Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Risk of Going Alone

Clinging to the side of a swamped canoe in the middle of Lake Wenatchee, I was alone and had no one to blame but myself. 
I have always appreciated time alone in wild places and had decided to paddle the lake at 5 am before anyone woke up and threatened to join me. The lake was a little choppy and it was colder than normal but I had made up my mind. I pushed the metal canoe across the rocky beach and jumped to keep momentum and avoid getting my feet wet. 
I had been paddling for years, I even taught canoeing at Boy Scout camp when I was younger, so I knew better than to sit on the back bench and paddle. Doing so makes the canoe unstable and difficult to control. But it was cold, the canoe was metal and I didn't like paddling from a kneeling position in the middle of the boat. So, sitting on the back bench I set off across the lake. 
It was a beautiful morning. The moon was up and created silver streaks on the waves. As I went I found myself padding more and more on one side of the boat to fight the increasing breeze and keep the bow pointed straight across the lake. Near the middle, the breeze had increased to the point where I could no longer keep the boat straight. I switched my stroke to the other side and paddled hard to turn the boat around and head back to shore. Then it happened. Over I went.
Lake Wenatchee is in the North Cascades and is a deep glacier-fed lake. It's not just cold, it's very cold. As I surfaced, gasping for air and frantically grasping for the boat, I was not only shocked by the cold of the water and the wind but how much trouble I was really in. I chose to be here, I thought. I chose to do this alone and I might die. 
I started swimming, sidestroke, so I could tow the boat with me back to shore. After 15 minutes I was exhausted, painfully cold and no closer to shore. The wind was simply too strong to move the swamped boat alone. I thought about leaving it but was concerned not only about ditching a canoe that wasn't mine in the middle of the lake, but also about a fishing boat hitting it and ending up with trouble of their own. So I kept trying. 
By some miracle a small fishing boat, the only one on the lake as far as I could see, passed close enough to see I was in trouble. He generously offered to tow me back to shore. He tossed me a line and 10 minutes later I was dragging my water-filled canoe up the rocky beach. I was safe. Hypothermic, but safe.
I learned a valuable lesson in the cold water that applies to professional development. Some things you simply shouldn't do alone. Professional development is one of those things. 
We all have stories that we tell ourselves about how we are performing in our jobs, what we are good at, and what we need to do to improve. Sometimes these stories are an accurate self-assessment, but just as often they can be all wet. 
We all have blind spots. Gaps in our performance, work style, approach, etc., that we simply don't see. Or choose not to believe. 
We all have hidden strengths that we take for granted or discount out of humility. This is why you shouldn't go alone. 
We all need the input of others to identify these blind spots and hidden strengths. We need the balance of our own self-assessment and the candid assessments of our leaders and peers. We need the outside perspective to help us identify where we need to improve and where we have strengths that we should build on. 
Professional development is something you shouldn't do alone. That, and canoeing mountain lakes.
Are you working on your development plan alone?

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

3 Approaches to Successful Personal Development

Over the last couple of weeks I have been thinking and writing about development. I have primarily shared personal stories and thoughts with the team to develop a cadence and keep our professional development top of mind in 2014. This week I want to call out some of the great personal development I have seen across the HireVue team in recent weeks. I am not using names because I am not sure everyone wants it to be shared but I think the stories are valuable and everyone can benefit from hearing about the different approaches to development. I truly respect the personal ownership these individuals have demonstrated and they serve as a great reminder to all of us - you own your personal development.

  • A member of the team has been focused on improving their presentation skills. They started by looking into a personal coach to work with them 1:1. When the first coach didn't resonate ("he was weird") they asked around and were directed to Toastmasters. They attended one session and found the group wasn't right ("they were weird"). So they researched it some more and attended another group. That wasn't quite right either ("they were old… and weird") so they are considering starting one here at HireVue. They have also been actively leveraging the internal team to learn from others who have a demonstrated strength in this area, joining calls and planning to join their peers' QBRs. What I like about this story is how this individual has been persistent and leveraged both internal and external resources. We have a great team around us with many experts in a variety of areas. To find development support you don't have to look far.

  • Another member of the team self identified an opportunity to improve their PowerPoint skills, both how to tell a story effectively using PPT and how to build out smart slides. This person approached me with the opportunity and asked that we work on it together. It was hard for them to admit that they wanted help, assuming (incorrectly) that everyone should already have mastered this skill. Over the last couple of weeks we spent several hours crafting a story and iterating on slides that they were putting together. Are they a master now? No, but I think they learned a few new things that will help with the next presentation and I hope they will continue to ask and build on their growing skills set. What I like about this story is that this person embraced the discomfort of development. It can be hard to ask for help. It is hard to say, "I am not great at this and I want to learn." Identifying an opportunity, embracing it and sucking in your ego to ask for support is how we all improve. 

  • Several members of the team have proactively asked for feedback. One noting, quite bluntly, "I am not looking for a pat on the head. I want to know what I can do better." I LOVE IT! I love the personal ownership and the candid ask. Development requires digging in, asking the question, listening and then acting. One person asked that we add this to our one-on-one meeting schedule so we discuss development opportunities regularly, not waiting for a special event or special opportunity, just keeping it top of mind and a point of on-going discussion. I LOVE IT!
These are just a few examples of the development culture we are building. It takes time, persistence, creativity and a mindset of embracing the opportunities we each have here. I hope that these stories create a spark for you. 

You own your personal development. Do something with it!

About David Verhaag

David is the Vice President, Client Experience at Degreed, the lifelong learning platform. Prior to Degreed, David established and scaled the Customer Success function at Kahuna and HireVue and spent eight+ years with SuccessFactors where he led the development of the global Customer Value team. David lives on a sailboat in Half Moon Bay, CA.

Follow on Twitter Connect on LinkedIn