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Monday, October 30, 2017

Don't Take It Personal - Accepting Feedback

I'm quite sure you have heard feedback is a gift.  I certainly agree feedback is a gift, but let's keep it real,  feedback can be hard to swallow.  Really hard to swallow.  Really, really hard.  Did I mention that feedback can be hard to swallow.  😊

Okay, enough of that, let's get down to how the "struggle is real".  As a child I took feedback really personally.  I believe I took it personally because of HOW it was given.  It felt, many times, more insulting than anything.  I literally left the conversations sometimes feeling utterly stupid.😞  It's amazing how the environment in which you grow up can shape the way you interact with others for years.  Maybe even the rest of your life.  That was the case for me.  I literally dreaded performance reviews at work because if I felt I disappointed anyone I literally felt like a failure, or worse yet, stupid.  I don't like to fail, and I definitely don't like rejection.  Over the last decade or so I've been reshaping my mind around feedback.  Now that I'm a manager and have to give feedback, I'm very thoughtful and deliberate on how I approach it.  However, I also have to realize that I need to be able to accept it without taking it personal.  I am honest and forthright with my manager and advise them that feedback is something I do struggle with.  I have no problem being honest about that.  I ask them to  give me 24-48 hours to digest the feedback.  I need that time to digest it to work through the different emotions, and analysis, it takes me to understand the feedback, accept it, and determine how to apply it to make me better.  I would truly hope that the manager has my best interest at heart with the feedback to I assume positive intent.

What I find interesting is although feedback is hard for me, I opted to put myself out there through speaking engagements to share my knowledge.  Talk about getting out of your comfort zone.  You see, when you speak at conferences, or events, the organizers definitely want to secure feedback on the speakers.  So they should.  However, this was really hard for me when I started my speaking career.  It was hard because again, I don't like disappointing anyone, or failing.  I also want to bring content that individuals can relate to every single time I speak.  I want to make sure that everyone leaves the room with at least 1 thing they can immediately use when they go back to their respective jobs or lives.  I pour everything I've got in to creating the presentations.  It takes hours, upon hours, or preparation and work.  It takes a lot of courage to get up in front of individuals to present the content.  It takes a lot of observation to understand the energy in the room. It takes a lot of concentration to not only present, but to determine if you need to change up the approach on the fly to garner more engagement.  It takes a lot to put yourself out there and bring forth your best, knowing there will probably be someone out there you may not reach for whatever reason.  I am not saying all of this to put a pitch in for speaking, I'm sharing this to show the gravity of the passion the that I have to better myself, even if that means getting out of my comfort zone.  The reason I choose to speak is to overcome my fears of failure, rejection, and taking feedback personal.  I also chose speaking to share my knowledge with others, as I have a lot to share, and what better way to do two things at once.  I have found that getting out of my comfort zone and doing this work has helped me to accept feedback better, not only for speaking, but in my day to day job.  Though I am a confident person I too have areas of opportunities.  I'm consistently trying to grow and do better each and every day. During this process of the last decade here is what I uncovered:
  1. Get out of your comfort zone to get to that next level - I had to put myself out there to receive feedback in order to get better at accepting this gift as positive opposed to negative.  Some times it stung, but sometimes you need a sting every once in a while to get better. 
  2. Understand the difference between feedback and an opinion - people will always have an opinion, but what you really want is constructive feedback.  An opinion is defined as: a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge tidbits of information that can make you better.  Feedback is defined as: information about reactions to a product, a person's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement.  When receiving feedback asks for facts and how this information can help you improve.  If you don't get at least that then what is the point?  A mentor of mine told me a few years ago that when I get survey results to do the following: (a) Read all of the feedback (b) Remove the lowest scores and highest scores (c) Focus on those scores in the middle.  I have found this to be very helpful as the middle is the place where I find the most meat.  This helps to give perspective.
  3. Know you will not be 100% all the time - sometimes you just have an off day.  Though my goal is to be 100% on all the time that is not realistic.  There are sometimes you just don't deliver the way you want to.  When this situation happens determine what was occurring in your life that threw you off your game.  Try not to beat yourself up over it because NO ONE is perfect.  Once you determine what that "thing" is then determine how in the future you can acknowledge you are off, and determine what you can do to get into your zone, though you have other "things" impacting you.  Only you can define how you maintain, but acknowledging you have an issue is the first step.
  4. Set Exceptions Upfront - as I said earlier I have a conversation with all of my managers upfront on how I wish to receive feedback and the process I go through.  I also have the same conversation with the team members I manage.  I do this because I want to ensure everyone has an understanding on how I accept and digest feedback.  I want to be thoughtful to others on how they receive feedback as well.  At the end of the day the feedback should be very honest,, but yet very thoughtful and deliberate in delivery.  
  5. Don't over analyze - and for all you do, DO NOT over analyze the feedback.  Don't get so caught up in it that you are obsessed with the feedback.  Take it for what it is.  Capture what you can out of it and keep it moving.  You will never please everyone so don' try to. Be who you are, and the best version of you every day.  The best version may not be 100% every day either so keep that in mind.
Receiving feedback has been such a journey for me.  I still struggle sometimes with it and I have no problem admitting that.  However, I am getting better at it every year.  Go forth and conquer and don't let people's opinion of you stop you from being the best version of you.  Most importantly, don't stop yourself by being the best version of you by being your worse critic to where it's crippling.

Until next time, signing off!
The BA Martial Artist

Monday, October 2, 2017

Staying Calm Through the Storm

Dear wonderful followers:

This month I want to switch directions on what I typically post and get a little more personal.

I had an opportunity to speak at a conference this month on the topic of leading yourself.  In order to lead others you must know how to lead yourself.  The reason this particular topic was so near and dear to my heart is because the last few months have been really tough for me emotionally and mentally.  I am a strong person, but even the strongest people have weak moments.  So after having a brief emotional breakdown and letting my emotions flow, I knew something need to change.  Please understand that I am not the type of person who cries a lot so when I do that tells me I need to stop for a moment and reflect.  It doesn't mean the I don't have emotions is just means that I display my emotions differently.  And that difference is okay. because I struggled with that as well.

I started my journey of healing by doing some self reflection, and introspection, the last few months.  You may ask, what is the different between self reflection and self introspection?  The way I define these two terms, and have in my life are as follows:

  • Self reflection is where I just reflect on my behaviors and the events that have led up to where I am currently.  
  • Self introspection is where I go deep internally to identify the struggles that have lead to those behaviors, in addition to the root cause.  Eventually I will come up with a plan on how to change, if I don't like the result, or continue on if I do like the result. 
As we all experience, life throws curve balls whether we are ready or not.  Essentially, after doing this reflection, it came to my attention that there were some issues internally I thought I had dealt with that I still needed to deal with.  You see, I'm known to be the strong one by many.  I am also a very giving person.  I give genuinely without expecting anything in return.  I give of my time and resources because I truly have a desire to help others.  However, when you are the strong one and when you cherish, and are extremely loyal to, friendships and relationships it does take a lot from you if you are not careful.  I have no problem with people pulling on me, but I also need deposits because I am human as well.  It can be a lonely space sometimes when you are the strongest person.  You tend to forget to take care of yourself, and others feel you always have it together.  Sometimes you don't even realize it.

However, as I went through this journey and saw the devastation with Hurricane Harvey in Texas and Hurricane Irma in Florida.  In addition, to the earthquake in Mexico and the terrorist attack in London, it put things in perspective for me.  It didn't take me away from the self reflection and introspection exercise, but it did make me appreciative of what I have and those around me.  You see when you go through storms in life there is always something there to bring that calm to the storm if you just take a moment to be silent and reflect.  The situation you are going through is still VERY real, however, when you put it in perspective of what it could have been it can help you make it through.

Going through the process can be really hard, but staying calm through the storm is therapuetic,  For those who are close to you be vulnerable with them.  At the end in order to be the best you, you have to be honest and authentic with yourself.  You have to take time to take care of yourself.  You have to identify those things that are hindering you from being the best version of you possible.  You have to take the good with the bad.  The things you like about yourself continue doing and build on it.  The things you don't like determine why and change it.  Through it all stay centered and calm.  The calmness brings clarity.  The clarity brings understanding.  The understanding brings solutions.

Take time to reflect and introspect.  This is a continuous process so don't stop doing self introspection and reflection.  It keeps you grounded and true to yourself.  Just remember find those calm moments in the storm to help you get through.  It may be hard, but what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, though it may not feel like it going through it.

Signing off,
The BA Martial Artist

Monday, August 28, 2017

Protecting Your Brand

It takes time to build a brand and 3 seconds to destroy it!

We see it happen all the time.  All of us have watched companies that have great brands go through situations where their brands are questioned.  These particular situations could be to due to comments or decisions made by the company.  Once it goes public the company is then pushed in to damage control mode to rebuild the brand.  Companies may spend thousands, better yet, millions of dollars to rebuild their brand.  When you look back at it that money could have been used for other reasons, like innovation.

As I sit here and look at the different social media sites that I interact with, I find it more and more interesting how individuals portray themselves.  Especially those who have businesses.  Remember, regardless if you are an entrepreneur or not, you have a personal brand.  Why is your personal brand important?  It's no different than a company,  Your brand is what you will be known by whether you want to accept it or not.  The ultimate question, is how do you want to be know?  As you interact with social media there are some items you need to consider and keep at the forefront of your mind at ALL times:
  1. Are you portraying yourself the way you want to? Essentially is what you are posting representing your brand the way you wish.  If not, you may want to reevaluate how you interact and portray yourself on social media.
  2. Are your interactions producing the outcome you want?  Are you finding that people are interacting with your brand the way you envision.  If you were to ask the individuals who follow you on social media, what words would they use to describe you?  Would you hear words like, inspirational, knowledgable, or full of wise.  Or on the contrary you hear words like drama-filled, messy, likes to cause controversy?  Depending on how you want to be portrayed,  you may be fine with either.  In my experience if you are an entrepreneur, or desiring to be one, individuals will look at how you interact on social media.   For example, if you are working with children you probably wouldn't want potential clients to see you cursing and portraying behaviors that would be questionable behaviors interacting with kids.  Though you may say, "it's my personal page" there are people who are watching and making decisions on who they think you are.
  3. Are you interactions impacting not only your brand, but the brand of your business (applicable to entrepreneurs only)?  It's very easy to secure followers on social media based on popularity or other variables.  However, every interaction counts.  How you respond to individuals on social media can impact your brand.  What you say to others on social media can impact your brand.  I have watched people make comments about others based on what they post on social media.   
  4. If someone you highly respected were to see all of your social media interactions would you be embarrassed or proud? As you post information or interact on social media, ask yourself "would xxxxx be proud of what I'm posting or how I'm interacting?"  If the answer is no, you may want to reevaluate what you are positing.  Sometimes you need a point of reference to keep you grounded.  This is extremely important in today's society.
  5. Who you are associated with on social media are their posts and interactions with you representing your brand? Not only is it important for you to watch what you post on social media , but it's equally important to watch how others are interacting on your page.  If there are individuals vocalizing beliefs, concepts, ideas that are contrary to your belief system, and brand consider terminating that interaction.  It's important that YOUR brand is the brand that always shines through. 
I am by no means saying change who you are.  However, I do caution how you interact on social media.  Especially if there is a certain brand you are trying to portray.  You can say your peace and interact professionally at all times with your communication skills.  You can still get your point across while protecting your brand.  Always remember people will not always agree with you no matter what you do so do this for yourself and not for others.  You will be happier that way.

Until next time,
The BA Martial Artist

Saturday, July 29, 2017

It's the Way We Have Always Done It!!!!! - Changing the Cultural Norms

In the past few weeks I have been pondering how to change cultural norms.  I have quite a few clients that reach out and explain that the business they work for is consistently doing the same thing, over and over again, not rendering any different results.  They advise when on projects or initiative they always hear comments like: "this is the way we have always done it!" It appears that no one wants to change that way of thinking, or if you try, there is a TON of resistance.  A lot of these issues revolve around the culture of the organization.  Cultures are really hard easy to build, but really had to change once they are engrained and permeated throughout the organization.

Here are some things to consider as you work toward cultural changes:

  1. Timing - it takes some time to change a culture.  It's not something that is changed over night.  Take a moment to understand this reality.  Take a moment to understand that not everyone is going to agree with you that there is even a problem, especially if they are a main contributor to the problem.  Understand it make take 3 times as long, or longer,  to change the culture than it took to build it.  It's going to require patience and perseverance.
  2. Identification - identify the concerns causing the issues in the organization.  Also outline what those issues are hindering, the risks, and external and internal experience these issues cause.
  3. Recommendations - once you have identified the issues ensure you have some recommendations, or solutions, to bring to the table.  Think about how the culture can be changed in the best interest of everyone, and demonstrate tangible positive results if the culture is changed. 
  4. Alliances - understand who the main influencers are in the organization to help in changing the culture.  You will not be able to change the culture on your own.  You will need to clearly articulate, with examples, the areas of concerns and the impact.  In order to be successful you cannot do this on your own.  You need people who will support you, but you need individuals who have the right influence to help execute the change.  This requires you to take time to network and build some strong relationships.  In order to do this you will need to do some observing and researching.
  5. Model The Behavior - in order for change to come it must start with YOU.  It's important to model the behavior you wish to see.  If you don't you can come off as a hypocrite and that is not the perception you want.  Regardless of how tough the cultural change may be continue to model the behavior you wish to see.  Actions speak louder than words.

Signing off until next month,

The BA Martial Artist

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

In Order to Grow You Need to Sow

I had the opportunity this month to provide my insights on some topics for a book a friend of mine is writing.  While I was being interviewed I really started to reflect back on my life and the many different journeys my life has taken me.  As I thought about life, I thought about what has truly helped me to achieve success.  I am very happy with my growth over, specifically, the past 6 years.  If someone would have told me 10 years ago I would be doing what I'm doing today, I probably would have laughed.  It's amazing as you continue to go through the journey of life the things you uncover about yourself.  What I have found is that through all my growth I have had to sow.  What does that mean?  In order to achieve your success you have to invest in the success.  Each investment is a seed sown.  However, you need the wisdom to know where to sow.  You can sow in good or bad ground.  It's your choice to decide which one.

How has this concept worked for me.  I have so many stories, but I will share a couple in this blog to demonstrate.

When I started speaking seriously, in 2009 I was so green.  I thought it was just simply creating a presentation, getting up in front of a group of people sharing what you know about a specific topic.  It is definitely FAR from that.  When I did my first few speaking engagements, I realized, after the feedback, I was not engaging and/or capturing the audience as much as I wanted.  I wanted to capture the audience because I was investing money into the speaking investments and I wanted to ensure my investment was worth it.  I knew this was something I wanted to do and be successful at.  I decided to watch individuals I respected, who would always receive great feedback, and consistently invited back to conferences to determine what I should be doing differently.  I also took advantage of opportunities to facilitate and speak at my day job to learn how to effectively engage the audience.  All of these steps allowed me to sow into my dream.  I was sowing of my time, energy and finances to achieve my goal.  What is even more interesting is I really prefer not to speak in public.  When I was younger I used to stutter.  I felt I had a hard time articulating my thoughts to where they made sense.  I also internalized rejection.  I took constructive feedback as rejection, and negative feedback to where I felt I as failure.  In my mind, why would I put myself in a position to go through just that?  To overcome the things that scare you, you have to approach them head on.  What I should have been doing is changing my mindset that feedback truly is a gift.  You can always learn from others and through experiences that may make you uncomfortable.  Though I may not have liked public speaking I do love sharing my knowledge, and gaining knowledge.  Through sowing into my dream I have really grown in the speaking circuit.  This year has been phenomenal.  I'm speaking internationally, I'm a keynote speaker at a BA Conference, I'm speaking at conferences where I've been asked to do multiple breakout sessions, and more. All of those years of sowing are now allowing me to reap a bountiful harvest.  I definitely could not have done it without the support of my family, friends and mentors.  The journey hasn't been easy.  I've had to humble myself, get rid of the ego, accept the fact that I need help from others , commit to my dream and stay disciplined to achieve it.

Helping Others
A few years ago I decided that if I received a bonus from work I would bless 1-2 people to help them achieve what they had a desire to achieve, or just to be a blessing in general.  I have a heart of giving and though I have been hurt by my generosity, it's part of my DNA.  I don't do it to receive anything in return because it's just my heart.  However, every single time I do bless someone I have received 3x or more of the blessing I have sown.  I have found this to be a boomerang effect.  When I give, I receive, which makes me give again.

I truly believe in order to grow you must sow.  There must be an investment and not a mentality of entitlement.  You tend to appreciate things more when you invest in them because you are putting a part of yourself in to it.  So take a moment next month to think about how you can sow into good ground to help someone else.  Do it expecting nothing in return.  Regardless whether who/what you sow in appreciates it or not, continue to sow in others.  My challenge to you this month is to sow to continue to grow.

Trust me, it's worth it!!!!! 😊

Signing Off,
Paula Bell
BA Martial Artist

Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Dojo of Collaboration

For the last five years I have traveled this wonderful journey of learning Ryukyu Kempo Martial Arts.  It’s an Okinawan, Japanese style of martial arts with a focus on self protection. It’s not solely about the fighting, but rather conditioning and preparing the mind.  You first learn how to prepare your mind for the training.  Preparation is key.  Preparation in context of Ryukyu Kempo is understanding and embracing the rules of the dojo (training ground), the guiding principles and the tenets will prepare you to study and master the art.  In martial arts I have to depend on my classmates to help sharpen me to learn the art to the precise detail needed to effectively protect myself if that situation should arise.  There is a lot of collaboration that occurs in class in order to sharpen one another.  You see, we recognize we need each other to reach our fullest potential. Though we learn at our own pace we still need each other to be successful.
The same is true in any discipline.  Business analysis is a discipline.  As a business analyst you need to partner and work with others in order to reach that shared common goal during collaboration.  The word collaboration is used A LOT, but the execution of it is where individuals fall short.  Taking the time to prepare yourself to create that collaborative environment is key.  A lot of times there are assumptions made that everyone knows how to collaborate and will play in the sandbox together.  However, that is not always the case.  Some individuals have worked in silos for so long they don’t understand how to get out of that siloed way of thinking, and work with others who bring different perspectives or thoughts.  Some would prefer to just do their own thing independently and not have to work with individuals at all.  The power of collaboration is the diversity of thought and perspectives that come to the table to bring forth powerful business transformations.  Transformations cannot be done in a vacuum, at least not powerful ones.  Understanding the importance of building and maintaining relationships, how to handle conflict, how to come to decisions that everyone can buy in to are all parts of collaboration.  In order to create a collaborative environment you must first model the collaborative behavior.  If you are not modeling the behavior you cannot expect others to.  It’s important to create that environment of collaboration and demonstrate those behaviors.

Paula Bell

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Effective Elicitation

As of late I have received questions on how to effectively elicit requirements.  I get asked the questions, how do you know the right questions to ask and how to effectively get people to tell you what they want?  I will admit it can be challenging to get subject matter experts (SMEs) to tell you what they want.  Let's first start with some of the reasons why it may be hard to get individuals to tell you what they want:

  1. It may be because they actually may not know what exactly they want.
  2. It may be because they feel the project is going to take away their job.
  3. It may be because they don't understand the purpose and scope of the project, the WHY.
  4. It may be because they don't agree with the project and don't buy in to the need.
  5. It may be political as some of the individuals may have ulterior motives.
  6. It may be because they don't like you. Let's just be honest, if there is no connection to you they may not want to interact with you.
The above are just some of the common reasons I have encountered in my career.  Not only do you have the above, but you are dealing with different personalities, temperaments, communication styles, work styles and more.  The simple fact that you are dealing with people is what makes elicitation and decision complicated.  Here are some tips I have used that have made this process easier for me. It may take some additional time in some parts of the process but it's worth it.

  1. Relationship Building - it's extremely important that you build relationships with those you are working with.  Getting to know the individuals you work with helps you to strategize and approach the work.  You take the time to understand what individuals like and don't like. You can determine their pet peeves.  You can uncover their communication styles and how they like to collaborate and work.  A lot of times we jump right into the project and start completing tasks instead of connecting with individuals you will be working with.  At the end of the day everyone on the project team is important and needed.  Every individual person is bringing something to the table.  Identify what this is and connect with them.  You know never the friendships you may make or long time connections you may have.  This step will help you when it comes to decision making as well.  You will start to build alliances and those alliances may be individuals who an help influence decision making.
  2. Plan - it's very important to plan.  Take a step back and plan how you will approach the elicitation and decision making work. Take time to determine the type of system you will use to conduct decision making.  In addition, understand the type of techniques you will leverage to conduct the elicitation based on the project team. This links back to building relationships as your approach may change based on the audience you are working with.
  3. Set Clear Expectations - frame up every meeting to ensure everyone understands the purpose and the outcome.  Ensure that individuals understand the purpose of the project and where they fit into the project.  Take time to explain the "WHY" as that opens up a lot of doors for people to buy-in and collaborate.
  4. Actively Listen  - sometimes it's better to listen than to talk.  Take time to listen to the SMEs concerns and overall to what they are saying.  It's not just always about getting the tasks done and getting your work completed, it's about listening to what those who are the experts have to say as that can help bring so much clarity.  You are the expert in the business analysis space, but the SMEs are the experts in the subject knowledge, or at least should be, so give them their time.
  5. Ask for Feedback - during the process ask for feedback. Feedback is a gift and asking for it is extremely important.  Determine a rhythm throughout the process to ensure you are meeting the expectations of those you are working with and the project as a whole.  If things need to be tweaked, then tweak them.   It's better to tweak early on than to find out later that you should have tweaked awhile ago.
  6. Be Adaptive and Flexible - I'm sure you have experienced this already, but projects tend to have change. 😀 The change could be in direction, scope, budget, etc...It's important to understand that you may need to change your approach at a drop of a hat.  Be prepared to have to change direction at any point and time.
  7. Stay Humble - in all things stay humble.  You bring a skill set to the table, but you need others to help you be successful.  Ensure to stay humble and true to yourself through it all.

Taking time to do these things will help you determine the right questions to ask and approaches to take to get decisions made. You are not just leveraging the technical, but also leveraging interpersonal skills to aide in getting the job done.  As I've said in the past 80% of what we do is interpersonal while 20% is technical.  Go forth and conquer!

BA Martial Artist