2021 – Thoughts so far

Hello all! I know it has been a while. Wanted to provide some updates and share. First of all, wanted to mention that I’ve been posting fairly regularly on LinkedIn– sharing successes and gratitudes. Check those out if you’re interested! Like most ambitious people, I am always working on how to better celebrate successes and get off the “treadmill of achievement” so to speak- this has really helped me do that a bit better.

Work

So since my last post here, I’ve had a few updates professionally and personally! First of all, my title was updated at work- I’m now officially Associate Director, Learning & Development. I’ve been working toward a director level role for some time and I’m excited to be taking more steps toward that.

Also, the Allies Acting for Change task force that I am part of was nominated for, and won, the biggest award at our organization. It has been such an honor to work with that group and to be recognized in such a way. I’ve felt really lucky this past year.

After attaining my coaching certification at the end of last year, I’ve been able to work with a group of dedicated coaches to provide an awesome coaching offering to all our leaders as part of our leadership development program. It’s a great way for more leaders to be able to access coaching, and has really gotten some great feedback from leaders. I’ve been able to expand on the offerings and keep leveling up the ways we support our leaders’ development.

I also took on a pretty big freelance project that was ongoing throughout the beginning of 2021. It was a great opportunity to work on developing resources for small business owners. The first two sets of courses are already released which is awesome, and one more set should be coming soon.

Professional Development

So I have wrapped up all the courses in my Master of Education program, and have now applied to graduate! More to come as that process continues- I’m hoping to do a sweet photoshoot in academic regalia. As part of one of my last courses, I got to make a video talking about my experiences, which was fun. I’ve learned a lot about editing video from a few little video projects this year. Still definitely a novice but it’s great to have picked up a few skills! Take a look if you’re interested.

I’ve also been taking an antiracism course and am planning to take an Organizational Design course starting next month. I’ve always got so much to learn, and it’s awesome to have lots of options available. One benefit to COVID is that lots of courses that would have required cost-prohibitive travel in the past are online now!

Personal

The kids have been in and out of in-person school this year as lockdowns and COVID management has been ongoing. Distance learning is a bit tough because it means managing everyone’s calendars and schedules, but we’ve been doing our best. Trevor has gotten his first vaccine dose, which is great! I’m still trying to get an appointment. I might try lining up somewhere next week to see if that works. Most of my friends who are eligible have gotten their first dose already.

We’ve had a bit of a nicer spring this year than last year, and the playgrounds are open which means it has been a bit nicer for getting outside. We still mask up outside if the parks are busy but it’s nice to have more outdoor playing options.

Looking forward to a bit of “quiet time” so to speak, now that I’m wrapping up grad school and I don’t have any freelance work on the go. Weekends where I don’t have to do assignments or consulting work are pretty nice!

2020: Year in Review

This year has been unusual, but still has been quite a year for me. The COVID-19 pandemic obviously has had huge impacts worldwide, and even on me, but overall I have been tremendously lucky this year to stay safe, well, and comfortable despite such immense challenges.

Work:

I started a new role this year, as the Learning & Development Manager within US HR for Sun Life. This was back at the end of February just as the pandemic was getting very serious in North America. My new role had me shift to a primarily work-from-home situation, as my work team is located mostly near Boston and elsewhere in the US.

That was serendipitous in a few ways- as my partner also works from home primarily, we were able to sort out ways to work from home effectively alongside each other, a few weeks prior to it being a requirement for everyone, which was helpful. I was able to get the equipment and setup I needed to be comfortable and efficient.

This role is awesome and perfect for me in a lot of ways, I get the opportunity to wear many hats- do some facilitating (but not full-time facilitating, and mostly for leadership development work), consulting, coaching, DE&I work, and lots of other great things. I’ve gotten to build up a flexible, robust leadership development program, roll out innovative DE&I training and support important initiatives, and it’s been an awesome year. I even won an actual award.

Professional Development:

I’ve wrapped up four courses this year as part of my grad program, Work and Learning, Fostering Learning in Practice, Global/Local Learning, Comparative Education, and I’m now in the middle of Understanding Research. Three more courses and I’ll have finished up the program- looking forward to that next year.

So I’ve continued to work on my Masters program, but this year I also got the opportunity to pursue additional professional development in the form of a leadership coaching certification. I started my training back in May, and am just wrapping up the final phase tomorrow. I’m excited to have leveled up my coaching skills and have that to offer to my clients and to my coworkers. I’ve gotten to connect with some awesome people, some of whom I have kept in touch with after our courses have wrapped up.

I also renewed both my other certifications this year, the CTDP and the CPTD, so I’m all set on those fronts for another three years. I got to do a cool member showcase with TLDC as well- I wish I had a little more time to give to that group, they’re awesome.

I also got to do a little bit more fun video editing this year (mostly for fun work projects), so I’m learning more about how to edit video which is a fun skill.

Personal:

The kids were out of school this year for several months due to the pandemic, with some virtual schooling to support but it was definitely a challenge. We were able to set things up here in such a way that they were able to have some space to do schoolwork and play while we were still working full time.

Obviously we didn’t do any travelling this year, though we did have a masked, socially distanced trip to the zoo during the summer. We mostly spent the summer inside and in our own backyard- the playgrounds were closed for quite a while.

Despite all that, we’ve still been able to enjoy some seasonal fun here and there, apple picking and seeing fall leaves, and a drive-through holiday light show.

Because the typical rehearsal/performance season isn’t an option this year, I was able to join the Grand Philharmonic Choir again (which I hadn’t planned to do until I finished my Masters program). It has been great having a way to see friends and sing even if we can’t all exactly sing together at the same time. I have also been able to sing in a few virtual choirs this year (one still to come!)

Charitable giving:

I’ve been lucky enough this year to be able to donate more than last year (based on preliminary/back of the envelope calculations) across many organizations, particularly healthcare, arts, and community organizations. I know that so many folks have been in increasingly precarious financial positions, particularly my friends and family who rely on live performances and other work environments that have been impossible to keep open this year.

2020

All in all it has been a really good year for me. I’ve learned a lot, been through a few things, but overall, stayed safe, kept learning and growing, and was able to achieve some really good things. Looking forward to 2021!

Work and Learning course

I’m only a week in to my Work and Learning course and I’m really enjoying it (as I expected). The readings have me buzzing about globalization, the future of work, how economies affect education and vice versa, adult education and the impacts on organizations, and and and… there’s a lot to think about!

Already I’m concluding from my readings that leaders increasingly need to take a futuristic view in order to avoid being left behind- as technology and the nature of work shift, leaders will need to be out ahead of it. Even in very traditional industries, the focus on technology and the pressures of shifting customer demands are having an enormous impact.

Even my masters’ program itself is an example of how learning is changing- a part-time, distance education program with a cohort made up of globally diverse students. It aligns well to professionals’ increasing demand for education opportunities that allow them to continue to work full time.

Looking forward to more as we dive in to week two!

2020: A very Mondayesque Thursday

Back at work today, for the first work day of 2020. I’m happily able to wrap up something that has been bumping along on my to-do list for months, which is great.

In my reflections over the past week or two, I’ve been realizing that I have been missing the journaling I used to do. I’m going to endeavour to write more in this blog as a way to pick back up on that practice again. No defined goals yet, but it starts with writing some posts here and there.

I found a great sketchnote today that highlights 4 kinds of leaders that create the future (full credit to Tanmay Vora for the sketchnote)

Of these, I’m definitely identifying the most with the learning zealot. There’s a full post outlining these here on HBR.

Setting up your Side Hustle

The environment we currently live in

One of my professional colleagues recently posted on LinkedIn about the whole idea of “the side hustle,” opening with this unfortunate anecdote: He had encountered a manager who claimed side hustles were for “people not good at their main hustle.” This is an old-school way of thinking, and side hustles are tremendously important these days. 

That’s become an increasingly reality for many reasons: There is a rise of ageism in the workplace, which means drawing income from a single primary job after age 40 becomes challenging. Then, you have issues around mergers and acquisitions; the Sprint/T-Mobile merger, for example, will end up costing about 28,000 people their jobs (while the executives of both companies make a good chunk of change). One of the fastest paths to growth for a company is to acquire another one, but when that happens, certain roles become overlapping and redundant. 

The side hustle isn’t so much something that should interfere with your main hustle — there needs to be an amount of respect and professionalism afforded to your main income source — but it’s more along the lines of thinking of your career as a pipeline, just as sales professionals think of their work. If Opportunity A drops, is there an Opportunity B? As many in various fields have said, develop your network before you need it, not right after you become unemployed. Side hustles are a way to develop your network — and one of them might become your “main hustle” at some point. In fact, that’s likely to happen.

So if you’re building side hustles right now, what do you need to be thinking about?

The questions to ponder regarding side hustle development

These would be some of the big ones to start thinking about:

  • Is there a conflict of interest with your full-time gig? For example, I knew someone once who was writing about learning and development, but his main job courted bigger companies that worked in the L&D / instructional design space. Sometimes those companies would go to him directly, because engaging with one freelance option is cheaper for them than engaging with his main company of employment. This created a series of issues and eventually he was fired from that company. Make sure there is not a conflict of interest between main gig and side hustle, and if there’s any potential overlap, make sure that you make it explicitly clear to your current full-time manager.
  • Register your business: You can get an Employer Identification Number relatively quickly, which is a good boon for small businesses and the self-employed. There are similar steps, with different names, in Canada.
  •  Establish a brand: This is hard and massively time-consuming, so you will not be able to do it overnight. How to begin, though: Start by thinking about what you offer and where people who need that would be spending time. If you offer instructional design as a side hustle, for example, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook are likely better platforms than Instagram. You could get into niche discussions on Reddit and other boards / industry sites as well. Your brand needs to be unique, i.e. you cannot say the exact same stuff everyone else is saying, and it needs to be a mix of visual and text-based, with some video thrown in, as humans are creatures that respond to multiple learning modalities. You can check out brands you admire, but don’t straight copy them. Take elements of them and infuse those elements with your voice.
  • Create a proposal and contracting templates: These can be pretty simple, and proposals can start by thinking about your finances (scroll down a bit). Look around at what others are offering. You don’t want to be the lowest in a market because that means you’ll attract mostly people competing on price, and people competing on price tend to — not always — be less-than-stellar client engagements to have. Here’s one self-employment contract template, and here’s another.
  • The numbers: This is a series of steps. You need to work out these numbers — >
    • How many hours per week can you devote to side work?
    • How much money would you like to earn from side work in those hours?
    • What are your core offerings?
    • How can you price those offerings to meet the other numbers?

Here’s a relatively simple math breakdown: Let’s say you think you can devote 10 hours/week to a side hustle of consulting on instructional design. In a given month, you’d ideally like to make an extra $2,000 from your side hustle. That means you will be spending 40 hours/month on the side (10 per week) and need to make $50/hour to reach $2,000 (40 x 50). $50/hour is not a huge rate for many businesses, so this is totally doable! You could probably get it from one client, or break it up across two clients and potentially even clear your $2,000 goal.

  • How do you find those clients, though? Start with your networks, especially LinkedIn. Explain what you’re doing, what you can offer, and ask if anyone knows of referrals. Message people directly as well. Send emails to old colleagues, confidantes, and bosses you trusted. Work the existing network you have; this can usually land you 1-2 initial conversations (or more!) and those can become clients. Once you get clients, it’s about delivering for them and getting more referrals and recommendations; that’s largely how the self-employed make the hustle work. But as you go through these steps, consider slightly advanced ideas like building an email list around weekly content blasts, using Facebook or Google ads, and more. You want to get a little bit established with people who have a pre-existing knowledge of you before you try that out, though. 
  • Get business insurance: Look specifically into errors and omissions coverage.

How will you know when to move “side” to “main?”

There are easy, direct ways to know — i.e. getting laid off at main gig. Then there are more subtle ways to know, i.e. you enjoy the side work more, there seems to be more of it, the relationship with side partners is growing and your main income source seems purposeless and flat. Most people reach a specific point where they inherently know they should switch from Option A to Option B, but it’s obviously a great idea to discuss with friends, significant other, mentors, and more to see if it feels right to someone not experiencing both options daily. 

What else would you add about setting up a side hustle?

5 small things that can make you look out-of-touch

As a business leader, your credibility is tied to your connectedness to the needs of your customer, team, and organisation. In everything you do, it’s critical to keep this in mind, and to ensure that both you and your team are focused on the most important work to advance your goals.

However, most leaders have times where they do or say things that are out-of-step with the world around them, and these things send messages that you may not want to send! Keep an eye on these things to make sure you’ve got your finger on the pulse and eyes on the horizon.

1. Disconnect from current technology and how your customers and workforce use it

If you’re using out-of-date technology, it’s a dead giveaway that you’re not in touch with the times. If you need to use certain applications or hardware due to your work, it’s important to acknowledge that so that your teams and customers don’t assume it’s because you just can’t be bothered to keep up. Keep your fax machine at home and join the video conference instead.

2. Lack of awareness of your team’s people challenges

Your team has some major challenges with people- all teams do. Whether the challenges are within the team or elsewhere, it’s something that has the potential to suck up a lot of employee time and energy that could be better spent on adding value for your customers. If you’re blissfully unaware of it, it will only get worse, not better. Make sure you’re aware and on top of these challenges, and work with your team to improve their interactions.

3. Disconnect from the day-to-day work your teams do

Nobody expects the leader of a team to be able to jump in and complete any task that their team is accountable for- but they must be aware of the process to complete it. When leaders aren’t familiar with the processes their teams work through every day, they can’t effectively remove roadblocks and elevate the capabilities of their members. Make sure you’re fully in touch with how the work gets done on your team and where the time goes, and if you’re not, spend some time in the trenches to get connected.

4. Lack of awareness of political climates and local issues that affect your customers’ lives

This is not just related to national politics, but also local issues. If your customers or team members are dealing with political challenges in their local government, labor union, school system, or other organization that affects their lives, it will have an impact on their behaviour. If you’re disconnected from this, it will create the impression that you’re not in touch with the environment that you work it and affect your credibility.

5. Public criticism of other teams or leaders

Public criticism can have a huge impact and create unnecessary anxiety among your team members. Modern leaders praise their teams and others publicly, and save their criticism for a more targeted audience.

All these things can add up to an image that you’re not the best advocate for your team or your customers. You can avoid these things by spending time on your own development, having frequent one-on-one meetings with your team members, and engaging in social learning. More tips to come in a future article- in the meantime, keep learning and stay connected so that you’re always in-touch!

February and March 2018: Recap

What an unprecedented couple of months it has been!

I missed out on a recap of February, so I’m going to go ahead and lump February and March together here in one big list of bullet points.

  • Caught up with some friends, had some great lunch dates!
  • Had minor surgery to remove a mass (which wasn’t cancer, hooray)
  • Designed and piloted a new customer training program at work
  • Designed another training program on top of that (pilot to come)
  • Travelled to Holland to give a talk at LXDCon (which went fantastic)
  • Successfully completed the Escape from Casa Loma King/Queen of the Bootleggers escape room with 15 fab friends for a dear friend’s birthday
  • Delivered new training program to the first cohort of customers (~40 in all)
  • Worked with I4PL chapter executive to add a new member and plan upcoming events
  • Worked with a few fantastic professionals as a mentor
  • Worked on a new safety training program for a client

Now in April, and there’s a lot more to come! I hope your 2018 has been going well too!

 

January 2018: Recap

So much has already gone on in 2018, I feel like I need to write it all down so I don’t forget.

  • Presented my team strategy at work to the CEO and got approval
  • Attended and presented at work Sales Kick-Off event
  • Team won 2nd place in the Dragon’s Den contest at said event
  • Took on a new mentoring project which has been going really well
  • Started a new courseware development project
  • Completed several Daily UI challenges
  • Got a talk accepted to a conference in the Netherlands
  • Transitioning into new role as Chair of the Waterloo, Wellington and Area chapter of the Institute for Performance and Learning
  • Started designing and developing the first of 4 key facilitated sessions that will become a key piece of my company’s new training program
  • Did a singing video for fun because someone asked and it was well received
  • Donated to the Humane Society
  • Joined YW Kitchener-Waterloo
  • Walked over 163k steps (so far, looking to increase this number in February!

And it’s not even fully over yet.

Mentoring

Mentoring is an extremely valuable way to speed up learning. Getting the opportunity to get feedback and glean knowledge from more experienced people who have been through what you’re going through is an incredible opportunity.

I think that sometimes we over-formalize it, though. I’ve experienced many of what I call “mentoring moments”– short, casual interactions where someone helped me learn something new or gain perspective.  Likewise, I’ve been on the mentor side of these experiences as well, sharing knowledge and perspective with others who could immediately benefit.

I don’t think we pay enough attention to these great opportunities. I remember about 15 years ago, when I first learned about all the different selection tools in Photoshop.  I wanted to make someone a new userpic for their LiveJournal (shut up, it was 2002) and I was painstakingly erasing a background, zoomed in, pixel by pixel. A designer I knew jumped in and said “Oh geeeez, you can do that so much faster, let me help you.” and he showed me how to easily select and delete just what I wanted.

Definitely a mentoring moment!  Coming away from that, I knew to always check for an easier way if I found myself hip-deep in something detailed and tedious in Photoshop. And I watch for those opportunities now, much more closely.

I’ve also participated in formalized mentoring programs. While I get huge benefits from these (shoutout to my mentor Heather from 4 years ago!) I think they’re just part of how people can really strap their advancement to a jetpack.

Over the next couple weeks, keep an eye out for these mentoring moments. Can you show someone how to set the speed on the treadmill faster? Did someone help you get your WebEx session set up properly on the first try?  All these go into making you and others smarter, more capable, and more awesome.

Learning new things

Learning something new can be incredibly frustrating. There’s a period at the beginning of learning a new skill where you just suck and it can be really hard to get past that. Indeed, it’s a really easy place to decide you don’t want to learn that new thing after all.

But if you can structure your learning in such a way that you’re picking up enough useful bits to progress early on, suddenly you can make it over that initial hump and start to really become proficient, even highly skilled.

While it feels like it can take forever to get past that initial barrier, it’s not really that much time that you have to invest to get there.  In fact, some research suggests it takes only about 20 hours.

Reassuring!  Here’s a TED talk video to get you thinking about this: