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

Mid-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.

Mid-Career Development Priorities is part 2 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 3 – Early Career Development Priorities here.


For some time, I’ve referred to managers in their mid-career years as the Mighty Middle. And I can’t think of a time when the phrase has been better suited to middle managers than today. I’m just not sure if the significance is more about the Mighty or about being in the Middle…because both are true!

Middle managers have always been a mighty muscle and influencer in companies. In the last two years, we’ve strained that muscle by expanding their roles and asking them to manage everything from mental health to physical health and well-being. They were given very little training to do it, but they did it. And many developed a whole new skill set in the process.

Then, we began to reset work structures. And as hybrid models emerged, managers were stuck in the middle. They’ve been squeezed between top leaders who want some semblance of an office setting to return, and most employees who want to keep their blended style of working and managing life on a flexible schedule. The friction intensified with the great resignation, and most of these managers picked up the slack, shifted the work and altered the way their teams would function.

They are the unsung heroes of the last three years. But the looming question is whether the last few years were energizing or exhausting to them? Are they motivated to continue growing as people leaders or are they likely to step away to avoid additional pressure? Companies have leadership gaps, and there is great opportunity for advancement. But it doesn’t feel great to step up to something you don’t feel qualified to do.

When you ask middle managers how they think about it, they talk about skill sets and development. While they like increased responsibility, they want to feel as if they have the support and experience to step up to new challenges. And the last few years haven’t provided a lot of time for that to happen. Companies have the desire to do it, but many are still focused on reset steps and culture that we identified in last week’s newsletter.

Middle managers need to take ownership for their own development and ensure that they feel qualified for the opportunities that are sure to come their way.

There are three priorities where we encourage middle managers to invest their time. Here’s a look at each priority with thoughts on how we’re supporting them.

 

The first priority is Skills.

Every day, companies look at a manager and decide whether the manager has the skills they need in a role. They can decide to develop a manager to expand the skill set or they can bring in a candidate from the outside who already has the skills. It depends on the momentum and pace at which a company needs to move. The shortage of candidates worked in favor of the internal managers, but it is shifting a bit.

We talked about learning and development priorities in our fourth book, Disrupted: How to Reset Your Brand and Your Career. Those priorities haven’t changed. The L&D team focuses on training needed to deliver top goals within a company. If you’re tied to the top goals, you may be a top priority for development. But if you’re working on a goal that’s lower on the list, you may not be the focus of the year.

You can take ownership by asking for development. Pay attention to shifts in company direction. Pay attention to who is managing some of the projects and the skill sets they have. You can gain experience without being in a role, and you can develop skills without waiting for the company to tell you that you need them.

We can help. If your skill gap is less about technical skills and more about influence and team dynamics, we can help. Last year, we introduced a workshop called Manager to Leader to focus on the skill sets needed to manage a bigger team and a broader responsibility. It sets the right foundation to help a new leader feel confident quickly and creates coaching circles that give the manager some bandwidth for input as they settle into a new role.

And our foundational programs can build confidence around increased visibility by providing skills to Lead Executive Conversations and Master Executive Presence within an organization.

 

The second priority is Relationships.

One of the benefits of leadership development programs within a company is the relationships built with peers. Over the last few years, companies have tried to continue the programs virtually, and the relationship aspect suffered. It’s harder to get to know people when you don’t have the downtime and social interaction together. And many companies are resetting to an in-person format to bring the relationship opportunities back.

But it isn’t just the relationships with peers that middle managers need to focus on. It’s relationships across the company that will make the difference in new opportunities. And that’s harder than it’s ever been. Because while people are returning, it isn’t an everyday, consistent schedule that brings easy interaction.

Leaders, a key group for most middle managers to interact with, aren’t as willing to connect as they have been in the past. And that’s because they’ve developed their own habits. They’re not around as much, so it’s harder to find 15 minutes to stop by. Every interaction takes a set appointment, and that’s a bigger commitment that’s harder to manage.

Today, it takes a lot of intention to build a network. In fact, it takes a plan to think about champions within a company and find creative ways to build relationships if the hallway conversations are limited.

We can help. We can help middle managers build plans for networking and gaining visibility across a company. In fact, we often do this with small groups of managers to ensure the leaders feel the investment works. There’s impact in numbers and bringing small groups of colleagues together helps a leader see value in the touchpoint as well.

 

And that leads to the third priority…Coaching.

We’ve seen tremendous growth in our coaching business and a lot of that has to do with a company’s attitude towards coaching. Coaching has become a great retention tool, and it’s the fastest way to help a manager gain confidence and support while taking on expanded responsibilities. Visibility leads to liability, and middle managers want to feel that they have the right tools and support to be successful in an expanded role.

Coaching can also offer feedback on a brand and help a middle manager understand how they’re seen within a company today. As a new leader, a manager can leverage a new opportunity to strengthen a brand or reset misconceptions.

We can help. In fact, in the last few years, we’ve doubled our resources to meet the added demand. If you’re a middle manager expanding responsibilities quickly, ask for coaching. It builds confidence and provides confidentiality with an objective partner who can talk through decision-making and offer a support system to build new tools and skills. And with SW&A, it’s access to the tools we know you’ll need.

 

The opportunities for middle managers have never been greater. But so are the risks. Experiences haven’t prepared most managers for those opportunities, and those who are succeeding got a little help along the way. It’s an exciting time to be a future leader. Take advantage of the opportunity and ask for the support you’ll need to be successful.

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

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

Are You Going to Write That Yourself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEP ONE: Create a Clear & Compelling Storyline.

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

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

STEP TWO: Find Your Secret Sauce.

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

STEP THREE: Deliver It Like You Own It.

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

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

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

You just have to call us when you need us! 

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

2022 Learning & Development Trends

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

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

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

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

 

The Quantum Leap: From Manager to Leader

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

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

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

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

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

 

Managing a Hybrid Workforce

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

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

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

The program introduces three steps:

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

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

 

Stewarding Your Career

Disruption happens every day in most business settings.

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

We’re here when you need us!

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

The Quantum Leap

It’s happened in companies across the globe.

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

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

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

And the question is: Are the new leaders ready?

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

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

One area where it shows up quickly is communication.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Call us when you need us!

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

SUPPLY CHAIN IN THE HOT SEAT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s how we build the broader view:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call us when you need us!

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

Can I Get Back to You On That?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The leader will come back with:

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

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

His adjustment would be:

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

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

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

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

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

As always…… call us when you need us!

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

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