Our Top Three Challenges – 2022 Case Studies

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Interested in this topic? Talk to us about Values Reset

 

CASE STUDY #2: Ready or Not…

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

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

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

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

 

CASE STUDY #3: Do we have a match?

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

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

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

Interested in this topic? Talk to us about Compelling Interviews

 

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

 

Here’s to the year ahead….and as always, we’re here when you need us.

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

Early Career – Development Priorities

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Career Runway

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

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

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

 

Brand Awareness

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

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

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

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

 

Manager Exposure

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

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

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

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

 

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

As always, we’re here when you need us.

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

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

Accelerated Leadership & Unexpected Risks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it’s magnified by two other dynamics:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Call us when you need us!

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

Sally Williamson & Associates

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