead….and as always, 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

Early Career – Development Priorities

It’s that time of year for budget reviews and planning as a new year begins to take shape. And as companies consider priorities and corporate strategies, it’s a good time to also align individual’s growth and priorities.

Early Career Development Priorities is part 3 of our 3-part series focusing on trends, priorities, and insights to help align personal growth with business priorities for the year ahead.
Read Part 1 – Peak Career Development Priorities here.
Read Part 2 – Mid-Career Development Priorities here.

Today’s young professionals are setting a new way of working and shifting the thinking from work as a place we go, to work as a thing we do. This group of employees entered the workforce with savvy technical skills and solid educational backgrounds that seem destined for success. And the current labor shortage has given them more opportunities to choose from.

As the newest players in the workforce, they’re negotiating flexibility as well as compensation. They’re outspoken about where they want to work and how they want to work. And that’s exciting when you’re young and feel like you can set your own lifestyle and balance work alongside other interests. But there is another view of that flexibility that most early career employees don’t see.

They’ve traded off visibility for flexibility. And that may be a short-sighted advantage with long-term consequences. We’re seeing some early signs of that. Many companies saw phenomenal growth coming out of the pandemic, but it was not sustainable growth. And they’re resetting to a more modified growth track. That meant some workforce reduction that will continue as we head into 2023.

Reduction is never easy across teams, but it’s easier when we don’t really feel connected to an employee. If you joined a company and have worked virtually for the duration of employment, there’s not the same loyalty to you as others on the team. You haven’t had the visibility to leaders and therefore you don’t have the same support team when the tough decisions have to be made.

And if you allow flexibility to be the only motivation of your early career decisions, you may find that you’re stepping from one company to another without really moving up from one role to the next. The first decade is an important time to set a career path and make smart choices in order to leverage opportunities for more than a flexible schedule.

As we’ve worked with early career professionals and managers, we’ve focused on three priorities to strengthen their visibility and impact.


Career Runway

Jobs feel a little like window shopping right now. It’s fun to see so many choices, and the window dressing makes every opportunity look exciting. But buyer beware! Shop for more than the package wrapped up for you. Look at the company, the culture and the advancement opportunities. Are you considering the long-term as well as the short-term as you evaluate a role? Did you meet the co-workers and the hiring manager? Is this a good fit or just a good paycheck?

In addition to finding a role that meets the way you want to work, consider the role that will help you get to the next one. Resumes are shaped in the first decade of work. Hiring managers like to see that someone took an interest in you and helped you gain skills and additional responsibility. When the career path doesn’t show that, it’s a red flag.

We can help. Many data points prove out that early career employees will change jobs much more frequently than others which means framing up your experience more often. Our book, Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career focuses on how to position yourself and your experience. It also links to your personal brand and impressions. We developed a course to support it and can help you prepare for an interview or an internal, introductory meeting to help others get to know you and your interests. It makes all the difference in finding the next opportunity and positioning yourself for it.


Brand Awareness

Your personal brand is how people think about you and talk about you when you’re not around. It’s a reflection of someone’s impressions of you that take shape over time.

The savvy professional takes note of impressions and makes choices about how to come across as confident and credible. Impressions of confidence are why certain people get heard when they speak up. Confidence isn’t just a skill for leaders; it’s a differentiator that strengthens any employee’s personal brand and impact in an organization.

But it’s rarely an instinctive skill. It’s more about awareness of how people see you and hear you and focus on what it takes to really connect with a group. And it’s harder if you aren’t in an office often to be seen and heard. Early career professionals need to think about impact and add intention to visibility moments and their opportunity to be visible and involved in key initiatives.

We can help. Our workshop, Strengthening Personal Brand & Impressions, is offered internally for working teams or quarterly as an open-enrollment workshop. The program raises awareness of brand impressions and guides the discovery of professional presence and a confident communication style.


Manager Exposure

Everybody needs a champion. And in today’s shifting work environment, most people are going to need more than one. A champion is someone who knows your work and is willing to speak up on your behalf. It may be your manager, but it could also be your manager’s peers or others that you’ve worked with on projects. Champions start the process of a network within a company, and they are critical to bigger opportunities and advancement.

We used to build relationships as we met people in the corporate gym or cafeteria. It was easier to evolve relationships over time because we saw people often and had informal interaction and a chance to get to know each other. That’s a consequence of hybrid and virtual work models. It isn’t happening by happenstance. It takes an intentional plan to meet with someone and plan for those interactions, and early career professionals are going to have to work harder to get these connections.

Companies are trying to help with development programs and opportunities to connect with managers. Take advantage of all of these opportunities. When your company hosts a lunch, be there. When they set up a volunteer opportunity, be there. It’s going to take intention to start a network, and managers notice who’s taking an interest in it and who’s not.

We can help. Both programs described above include an element of building champions. We can also help you think through your own plan in 1:1 coaching and map out a conversation to gain insights and input from a potential champion in your organization.


Flexibility is a wonderful addition to career paths, and it’s an advantage that seems to have taken hold. But don’t make it the only factor in your early career decisions. Leverage the current role you have to build your brand and find the managers who will champion your skills. While it may take a little more in-office time, it will be the difference in your career advancement in the long run.

As always, 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

Disrupted! A Talent Acquisition Perspective

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Disruption happens every day across the corporate world. As employees, we experience reorgs, layoffs and acquisitions, and as disrupters ourselves we move cross country, chase ideas and challenge norms. But amidst all the disruption we all experience, some of us seem to thrive in times of turmoil.

These are the communicators who have mastered the two secret arts hidden within corporate disruption: learning how to establish a compelling brand and build an intriguing career narrative. They are skills that take time to perfect, but they’re the differentiator factors between those who are cast adrift from disruption and those who prosper from it.

We believe in this strongly…and it’s why we wrote our latest book: Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career.

But don’t just take our word for it. On this episode, Hurst Williamson is joined by 2 Talent Acquisition specialists to share their perspectives on the trends they see every day and what makes a job candidate successful…or forgettable.

More About the Guests

Elisa Abner-Taschwer is the Talent Acquisition Manager at FORUM Credit Union in Fishers, Indiana. She has over 30 years of HR experience, primarily in Talent Acquisition. Elisa lives with her husband of 27 years and their Mini Golden Doodle, Max.

Lauren Baksh, M.Ed. is the Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at Graphic Packaging International. She has over ten years of talent management experience in the manufacturing industry and currently supports her team with the design and execution of holistic recruiting experiences for US salaried positions. Lauren lives in Atlanta with her husband, two daughters, and two fur babies.

Show Notes

  • Careers are no longer on a straight and narrow path.
    • People will change their job/career 7-10 times throughout their career.
    • Interview determines if there will be a next change in a person’s career.
  • What does it take to make a job a candidate memorable or forgettable?
  • What percentage of people are good at interviewing?
    • Less than 5%
    • Not as many people are good at interviewing that think they are good at interviewing.
    • Those that think they are good at interviewing usually lack authenticity.
  • What goes wrong in an interview?
    • Lack of prep – didn’t know much about the company or the interviewer.
    • Lacked confidence – unaware of body language.
    • Lacked impact – didn’t understand their experiences well.
    • Prospective employee must be interviewing the company as well as being interviewed by the company.
    • Preparation will help a candidate seal the deal.
    • Good story tellers have better impact in an interview.
  • Virtual vs. In-Person Interviews
    • Same challenges exist in a virtual interview as an in person interview.
    • Candidates see virtual as more informal and have a low awareness of their setting and background.
    • Fewer people ghost virtual interviews.
  • When prepping for a virtual interview, consider it the same as if you are going to meet with someone – dress professionally
  • Potential employers encourage prospective employees to ask questions about the attire and the platform being used to the interview
  • How many resumes for a potential position are reviewed?
    • Far too many
    • 20-30+ resumes for an open position
    • 30-50 resumes
  • What really makes a candidate stand out?
    • Individuals who understand the organization and the culture
    • Candidates with confidence in themselves and the ability to have a good vision as to what they want in their new position
    • Candidates must be a good cultural fit
    • Candidates must ask questions in the interview and understand the opportunity
  • The most critical skills for a top candidate:
    • Problem solving and thinking
    • Collaboration and cooperation
    • Communication and influence
  • Advice to stand-out in interviews:
    • Translate the experience you had with the job you want to do. Think about things that you’ve done that have given you that experience
    • Update your resume annually and add accomplishments from the previous years.
    • Highlight how you work on a team
  • Candidates approach an interview very reactively
    • Understand the resume is a list – make sure to drive the interview and conversation
    • Have a reactive and proactive interview
    • Be prepared to  highlight your key aspects
    • Be able to shape your narrative and asked questions about the company while staying authentic
    • Come with questions to make it a conversation.
  • Employers are looking for people that want to work for the company not the job
  • Is there a war for talent? It’s a very favorable market for talent right now
  • Companies are trying to be the company that people want to join and understand that not all candidates are going to have 100% of the skills that are being looked for in a candidate.
  • Candidates must show up as their authentic self.
  • Employees own their development and the company and their manager are there to support the individual. Take a risk and it might change!


Order Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career today here or on Amazon.


Like what you hear? Hear more episodes like this on the What’s Your Story podcast page!

Disrupted: Chapter 19 – “Corporate Priorities – Insights from Talent Acquisition”

Hear more about the Talent Acquisition Perspective on our podcast!Click here to order Disrupted!

Read Chapter 1 – Disrupted!

Read Chapter 3 – Corporate Disruption – Insights from Talent Development

Talent acquisition is often a team whose responsibilities are a little vague to most employees. Once you join a company, you may not pay much attention to what they’re doing. After all, they’re in charge of hiring people and you’ve already been hired. But there’s a little more to their function. Talent acquisition supports a company’s strategy by ensuring they have the right people in the right roles at the right time. And this means that the fast-paced shifts within a company put an acquisition or recruitment team under pressure to find the talent they need.

Here’s how they define their focus:

  • Acquiring high-quality candidates who offer skills needed for current roles
  • Building a diverse talent pool to meet current and future business needs
  • Assessing current in-house skills to determine future skills and roles needed
  • Identifying talented employees within the company to groom for promotion

So, talent acquisition has a view of both external and internal talent. And they have the most comprehensive view of the two groups to compare.

When we shared talent-development insights in Chapter 3, you heard urgency in how the development leaders think about developing internal talent. And that urgency only increases for talent-acquisition teams. The talent-acquisition survey participants define top challenges as competition for top talent and a shortage of qualified talent. Both perspectives illustrate the rapid pace of change and the choices companies are making in order to deliver on it.

As we mentioned with talent development, it takes time to teach employees new skills and, in a competitive marketplace with product rushes and aggressive deadlines, it’s not always a viable solution to retrain an entire function of a business or invest in an internal candidate.

That’s why the top reason for selecting external candidates rather than internal ones is the need for a new skill or expertise (65%). And it just makes you wonder, was the skill truly missing within the company or was the skill just not promoted as part of an internal brand? Sometimes, there’s no question that a new skill or expertise is being added. But there are many times that skills were just not recognized. And here’s how we know.

When we asked talent acquisition what most people can’t do well in an interview, they say it’s the ability to illustrate accomplishments.

“Some of the best candidates we interview in terms of relative experience, education, and skill set are not always the best at being able to tell their story. And this can be a real impediment when you’re trying to convince me to hire you! The one skill that I recommend candidates develop to help them land a job or launch a career is to become an exceptional storyteller. Specifically, a teller of your own story.”

We couldn’t ask for a better proof point for the importance of a career story! Your accomplishments and experiences are like a doorjamb for a job position. They are what will get you the first-round interview, but no matter how much of a rock star your resume says you are, the way you communicate your accomplishments and tell your story is what gets you to the next round.

And if you agree with the trends and insights that we’re sharing, then disruption will continue whether you put it into play or your company does. You’re going to be a candidate multiple times. You’ll go through more interviews – and meet more talent-acquisition people – than you ever thought you would.

And that’s why we hope our latest book, Disrupted!, will help you understand the current career landscape and prepare to shift your disruption to a reset opportunity.  Your first step is to order a copy and see how we solve for the talent insights we’ve shared over the last two weeks. Or better yet, join in the conversation by signing up for April’s book club and LinkedIn conversation about the resets ahead and how to succeed in all of them.

Call us when you need us.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 here.

Read an excerpt from Chapter 3 here.

Disrupted! A Talent Development Perspective

Subscribe to the podcast!

Listen to the Stories Behind a Purpose with CeCe Morken - Sally Williamson & Associates on Apple Podcasts Listen to the Stories Behind a Purpose with CeCe Morken - Sally Williamson & Associates on Spotify Listen to the Stories Behind a Purpose with CeCe Morken - Sally Williamson & Associates on iHeartRadio

Disruption happens every day across the corporate world. As employees, we experience reorgs, layoffs and acquisitions, and as disrupters ourselves we move cross country, chase ideas and challenge norms. But amidst all the disruption we all experience, some of us seem to thrive in times of turmoil.

These are the communicators who have mastered the two secret arts hidden within corporate disruption: learning how to establish a compelling brand and build an intriguing career narrative. They are skills that take time to perfect, but they’re the differentiator factors between those who are cast adrift from disruption and those who prosper from it.

We believe in this strongly…and it’s why we wrote our latest book: Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career.

But don’t just take our word for it. On this episode, Hurst Williamson is joined by 3 Talent Development specialists to share their perspectives on what makes an employee a high-potential candidate and what traits they look for in tomorrow’s leaders.

More About the Guests

Alexandra Daily-Diamond is the Northwest Regional Talent Development Manager at Gensler, a design and architecture firm. In her role, she identifies people-focused solutions to HR challenges. She focuses on organizational and employee development and engagement, talent management, coaching, and HR strategies that promote wellbeing.

Hilda Curry is the Enterprise Learning Management Systems Administrator for Methodist Health System, a non-profit healthcare organization located in Dallas, Texas. Hilda has over 25 years of experience in corporate & healthcare learning and talent development, and has held a series of progressive positions in the training and development field.

Megan Breiseth is the Senior Director of Learning and Development at InsideTrack. Megan has worked in employee development since 2006. At InsideTrack, she coached online adult learners and eventually moved into Learning and Development leadership. During her career, Megan has built and managed learning programs that unlock the potential in coaches, managers, and support staff.

Show Notes

    • Disruption is happening across the board in companies and for employees. Employees no longer have a mapped-out career path.
    • Seek opportunities to expand your skills and repackage your potential.
    • What do companies think about talent development?
    • What percentage of the workforce has needed to do some kind of rest in 2020?
      • 100% of the team had a reset in priorities, personal goals, and how they do the work.
      • All training was converted to virtual learning, 10% of corporate employees shifted to work from home.
      • 100% of people’s jobs changed and circumstances changed. Staff neededg to focus on what is most essential for students and institutions to meet their basic needs. Prioritize safety, wellness, and how to set up systems to support employees so they could show up.
    • Pandemic aside – What other things would be examples of organization disruptions?
      • Integrating separate systems into one
      • Transition from for profit to nonprofit business
      • Change roles to be more scalable and sustainable
      • More efficiency changes in the workplace
      • Pandemic heightened changes that would have happened otherwise but pandemic made it more urgent.
      • Economy is a general factor in disruption. – Global company and global economic impact.
      • Companies are shifting to have a clear focus to elevate the human experience.
    • What is the organization’s responsibility in an employee’s development and what is the employee’s responsibility in that?
      • Company being intentional to listen and empower.
      • Employees seek out feedback on what the individual could do better.
      • Ask the questions that are going to get employees thinking deeply.
      • Empower employees to own their career and see themselves.
      • Have a specific program for leaders.
      • Offer employees training or tuition reimbursement.
      • Encourage them to play a visible role in committees.
      • Offer the opportunity to get input from coworkers and managers.
    • What happens when an individual hits a wall where they don’t have the skills they didn’t know they needed to advance but were still good at their current job?
      • Push employees to get the skill – many companies will work with employees to get them to develop the skills they need to continue.
      • Encourage employees to have a conversation with managers to get the skills they need.
      • Library of competency to get measured on.
      • The goal is to look within the company but they will be open to hire outside the company if a specific skill is needed quickly.
      • In times like this, a person would lose the job for somebody who has that skill if the employee has not done anything to grow.
    • When a person is having their potential assessed, being great at what they can do isn’t always a great indicator that they can stretch when a skill is needed.
    • Examples of employees that were hired from other industries to do a new job:
      • Head chef- great head of customer service
      • DJ as a sales person
      • Zookeeper as a head of operations
    • 3 key attributes that talent development looks for in any position
      1. Ability to communicate and influence others
      2. Agility during changes or times of uncertainty
      3. Problem solving and critical thinking
    • Debunking of the rumor of “There’s never enough “top talent”
    • Personal brand and feedback
    • The book goes over the importance of hitting the reset to create your brand you must make yourself visible.
      • Participate in programs.
      • Volunteer for outside organizations.
      • Champion specific projects.
      • Use talent and skills on a broad perspective.
    • Personal brand is how people think about and talk about you when you aren’t around.
      • Asking for feedback removes the barrier and opens it up for an honest conversation.
      • If you dread feedback, work on your mindset around feedback, your mindset will share your reality. We can’t grow unless we get negative feedback. Seek feedback and control the narrative.
      • Participate in a performance review for yourself and from your manager. Feedback should be given on a day-to-day basis.
      • Not all feedback is useful but it’s important to put yourself out there. Seek feedback from individuals that make you nervous.
    • You can’t grow without stress or change – everyone deserves to love what they do. Always seek to grow and chase meaning and purpose.


Order Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career today here or on Amazon.


Like what you hear? Hear more episodes like this on the What’s Your Story podcast page!

Disrupted: Chapter 3 – “Corporate Disruption – Insights from Talent Development”

Hear more about the Talent Development Perspective on our podcast!Click here to order Disrupted!

Read Chapter 1 – Disrupted!

Read Chapter 19 – Corporate Priorities – Insights from Talent Acquisition

In our world of communication coaching, we talk to a lot of talent development and talent management leaders. One conversation with a new client was particularly revealing. We were designing a coaching program for some of the company’s future leaders, and she shared the difficulty of finding and retaining top talent for the company.

“I know that when I onboard a great resource, I only have them for about two years. While it’d be great to build out a series of development steps for a young leader, it doesn’t make sense when I know half of them won’t be here by the end of it. So, my perspective has shifted to, ‘what will you contribute while you’re here and what can I do to make you more effective for the company?’”

That’s a real dilemma for a talent leader and you can see from her quote that, even with the best of intentions, she can’t make a development plan work for everybody. Talent strategies have pivoted from a concentrated, long-term strategy of developing leaders over time, to addressing business needs and standing up new leaders quickly.

We’ve seen the shift and heard the dilemma anecdotally. But as we began thinking through disruption, we wanted to quantify the corporate perspective more formally. Through a comprehensive survey and follow-up interviews with nearly three hundred talent development and talent acquisition leaders, we found our assumptions matched their insights (see Appendix for full results).

Talent leaders are being stretched to anticipate skills, not just solve for gaps. And company priorities and strategies are shifting at a rate that’s hard to stay ahead of. In fact, 47% of our survey respondents said that one of their biggest challenges is that their company’s current talent capabilities do not align with the company’s future needs. That’s a pretty sizable gap! It means that talent teams are looking at either retraining or rehiring nearly half of their workforce. And even with the best of intentions, retraining half a workforce just isn’t feasible as a long-term strategy. It’s expensive, it slows down a company’s operations, and, perhaps most importantly in today’s market, it takes too much time.

So, if talent is at such a premium in companies, then where are talent leaders investing their time, energy, and funds? Well, they’re investing in two places with very different approaches: first-level managers and emerging leaders (seasoned directors/VPs and above).

Skilled front-line managers are needed to help an organization achieve its goals. Whether you’re in sales, marketing, engineering, finance, operations, etc., the first-line manager has a lot of visibility to both employees and customers, and they need to have a specific set of skills to manage the expectations of the brand and of the consumer. Training and support for this group is primarily focused on “hard skills” and whatever technical or specialist skill sets are needed to drive the immediate projects and strategies of a business. While there’s a lot of churn at this level of an organization, it still remains a priority for talent teams, so much so that this group was rated the highest training priority across our survey.

The second priority for talent teams are their emerging leaders (Senior Director/VP and up). Interestingly, this group requires the complete opposite training approach. Instead of delivering outcomes of a brand for a customer, future leaders become the expectations of the brand. And often, that means a lot more visibility in high-stakes environments. So, training for this group is focused on “soft skills” and whatever communication and leadership traits a talent team can help a rising leader develop quickly.

And as you’ve probably noticed, there are a lot of roles that this approach leaves out. If you don’t fall into one of those two camps, you’re not alone. And if your own development goals fall outside the scope of what the business needs, there’s a good chance you won’t wind up on a talent team’s radar.

Here’s why:

82% of talent development priorities are based on company goals, identified skill gaps for specific tasks, and job roles and functions. And only 8% of talent development programs, initiatives, and events are based on employee feedback and development interests. Talent development leaders told us that employees ask for leadership development, communication, and technical skill development through internal surveys and performance reviews. Yet those desires aren’t always in line with their companies’ priorities and development investments.

So, you can see how many employees fall between the cracks by missing training within their function area or not fitting the profile of the talent strategy in a given year. In addition, talent development leaders say that employees have unrealistic expectations and some blind spots about career advancement. These insights summed up our hypothesis, which is that in today’s corporate environment, you need to take ownership for your own development and career advancement.

And when you take ownership, you’ll find that resets can be opportunities if you know how to interview and illustrate your experiences well.

Next week, we’ll share the insights from talent acquisition leaders who clearly define what the interview is all about and why most people miss the mark.
More to come…


Read an excerpt from Chapter 1 here.

Disrupted: Chapter 1 – “Disrupted!”

Hear more about the book on our podcast!Click here to order Disrupted!

Read Chapter 3 – Corporate Disruption – Insights from Talent Development

Read Chapter 19 – Corporate Priorities – Insights from Talent Acquisition

Today is not going to be a good day. You were up half the night worrying. You hardly hear the audiobook you put on in the car to steady your nerves, and as you walk from the parking deck to your office, the cup of coffee in your hand is shaking.

You make it through the front door and past the main lobby. On the way to your desk, you pass your colleagues. Some of them look well-rested as they debate last night’s game and swap weekend plans, but others look like you feel. They seem to share your nervous energy, and you get a few knowing half-smiles of camaraderie as you open your email and hope you’re wrong.

It’s no surprise that half the office seems on edge. Your company was just acquired and, on Monday, your leadership team said the dreaded word that you haven’t been able to stop thinking about: “reorganization,” commonly referred to as “reorg.”

By Wednesday, your manager, Marissa, announced that she was leaving, and last night your new manager, Dan, unexpectedly put some time on your calendar for nine a.m. today. You worked closely with Marissa for nearly two years, but now Dan has taken over Marissa’s team as well as two other teams. You worked on a project with Dan about a year ago, but he’s from a different department and most of the work was done remotely. You doubt he really remembers you.

When the clock strikes nine, you walk down to Dan’s new office where he is sitting with an HR business partner. He asks you to take a seat and shut the door.

Dan sighs, and you know instantly that you were right.

“Thank you for your work here the last two years,” he says. “But the company is moving in a different direction and we don’t have a need for your role right now.”

The rest of the conversation is awkward and brief, and then you thank Dan for telling you in person as you head back to your desk to pack up your things and wait for a follow-up email from HR.

As you take the long walk from the lobby back to your car, everything starts sinking in. You wonder what you did wrong, how you didn’t see this coming months ago, and worst of all, you worry about what comes next.

Last Friday your world was completely different. You had a plan, you felt secure, but now…you’ve been disrupted!

Disruption happens to everyone at some point in their careers, and, for many of us, it will happen many times over. Whether you’re a new recruit or a twenty-year veteran, a seasoned C-Suite leader or a recent college grad, you can and will be disrupted. Favorite managers leave, companies are bought and sold, and boards decide their companies need a new face at the helm. Whether or not you’ve lived this story firsthand yet, the inevitable truth is that at some point in your career you will be disrupted.

In fact, you may even disrupt yourself! We actively seek new roles, go back to school, move our families, or chase dreams. And while that kind of disruption is self-inflicted, it, too, can create lasting impressions that may linger outside of our best intentions.

We take disruption personally. Whether it’s a long walk from a desk to a parking lot with our things in a cardboard box or a cross-country move, there’s vulnerability that comes with disruption. Even when we’re in the driver’s seat, we often still feel lost, confused, and a little scared. Yet some people seem to thrive in disruption! Our societal lexicon is full of underdogs who turned failures into successes and went from disrupted dreamers to kings and queens of the hill. So, how do they do it?

Until recently, the old model for promotions and success within a company had not changed much since the 1950s. You put in your time with a company and the company would slowly bring you along in your professional development, investing in you and moving you along at an established pace to develop new skills and to prepare you for a senior leadership position. But that old and patient model has changed. Companies move at incredible speeds and, as the demand for more specialized and technical skills increases, talent leaders can no longer wait for someone to develop a skill over time. They need the skill right away. This is why many companies have shifted to a hiring model of “What do we need today?” and “Who can adjust easily to whatever we need tomorrow?”

That’s a very different mindset for developing and acquiring talent, and it’s a shift that not many employees realize has occurred. Even self-labeled “job-hoppers,” who only plan to stay with a company for a year or two, still have expectations that a company will help develop them and advance their career in some way. And while many organizations say they do this, the reality is that most employees do not hit the internal development radar until they meet a specific criterion. That’s why, when disruption suddenly hits us, we often feel confused.

  • “I didn’t know they were looking for that skill set…”
  • “I assumed they would teach me any new skills I needed…”
  • “I would have learned how to do that if they’d let me know…”

But, as I mentioned earlier, some people thrive in disruption. Or at least, they seem to. So, what’s their secret? Those who thrive in disruption understand how to do two things that will improve 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.

Excerpt Ends

In our latest book, we discuss both and share insights about expectations from hundreds of talent leaders.  There’s more to come ….stay tuned!

Disrupted! A Podcast with the Creators: Why We Wrote It and What We Learned

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Listen to the Stories Behind a Purpose with CeCe Morken - Sally Williamson & Associates on Apple Podcasts Listen to the Stories Behind a Purpose with CeCe Morken - Sally Williamson & Associates on Spotify Listen to the Stories Behind a Purpose with CeCe Morken - Sally Williamson & Associates on iHeartRadio

Disruption happens a lot across the corporate world. Sometimes, from a company’s perspective through realigning functions. And sometimes by employees themselves as they make choices to try different things. But whether disruption is caused by a company or an individual, it’s occurring more frequently.

And from our vantage point, we see individuals who aren’t ready for it…and aren’t good at resetting around a challenge or an opportunity that disruption causes. The book sets out to help individuals understand why disruption occurs and how to plan for resets.

This episode of What’s Your Story has guest host, Lia, who interviews Sally, Hurst, and LaKesha about book insights, highlights and maybe a few tips from the latest book, Disrupted! How to Reset your Brand and Your Career.

More about The Creators

Sally Williamson is the founder of SW&A and an expert in all things related to spoken communication. Sally brings more than three decades of experience, insights and a general love of connection to empower more than 15,000 leaders and managers to influence and impact any group. Disrupted! is her fourth book.

Hurst Williamson is the ultimate utility player who can uncover client needs, lead a workshop or weave an incredible tale. He owns every room and brings genuine engagement to communication. He is the heart of the career journey and a proud member of the generation most disrupted. But he sees it as an opportunity to tell your story and own your journey. And he’s helping many of our clients do just that. Hurst co-authored Disrupted! and it is his second book.

LaKesha Edwards is a life-long learner who loves research, insights and discovery. With a Ph.D. added to her own career journey, she questions what we’re learning and how we’re solving it. And with SW&A, she creates the steps to continue a development experience by thinking through what we learn, what we teach and how we coach. And quite frankly, she keeps us all on our toes. She led the research behind Disrupted!

Show Notes

  • Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career
    • Disruption happens all over the world and it’s occurring more frequently.
    • This book sets out to help individuals understand why disruption occurs and how to plan for resets.
  • Why Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career was written:
    • It felt like the right time for the topic and they had the tools to sell it.
    • As a communications firm they have a broad view of business change.
    • SW&A wanted to support individuals and how they deal with disruption.
    • This time, around wanted to include two new minds in the process to have fresh perspective about a topic that will directly affect their generation.
    • The timing of COVID-19 offered the space, insight, and necessity for this book.
    • This book has blended all their different talents together.
  • What was Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career trying to uncover and discover?
    • Focus on developing the skills of current employees.
    • Noting talent strategies have shifted with business beliefs.
    • Talent acquisition is trying to bring in the needed talent to solve for gaps.
  • Where does that create insight for a reader or an individual who’s thinking through their own career path and development?
    • Talent Leaders have encouraged employees to take ownership of their own career path.
    • Training for employees to directly support company goals is 82%.
    •  8% of their time is focused on development outside of company goals.
    • If your interest does not align with the company’s goals, it will not be a priority.
  • Talent development is in charge of supplying the people to let that growth happen. Goals get narrow fast – if an individual doesn’t fit in the scope, they will fall behind.
    • Employees must take ownership to develop their skills to make sure they stand out.
    • Employees must not rely on somebody watching out for them- they must own their career.
    • There is not a master database of employee’s development, skills, and career goals.
  • How to stay competitive?
    • Feedback – is the best indication of what an employee’s file at a company is. Seek feedback to control personal brand. Seek feedback from individuals that make you nervous.
    • Personal brand is how people think about you and talk about you when you’re not around.
  • What are the critical skills needed today?
    • Communication and influence.
    • Problem solving and critical thinking.
    • Agility during times of change and uncertainty.
  • To be a better strategic thinker is to be a better strategic communicator.
  • Talent recruiters will look for talent outside an organization if specific skills are needed quickly.
  • How are disruption and reset related?
  • Disruption is what everyone feels.
    • It happens to everybody and at any time. Not always handled well.
  • The rest are the people who take control of disruption.
    • How they pivot.
    • The art of how you take disruption and turn it into insight.
  • What does reset look like?
    • Everybody will have to reset at some time in their career.
    • An individual will change jobs 7-10 times in their career.
    • Reset comes down to the interview.
    • In the Talent Acquisition podcast they were asked how many people are good at interviewing? Less than 5 percent.
  • Talent acquisition is competing for top talent. Many people don’t understand how to explain their skills through storytelling. Acquiring skills that fit a specific job is not always through traditional experiences.
  • In the book they look at different career levels early, mid, and peak career.
  • People are successful in reset if they have a compelling brand and a compelling career narrative.
    • 1st half of Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career is about personal brand and coaching around feedback. It’s broken down between early, mid-career and peak career.
    • 2nd half pivots into a career narrative. How to think about organizing all your experience together. Mindset shifts on how you think and talk about yourself.

Order Disrupted! How to Reset Your Brand & Your Career today here or on Amazon.

Like what you hear? Hear more episodes like this on the What’s Your Story podcast page!