SW&A’s Twelve Months of Coaching

As the Holiday Season arrives,
And the year comes to a close,
Our team is celebrating with our favorite gifts,
The ones without wrappings, trimming or bows.

And what greater gift is there,
No matter the city, state or nation.
Than the ability to influence and impact,
With outstanding communication!

And so, you might ask yourself,
How can I give this gift to me?
Well, we’ve laid out the steps,
A twelve-month communication spree!

In the first month of coaching,
SW&A gave to me…
A keynote for memorability.

In the second month of coaching,
SW&A gave to me…
Two credits in SWAU,
And a keynote for memorability.

Then in the third month of coaching,
SW&A gave to me…
The Three C’s of Style,
Two credits in SWAU,
And a keynote for memorability.

And by the twelfth month of coaching,
I saw all their skills…
Twelve hours of coaching,
Eleven insightful people,
Ten-to-one instruction,
Nine Open Programs,
Eight(teen) thousand students,
Seven expert coaches,
Six verbal assessments,
Four great books,
The Three C’s of Style,
Two credits in SWAU,
And a keynote for memorability!

From all of us to all of you… we wish you a joyful and restful Holiday.

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

The SW&A Team

Does Presence Even Matter Anymore?

To answer that question, you have to consider one in return. How do you define presence?

Do you think about it merely in terms of how someone looks and how well they package that look in a business setting? Then, in a hybrid world, presence may matter more the day you’re in the office versus the day you’re on Zoom.

Or do you define presence in terms of someone’s confidence and the concept of “owning the room” or commanding the meeting? In those terms, presence may be evident in some meetings and totally lacking in others. When the workspace and the setting were redefined, presence didn’t translate easily. That’s why people are asking the question.

But if you think of presence more in terms of engagement and the ability to impact or influence others, then presence may matter more than it ever has. And that’s because business context has been blurred and the rules of engagement are looser. So, it leaves managers wondering whether they should address it and coach people, and it leaves individuals wondering whether they should listen to the coaching.

And to both groups, our answer is yes. Presence isn’t a mandate or a set of rules that should be force fit on someone. Presence is about awareness, influence and the ability to collaborate, connect and move others forward. As a manager, you can reset the definition and the guidelines so that presence has a fresh feel to your team, and your team can improve their overall effectiveness by thinking more about influence with a peer group or a customer group.

Here’s how we’ve reset presence in our workshops and helped our clients think about how to coach it within their organizations.

It starts with a clear definition.

All of the elements listed in the questions above are a part of presence. And that can make it sound like it’s solely visual, all about dominating, or even just about listening. When presence is described by the first two elements, it feels rigid, or personality driven. That’s because these are ways that presence shows up, but not really what it is.

Presence is the culmination of impressions. It’s not something you give yourself, but a way that others define you in terms of how they see you, hear you and feel influenced by you. It’s based on someone else’s experiences, and the expectations of presence are best described by how others need to feel about you to follow your guidance or line up to your ideas.

We define presence as the three C’s: Confidence, Commitment and Connection. They represent attributes built on impressions from others. And those impressions and expectations have stayed very consistent even with all of the shifts in our business setting. But because we shifted so much about where we work and how we work together, the power of impressions and the intention behind owning them should be reset to match those changes.

Here’s how we talk about it.

HOW YOU’RE SEEN: Visual impressions will always be the first way we focus on someone. It may be a quick impression or a lingering one. And it’s shaped by what you wear and choices you make with hair, nails, makeup, tattoos, facial hair, shoes, and everything else that we can visually see. And managers are beginning to ask: Do I need to set some guidelines around how they show up?

Yes, you should set expectations because without them, you can’t guide choices. But tread lightly in terms of setting do’s and don’ts and focus instead on owning impressions. Organizations are working hard on making all things inclusive, and someone’s visual expression of style is a part of that.

In our work, we’ve shifted from coaching someone on poor choices to helping them see that bold choices speak loudly. That means what I see may distract me enough that I never get to what you wanted me to hear. When you own your impression, you think about those reactions and learn to work with them so that you are heard. Consider a discussion where your team sets the norms or talks through what intention looks like for different groups.

HOW YOU’RE HEARD: Most groups have broken rules of effective meetings in a virtual setting, and they’re struggling to put order back into discussions in an in-person setting. And if you’re running some meetings with people in-person and others remote, then you’re right back to the “invisible audience” on the virtual platform.

We’re coaching people to make sure they’ve found a way to be active, involved and seen in meetings. The majority of impressions formed around someone’s brand and influence come out of day-to-day meetings. The outspoken team members often need to be coached to wait before they jump in. While they’ve gotten kudos for being involved and outspoken, their energy can stifle others. Peers will be less interested in working with them if they seem to always have the answer. Those who are quiet or more tentative in a group setting need some tools to bridge ideas or create space for questions and deeper thought. From both perspectives, it’s intentional choices that drive impressions of someone who is active in meetings and a valued part of getting to resolution.

As a manager, you can support the meeting setting by adding a little structure to discussions and giving advance notice about the topics up for discussion. Too often, managers approach their team meetings from their own perspective. They wing it or pull the agenda together a few hours ahead of time. Unintentionally, the manager is running a meeting that works well for the outspoken and provides no support to those who build confidence through preparation.

HOW YOU INFLUENCE: When we focus on connection, we shift someone’s perspective off of how they’re doing and toward how they make others feel. It’s a true differentiator of presence, and it’s gotten a little lost in the virtual world.

If you think about what influences you, it’s usually driven by an idea you like and your willingness or interest in aligning with the person who shared the idea. When we hear an idea from someone we don’t align with, we’re less likely to hear it as good and we’ll rebuke the idea to avoid the person.

Across the attributes of presence, connection is the concept that has suffered the most in a virtual world. And it may be the hardest to achieve as we shift to hybrid. There are a lot of bad habits that have taken hold as many people are pushing information out and not focused on drawing people in.

Influence is more about others and less about you. Active listening is the skill we coach and the ability to draw response from others. It’s harder to read and get response virtually, and it’s why we coach people to rethink the virtual connection and add ways that confirm response and impose participation.

As a manager, active listening is a great skill to coach. When you debrief on meetings, bring two perspectives to the conversation. Ask an employee how others responded to their idea and when they share what they think, ask them how they know. This forces discussion of response and the awareness of the communicator. It also creates an opportunity to consider ways to get that reaction or response from a group.

So YES, presence still matters. Maybe more than it ever has before because business context has been blurred and the rules of engagement are looser. And when there’s change and a little confusion, there’s always opportunity. We already see it as people share the impact of coaching. Those who pay attention to impressions are getting noticed and pulled into bigger opportunities.

If you think your team could use a reset on presence we’d love to 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

The Salary Negotiation

Even the phrase has a negative connotation. When I see negotiation, I visualize a game of tug of war and the back and forth between two sides. That’s not a great way to think about your salary. And a tug of war shouldn’t be your mindset for approaching those conversations.

Salary conversations rank in the top three critical conversations that people want to know how to manage, and with the increased movement in the job market, many people are having them more frequently.

Changing companies is the right time to negotiate. Everything is up for discussion, and as the potential hire, you’re in a strong position. Once you’re offered a role, the negotiation of compensation and benefits may shift to a recruiter or an outsider resource who takes some of the awkwardness out of a conversation with a future manager.

You should consider a new role with a good understanding of how a company manages promotions and increases responsibility. When could you expect to take on more? What are the experiences of the peer group you’re joining? Will you be in the top third, middle third or bottom third with regard to skills and experience? What is the average time your peers have been in their roles? These are good questions and fair discussion as you consider a new opportunity.

Think of salaries as one part of a bigger compensation and benefits discussion. Companies negotiate in different ways. Flexibility in a work week, location of a role and mid-year bonuses are all ways a company may enhance a compensation package. If you’re in the market, you should know how your skills are viewed in the marketplace and how comparable roles are being positioned.

And if you make a move, be sure that it’s expanding your role in a way that feels like mobility to you. It may be an increased title and compensation, but it could also be increased responsibility and exposure to a new skill set. Don’t just move for money. It’s hard to take that forward to the next role or next step if what you’re doing hasn’t grown along with your salary.

Those may be the easier salary conversations because it’s an expected part of the hiring process. Just be sure that you’re ready with what matters to you and you have good insight to position it.

But what about the recurring conversations?

You’re with a company that you like and in a culture that you respect, but you just don’t think you’re paid fairly. How do you navigate a conversation about money?

For a conversation that people feel is a critical one, a lot of employees don’t know the basics of how compensation is managed within their companies. From grade levels to salary bands, more than 50% of the people who ask us about these conversations, don’t know how their company manages the process. And that sets you up for the wrong time and the wrong approach.

Learn the basics from your HR team and then consider the following three steps to involve your manager in a discussion.

Make the conversation about more than your salary.
Money is emotional. To an employee, it feels like a quantification of what your work is worth. To a manager, it’s one part of a much bigger picture around roles and responsibilities. Too often, employees think about money as a separate conversation independent of their work and their value to a role.

And that’s a mistake. Money follows value. Change the conversation to what you’re doing, how you’re contributing and talk to your manager about what you’d like to take on next. Increase your role and your value to the company, and the company will increase your compensation.

The easiest time for a company and a manager to increase a salary is when someone adds responsibility and steps into a new role. The hardest time for a company to increase a salary is when nothing has changed….except how you’re feeling about your role.

When you’re asked to take on more or offered a new position, you’ve aligned to the compensation discussion that’s similar to joining a company. Lead with the increased responsibility and value, and then explore and discuss what changes with your compensation package.

Time the conversation from your manager’s perspective.
The biggest disconnect is timing. If you’ve been with a company for a while, you may be relying on your manager to set the timing of a discussion or annual review. But managers view those discussions as resetting their entire team, and they’re working with guidelines that are set across the entire company. Their focus is resetting everyone to current roles, not making significant changes during those conversations.

Your desire to talk about what you do next may hit them too late to consider it. And if your peers were proactive in managing a career discussion, your manager may assume that you’re not as interested as they are in a next step.

I recently ran an assessment as part of a coaching engagement and asked two leaders what they thought the employee wanted to do next. Both replied: “I have no idea. I’ve never thought about what Joe will do next.” And that tells me Joe hasn’t made it known what he wants to explore or take on. And he’ll be frustrated when the manager doesn’t create that opportunity for him.

You have to keep this conversation alive and well-positioned. It’s a conversation about next steps and even two steps down the road. Most managers are very willing to help this process. They just don’t have the time to drive it for you. We’ve talked a lot about taking ownership for your career, and our latest book Disrupted: How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career offers guidance on how to do it.

Know the market and the value of your role.
We’re a little biased against chasing every opportunity that comes your way because we see people follow the wrong things and miss the opportunity to grow their skill sets. A lot has changed in opportunities, and you will move more in your career than you may have considered a decade ago. But what hasn’t changed is skill development. You need to be adding skills and expanding skills in order to increase your value to any company.

And you should stay involved in how your role is valued in the market and within your company. The increased movement has put a lot of information out there in terms of positions available and the salary range of the positions. Stay informed on your skillset. If a recruiter reaches out, it’s worth learning how they got to you and how they thought about your skillset.

Your peer network is also a great way to stay informed on how roles are growing and skills you need to be developing. Keep your manager informed and offer input on how roles are evolving. It helps them think more broadly about skills and development.

But a word of caution. Don’t use the market insight as a way to push negotiation on your manager. Don’t wait until you’re frustrated and feeling stuck to have a conversation about your opportunity and increased responsibility.

Too often, we see an employee leverage another opportunity as a way to force a compensation discussion. This puts a company on the defensive and many will try to “save” you because they don’t want to lose you. They add compensation and even new titles to try and keep you. But both sides resent this tactic within six months. The employee still feels taken advantage of because they had to threaten to leave in order to get what they felt they should have been offered all along. The manager resents it because they feel they’re now paying a premium for a role they weren’t sure you were ready for. And ironically, many of these employees leave anyway within a year.

There’s a much better way to continue to grow in responsibility and compensation.

Take ownership for how you move within a company. Be proactive in talking about where you are today and where you would like to be tomorrow. Focus on the value you can add to the company and involve your manager in helping you plan for the next steps ahead.

Movement within a company and to different companies is a reset we should all expect. And when you begin to think about a value conversation instead of a salary negotiation, compensation joins the conversation easily.

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

Proficiency vs Mastery: What it Takes to Uplevel Your Skills

January is the month of resets! From resetting company goals and strategies to resetting personal development, it’s the refresh and “clean slate” feeling that rejuvenates all of us and makes anything feel possible.

And if you’re a people leader, chances are your development goals include something about influence, personal presence and the ability to galvanize your team. If it isn’t your priority, it should be because the expectations of employees have shifted in the last two years and the ask of people leaders is being redefined as well.

At the core of those expectations will be influence and impact. And when you evaluate the impact of a people leader, the data points become employees’ feedback, experiences and reactions to a leader’s communication skills.

This month puts it all to the test. At the same time that development goals are being discussed, communication skills are being tested. January is an important month for people leaders. Through internal meetings and strategy presentations, leaders set the tone, direction and enthusiasm for the year ahead and they define the ask of their employees for the months ahead.

The reality check for every people leader is: Are you a proficient communicator or a master communicator? There’s a significant difference.

Surprisingly, proficiency is where more than 85% of people leaders are considered to be. And they fall into two groups with that benchmark.

Some have accepted that benchmark for themselves and consider proficient to be “good enough.” They look around at peers and other leaders in a company, and they measure their skills against the skills of others. And they believe they’re good enough. Others haven’t accepted the benchmark, but they don’t know what to do about it. They developed foundational skills through repetition. And while they’re earnest in wanting to improve their skills, they don’t know how to get beyond proficient.

Knowing that the expectations on a leader’s skills will continue to shift toward a more compelling communicator and impactful influencer, we’re helping leaders set new goals and move their skills from proficiency to mastery.

So, how do you make the shift? We help communicators focus on Awareness, Intention and Effort.

Communication isn’t the first skill you’ve tried to master. We’ve all taken up a hobby or a sport in an effort to become really good at it. And I’ll admit, there are far more things I’ve become proficient at than I’ve mastered. Here’s why:

I started with some instruction to build skills, and then I expected to get better at it through practice. And I did make great strides initially, but I lost interest or focus on the skill before I really mastered it. Communication follows the same path. Maybe you took a course or got a solid foundation in skills and techniques early in your career. And you became proficient through repetition as you had opportunities or responsibilities to communicate more and more.

But repetition doesn’t get someone to mastery. It levels out at proficiency because feedback doesn’t continue, or the skills don’t evolve with the growth of a leader. Mastery takes the right tools and the right kind of practice to evolve and improve skills.

Here’s how we do it:

AWARENESS is feedback, assessment and input. As a leader, your effectiveness isn’t based on your assessment, it’s based on everyone else’s. And it helps to understand how your brand is perceived and how people hear what you say. We start with an initial assessment, but we also help leaders put feedback loops in place to ensure that all communication is measured for impact. This allows a leader to clarity, reinforce, and revise communication to keep sound bites active across a year. Less than 15% of leaders have a broader plan and a longer lifeline for big ideas and core messages that influence employee behaviors.

SW&A can measure current effectiveness and build a custom communication plan for a leader.

INTENTION trumps technique. Few leaders really understand intention behind techniques. They can explain what they do to develop and deliver content, but the intent behind those tools isn’t very clear. It’s what sets us apart as coaches, and it’s how we guide someone toward mastery. We’re helping someone define their presence and display it consistently in every setting. It’s understanding the use of the body and voice well enough that intention becomes habit, and a leader begins to shift their focus off of what’s happening for them and onto what’s happening for listeners.

SW&A understands intention and can translate it for any communication style. We see a difference in communicators who begin to ask less about tips and more about responses. And that’s when good enough shifts to great results.

EFFORT is about practice and knowing how to practice in a way that helps a leader align style and content for impact. Every leader is different bringing different strengths and challenges to their communication toolkit. So, practice has to be tailored to help each leader know how to work through their inconsistencies. We help a leader get to practice with intention, not just repetition. And that’s key to how well skills advance.

SW&A coaches a communicator on how to bring style and content together in a custom practice tool to leverage before events.

While communication is a universal skill, it’s an evolving toolkit that takes more than just repetition to improve. And with the shift in leader expectations, there has never been a better time to assess your skills and shift your goals toward mastery.

We’ve been coaching communicators toward mastery for more than 35 years. Maybe this will be the year we help you attain it as well.

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

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: 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!

The Mastery of Presence

The development of an effective communicator is a journey. And I’ve always felt that my team can impact that journey in two ways. In our workshops, we introduce awareness and core competencies to start someone’s journey, and in our 1:1 coaching relationships, we accelerate the journey by working side by side to influence results.

But neither format nor a combination of the two is a promise of mastery. And I’ve thought about that a lot in the last few years.

I’ve had an opportunity to work with a lot of people over thirty years, and I’ve tracked their progress over time. Every investment of time leads to progress and every lapse in effort leads to bad habits. And so behind the scenes, I’ve been thinking about mastery and comparing my knowledge of different journeys to different outcomes.

I don’t think it can be solely blamed on a lack of effort if someone never truly masters the art. And I don’t think it can be assumed that only a few people can. I’ve seen the road to mastery for many clients, and I’ve thought about my own experiences at trying to master different things in life.

To be honest, there are far more skills that I’ve quit on than ones I’ve mastered. And you may feel the same way. It’s why I believe any kind of “road to mastery” has to have passion behind it. You have to deeply want something to be great at it before you’ll invest the time and the length of the journey to master a skill. That easily takes learning guitar and marathon running off my list!  Way too much of a commitment and not enough passion to master it. But it still leaves hiking 16ers and beating my kids at pickleball as potentials!

If you connect passion to a true interest in mastery of communication, then you’ll see some people  drop off the journey based on a lack of a commitment toward something they just don’t value enough.  And if that’s you, we should have a different conversation because I believe that someone who can influence and impact groups is destined to be a leader in one setting or another. And I also believe if you aren’t willing to be a great communicator, then you shouldn’t lead people because people want to follow someone who can define a direction with passion and purpose.

But even those who have been earnest about communication skills, don’t always master them. And I think some people stall on the journey because they don’t have all the ingredients in place for mastery.  As we’ve thought about it on our team, we’ve agreed that mastery comes from combining six things:


Impressions and guidance aren’t the same thing. Everyone can give feedback by telling you how they’ve experienced you. But few people really understand what drives impressions and how to help someone consider new choices that move beyond them. And that’s why a lot of communicators get guidance that isn’t very helpful. More than 70% of the guidance clients share was a clear impression and misguided direction.

To master communication, you need insights from an expert, and someone who knows how to interpret impressions into actionable goals.


One of the hardest things to do as a coach is to meet someone where they are versus where you think they should be. Thinking through where a person’s journey is today helps shape goals that they can reach. And accomplishing some goals encourages someone to keep working toward mastery.

It’s no different than training for anything else. You don’t start at the top of the 16er. You work your way up through the length and difficulty of hikes.

We work hard to set goals that can be reached in a workshop day or across a coaching engagement. To master communication, you have to keep resetting goals that align to your journey and push you toward the next milestone.


That’s the first real roadblock for new skills. Are we really willing to change habits and think about being uncomfortable as a part of the journey? Mastery is way outside your comfort zone, and it’s the reason a good coach can keep setting new goals and forward motion for a communicator.  Expectations change with any new role, and skills have to expand and grow as well. It’s why communication should be integrated into any transition plan.

To master communication, you have to keep resetting communication skills. Every time you step into a new role, you should align goals for influence and impact and think through how you can continue to grow.

Those three elements make a big difference in how well someone begins the communication journey.  It’s the right formula to start with awareness, intention and effort. And I’ve evolved our coaching steps over the years to integrate these three concepts into everything we do.

And we deliver on it really well…as long as we’re in charge! And that’s what I’ve been thinking about around mastery. The difference in someone who becomes a master of communication is something that’s happening when we aren’t around:


It’s really what leads to mastery. And it’s practice with intention, not just repetition. It takes a plan, manageable pieces and a little motivation. And those are the remaining three ingredients.


We’ve created practice plans in coaching engagements for years. We outline where to practice and align someone’s goals to upcoming events. But we’ve come to realize we can’t practice for someone. And the difference in someone who knows how to practice versus someone who picks up a few techniques is miles apart.

People who master communication buy into practice. They’re less about “I use a few things” and all about “Here’s how I think about it.” When it’s internalized, it sticks.


Practice helps a communicator break big goals into small parts. Whether it happened in our workshops or someone else’s, when someone tells me they took away a technique, I explore it further. Techniques feel like acting to me. It’s something you think you’re supposed to do in a certain setting. Communication doesn’t have one setting or one technique. Communication is all about intention in every situation.

To master communication, you have to know what you’re trying to do in order to do it well. Break down techniques into intents. When you truly understand it, you begin to accomplish it. And, that’s great momentum toward mastery.


I called out passion at the start of the newsletter, and I think it’s critical to keep you going. I can’t force you to be as passionate about communication as I am. But I can help you practice in small parts, and maybe that’s all the motivation you need! That’s why we built SWAU – a practice platform that provides the intent behind every communication tool and a little encouragement in every step. It brings clear goals together with an intentional plan to work on style step by step.

Our exploration around mastery has expanded our thinking about Presence and has led to a few additions to our offerings.

We recommend you begin your journey with our personal brand workshop. It takes a deeper look at impressions and assumptions. And it sets a great stage for thinking through why impressions occur so that you start your journey with a clear set of intentional choices, rather than universal techniques.

And when you’re ready…we’ve added Presence 2.0, which we call Mastering Executive Presence. And whether we worked with you two years ago or ten, this is the next level course that shifts focus from your style to the audience impact. We look at style through the lens of a listener and take the basic concepts and fit them within a higher profile setting and a high-stakes impact.

And mostly, we’ve built the practice platform to keep the journey going.


That’s what we’ve done about mastering communication. What will you do?

 We’re here when you need us!

Sally Williamson

THE VIRTUAL COMMUNICATOR: It’s Not as Easy as it Seems

Our “new normal” as virtual communicators has progressed in the last few months. As we’ve talked to clients, the first conversations were about how “easy it was” to make systems and processes work virtually. Corporate teams did a great job of setting up transitions and processes to move a workforce to a virtual setting. The first focus was the technology of communication…but it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

Then, the conversation shifted to communicators and we were asked: “What should leaders be doing to create a virtual culture?” This was our article, “Leading through Video” that focused on how to stay visible with employees. Overnight, a leader’s toolkit expanded. Many had to adapt quickly to engage an invisible audience in virtual town halls and conferences…and it wasn’t as easy as it seemed.

And now, conversations are shifting from leaders to everybody else, and we’re hearing: “We need help with this. We don’t understand the ground rules of virtual communication. My team can’t run meetings, my team can’t lead customer conversations, my managers can’t influence their teams. We need help with platforms, we need help with focus, we need help with engagement.” None of it was  as easy as it seemed

How can that be?

Remote working and virtual working may not be synonymous. Remote working is a term we’ve used for a while to refer to someone who doesn’t come into the office. They may work remotely every day or just some days. It implies a different way of working and sometimes a different schedule. Remote workers set their own timeline, their own space and their own approach to their role. It works well for people who can work independent of almost everyone else.

When we made everyone virtual, we realized that every employee couldn’t work independent every day. We needed to communicate and interact with each other. And most people can feel work happening if they can “see” work. So overnight, virtual working required video. It’s a good way to get interaction and to talk to someone.

But it also required employees to sit at a computer and interact with a laptop screen for 8+ hours every day. It’s like playing a video game for hours on end. It wears you out. And it didn’t really follow the same practices of a remote worker who’s working, but within their guidelines and time frames. And very few were sitting for 8+ hours.

And now we’ve figured it out. It isn’t the same setting, and it isn’t as easy as it seems. In fact, it’s different from both perspectives.

For a listener, it’s more removed and more independent. You can get most of the experience through video, but it’s not always clear and focused. That’s because communicators are distracted by new steps and not always “ready” to manage a meeting. Listeners also have a harder time interacting with other listeners. It’s not like sitting in a room and observing others. Technology controls your view, and you get a snapshot of those talking a lot, not those who are quiet. And if a listener doesn’t like the pace or the interaction, they have the power and independence over video to turn off their camera, turn off their audio and just “leave” for a few moments.

That changes the power of the communicator. We’re not used to people connecting and disconnecting so easily. It makes things very disjointed. While the listener is a little more distant, the video makes the communicator more intimate. It’s a close-up shot of you. Yes, you can change that if you know how, but some communicators aren’t really sure where the camera is. So, the snapshot may have them looking down, looking left or all around, and it makes it harder to focus on them and harder to hear what they say. And many communicators say they’re managing too much in this new format, and it feels like a juggling exercise to run a virtual meeting.

It is different, and it’s a new set of skills. And it’s why in response to the questions and discussion mentioned above, we’ve pulled our best practices together to create “The  Virtual Communicator” program for leaders, sales teams, internal teams, project teams, and anyone who is trying to improve their impact in a virtual setting.

Our premise is that it takes three things: Preparation, Participation and Presence.

Here are a few highlights from the program.



We’ve always said that a prepared communicator sends an agenda in advance, so participants know what you expect them to do in an upcoming conversation. It’s a best practice for all meetings, and it’s a necessity for the virtual communicator. It’s hard for the virtual communicator to generate participation in the moment. When listeners aren’t prepared to participate, the virtual meeting falls flat. This makes the communicator lose confidence, and the listener lose interest. And that’s when listeners disconnect.  They can turn on/off technology at will.

Sometimes, technology is the challenge for communicators and listeners. Platforms are being over-worked, and they aren’t running beautifully. But most of it is operator error. The leader is dropping calls, dropping people, talking without sound, talking with too much sound, etc. The first two minutes of any virtual meeting should be ground rules for technology and participation. No one is doing it, and everyone needs it.


Once the ground rules are set, the communicator has to signal participation. We introduce techniques for getting involvement early and keeping it throughout a meeting.

It takes facilitation skills, and few communicators have had much experience with facilitation.

Technology works against you on this one. Technology pulls the talkers front and center. If you’re speaking, you show up more on the screen. The communicator needs to know who isn’t talking to make sure they have everyone engaged. And the quiet listeners are hard to “see.” We’ve developed a simple workaround that helps a communicator track a full group and still keep their focus on the conversation.


Your presence is as important on video as it is in a conference room. In fact, it’s a more intimate snapshot. We don’t see the communicator from head to toe. We see a close-up shot from the shoulders up which makes connection and expression the most critical style component.

That’s a challenge because many communicators don’t seem to know where the camera is. In order to make a listener feel seen, you have to be talking directly to them. Communicators seems to be looking down and all around. In the close-up shot, the lack of connection is front and center.

You can adjust the listeners’ view…. you can improve it, but you have to think about it. Some teams are having a lot of fun with backdrops. They are fun, but distorting, for important meetings. It seems as if someone is behind a curtain pulling on your body parts. Ears get cut off, arms seem to be broken, etc. It will be a “to do” for marketing teams to improve the green screen backdrops. For now, find a real setting in your house that works for important meetings to avoid the distraction.


It’s a new medium, and it requires a new set of skills. They aren’t totally different, but they aren’t as easy as they may seem. If you’re beginning to focus on the skills of your communicators, we’d like to help your team manage and improve their virtual setting.

Learn more and sign up for The Virtual Communicator today.

We’re here when you need us.

Sally Williamson

Don’t Blame PowerPoint!

Next to a laptop, PowerPoint (PPT) could be considered one of the top three tools used in business. More than 30 million presentations are built in the software every day tying up 15 million people hours at a cost of $252 million…..every single day! And yet, few of us are Masters of it. In fact, we have a love/hate relationship with the software which has led to the term, “death by PPT.”

AT SW&A, we hear a lot of the angst around preparing presentations blamed on the software.

From the listeners:

  • “There were too many details and too much information.”
  • “I got lost in the details and didn’t understand what the listener was asking me to do.”
  • “It’s a horrible eye chart.”

From the communicators:

  • “We go through more than 15 iterations of decks before we have a final presentation.”
  • “I got so many edits to my slides that I’ve lost the point I was trying to make.”
  • “I’m not artistic or creative; I hate building slides.”

And our response is always: Don’t blame PPT.

It’s the process…or lack of a process…that frustrates you. Not the software.

Here’s a little self-diagnosis.

Assume that you’re asked to deliver a presentation two weeks from today.  Whether you start planning it today or wait until next week to develop it, how many of you will start the process by opening up a PPT document on your laptop?

If this sounds like you, stay with me. Then, you begin outlining points by putting a text box on each slide or if you’ve covered the topic previously, you’ll open up another PPT and begin to migrate slides to your new deck. Either way, you’re building the foundation of your content, one slide at a time.

It’s a very linear approach to structure, and it’s the wrong approach.

Because now you have a collection of details instead of a storyline, and you will present the deck slide by slide versus concept linked to concept.

Is this your approach?  Most people say yes.

When PPT is used as the planning tool, it becomes cumbersome to work with and takes on a very different role. PPT’S role is to help you illustrate details or connect two points, not to thread all the points together.  That’s the role of an outline or storyline structure as we refer to it. The usage numbers above may explain this.  Because organizing content has become such a constant in our day, we may be telling ourselves that we can skip a step and organize our thoughts at the same time as we illustrate them. And, that’s a misuse of PPT.

The storyline structure is the first step, always. Whether you use our model or you have your own tool, as the communicator, you should always start with an end to end view of what you’re asking the listener to do. It’s rarely the details that fail in presentations; it’s always the connection between them.

A storyline view helps a communicator understand the bigger ideas and repeatable points that will lead the listener to an outcome or takeaway.  This changes how you build out a PPT.

When PPT becomes the second step, it works beautifully for the communicator and the listener. A broader storyline helps the listener see beyond what you’re illustrating and understand why you’re illustrating it. The communicator’s focus gets simpler and key concepts get repeated as the communicator focuses on pulling ideas forward rather than making every point.

PPT is also a horrible communicator and a really good illustrator.

Let’s diagnose that one.

Assume that the presentation you’re building is for another leader to deliver or it has such high visibility that several people want to give input before you deliver it. So, you work on the PPT for a few days and then you forward it for feedback.

Does this sound like you?  Then, what you may not realize is that even though you shared it for feedback, you were pretty locked into those slides. And your editors now begin to interpret what the slides mean.  They can see the illustration; they just don’t know the storyline. So, they create their own mental storyline to support your details. Then, they edit to their own thinking.

This leads to adding content on your slides, reordering your slides and even adding new slides to support their thinking. You get the edits back and don’t feel grateful for the input.  You’re frustrated. Because they’ve changed the meaning of your slides and thrown off the flow of your storyline. At least the storyline you have in your head.  Because it was never shared as a structure for the conversation.

Have you had this experience? Most people say yes.


The storyline drives communication; PPT creates illustration. If an editor can read a storyline to see the end to end plan for communication, they are much less likely to edit slides.  Instead, they’ll identify areas of the storyline that aren’t easy to understand or where they want you to add detail.

In fact, when a team is involved in preparing a presentation, we urge communicators to get buy-in to the storyline first before PPT is even introduced. This helps a group align to the full direction of communication and the big ideas before the supporting PPT takes shape. And it keeps a team moving through the organization process together. Then when you move to PPT, the second step, the feedback is limited to the look and feel of illustrations.

As a communicator, you want listeners spending less time on how to follow your thoughts and more time on understanding how the big ideas connect and lead to outcomes.

And if we’re pleased with the transformation we see when individuals add our first step  into content planning, we’re ecstatic when we see teams adopt it. Because if an individual can improve a single meeting, the full team can change their influence in an organization.

We know because we’ve made it happen.

We’ve taken many teams beyond the storyline structure to a team template that gives the communicators a template to follow and the listeners a consistent expectation. So, listeners spend less time trying to follow the structure and more time hearing the ideas.

When teams adopt a standard structure, it quickly takes hold in an organization. They become known for their ability to deliver clear ideas and recommendations which often raises their visibility in a company.

If you’re getting bogged down in details and edits, don’t blame PPT. Put the first step back into your process. And if you’d like some help learning to do that, join us for an upcoming storylines workshop. Even better, bring your team together and strengthen the group’s impact across your organization.

Call us when you need us.

Sally Williamson & Associates