Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Development is about becoming your best version of You

Photo: distractify.com


Beneath your armor
The best version of yourself
Choose your path you must




Development is not about building robots, storm troopers or embracing the dark side. It is not about becoming like someone else. It is not about becoming someone you admire or getting the things you want. Development is about finding the best that is within you. It is about becoming the best version of yourself and applying that to the opportunities and challenges you have before you. Armor serves a purpose. In our daily struggles, epic or not, it serves to keep us safe from the cheap shots, pettiness and unforgiving world around us. But it serves no purpose in personal development. It is a barrier to discovery, to growth as a professional, to expansion as an individual, to becoming the best version of yourself and seeing what you are truly capable of. As Yoda might say, leave the armor behind you should, learn much you will.

What armor are you wearing? How is it holding you back?

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.


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Tuesday, March 18, 2014

To continue evolving and growing, do not fall into this development trap

I have always… been afraid of the dark. I was a Webelo, a Boy Scout and finally an Eagle Scout and did my share of camping while growing up. If you spend a lot of time outdoors you will learn that there is dark and there is DARK. Moonless nights in the wilderness can be terrifying. A headlamp simply doesn't shine far enough. After Scouting, I spent my high school and college years backpacking and mountaineering in the Cascade Range. In that remote wilderness, far from even the faintest city light, it would get dark, VERY VERY DARK. And I have always… been afraid of the dark. It wasn't until I moved to Truckee, CA that I learned not to be afraid of it. And strangely enough, it was because of the bears. These weren’t hypothetical bears. They weren’t bears that you see from the car in Yellowstone. They definitely weren’t the bears that you are warned about but never actually see. There were Bears! Bears who stick their head in your bedroom window at night, bears who stand tall in the middle of the street when you are walking the dog in the dark, bears who leave footprints for you to find by your front door when you step out for the paper in the morning.


 
This week I have been thinking about the phrase "I have always". When it comes to personal and professional development, "I have always" can be a blocker. If you are telling yourself "I have always", you are missing something. "I have always" says that you are no longer adapting to your environment. It says that you are giving in to habitual behaviors and skills and not actively learning or adapting. It says that you believe that what got you here will get you to the next level as well. It is easy to think this way. "I have always adapted quickly", "…built relationships easily", "…been successful through people, not process", "…been a numbers person", "…had a hard time presenting to groups", "…been successful doing things my way", or "…been an outsider". It is easy to lean on "I have always" and not realize that your surroundings are different and your opportunity is different. It is easy to believe that you cannot or you no longer need to evolve and adapt. But that doesn't work. This is not your last company. This is not your old team. This is not the last opportunity you were successful at. This is not darkness that you were afraid of.
Developing means changing behaviors. It means adapting to the new environment, to the people and processes around you today. Falling back on "I have always" means falling down and missing out on the opportunity to do and experience something new. After so many years in the remote wilderness being afraid of what might be in the dark, what changed was my appreciation of my current environment. "I have always" became "I used to be".
In what areas are you telling yourself "I have always"? What are you doing to evolve that to "I used to be"?

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.

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Monday, March 17, 2014

5 Keys to Building a Successful International Team


My blog posts won't be all embarrassing stories, I hope, but I am embarrassed to admit that for a long time I did not know what the acronym EMEA meant. I knew it included Europe but I wasn't sure what the "MEA" stood for. It seemed like something everyone already knew, and that I should know, so I didn't ask. I just kept operating under the assumption that it was basically London and some other places, possibly Germany and France. It turns out EMEA describes not only London, but all of Europe, the Middle East and Africa. If you take a look at a map, it is actually quite a large and diverse territory. And while I am admitting my old international ignorance I should admit that I once agreed to go to Helsinki, Finland with 48 hours notice. But I didn't know where Helsinki was. For that matter I didn't know where Finland was. It wasn't until I was on the plane looking at the international route maps in the back of the United magazine that I realized it was right there next to Argentina. Fortunately, in the intervening years I have had many opportunities to put my international ignorance behind me, traveling and working with some great international clients like Nokia Siemens Network, Lloyds TSB, Deutsche Bank and many others to build an international Customer Success team.

Recently, HireVue has embarked on our own international journey by hiring an EMEA leader and planning our first UK office. Darren Jaffrey joined HireVue in February and is an amazing leader who brings a wealth of experience in building and growing teams to support EMEA. HireVue is fortunate to have him on the team, and as we build our international teams to support Darren and our HireVue EMEA explosion, we should keep in mind the following keys to success:

Adaptation  When I first started working internationally I brought the bias that many first timers do: "This is how we do it in the U.S. so it is the right way." Whether it is vacation time, leave policies, or meeting etiquette, working with an international team is just different. It can be a wonderful and enlightening experience if you bring an open mind and a willingness to learn from your team.

Learning  I should have known where Finland was. I should have known what EMEA meant. Many of our international customers are better informed about working across borders than we are. Many people we will hire will have worked with a U.S. company before. Building an international team requires abandoning assumptions and embracing different cultures and practices to make your team feel like they are part of something bigger.

Personal interactions  Today we leverage HireVue Live to have face to face conversations with our international team. Working remotely can be an isolating experience. Working remotely in a foreign country can be even more so. Bringing personal interactions into team collaboration encourages learning and helps to make your international team real to everyone involved.

Sharing the burden  In addition to a large body of water there are several time zones between here and there. Building a cohesive team requires sharing the burden of time shifting. For U.S. employees that means taking your turn working very early to balance the times when the international team works late. It is an important balance so international teams don't feel penalized for being outside of the U.S.

Keeping the fire lit  Starting an international team is cool. It's a big deal for a company to reach a point in their growth where they can establish and build a team based in EMEA and APAC. But that sizzle can wear off in time and it is easy to forget that the same continuous business evolution that happens in the U.S. also happens in EMEA. It is important to remain diligent in learning, adapting, and sharing ownership.

It is easy to assume that everyone has a basic understanding of geography, has traveled internationally and understands the common international business acronyms and practices, but it is not always true. It is not uncommon for U.S. based employees and companies to operate under a set of false assumptions about their international customers and teams. Building an international team can be extremely rewarding if you embrace the opportunity to adapt, continuously learn, evolve your team and processes, and share ownership of making it work to keep the fire lit and the sizzle on.


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.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Mr. Blue Sky: Changing Up Your Routine

I lived in Dallas for two and a half long years early in my career. I had moved to Dallas to be the Manager of Corporate Human Resources for a commercial real estate company. It was a great career opportunity. I had been working and living in downtown San Francisco as an HR Generalist, and in New York City as a Corporate Recruiter before that. Dallas was the next rung on the career ladder, but could not have been a worse place for me to live. It is hot, flat, hot, in the middle of nowhere, and if I haven't mentioned it yet, hot. You can't escape it without getting on a plane. I lived in an industrial loft downtown and commuted in a nondescript Volvo to a nondescript office building. Every day it was the same. Wake up at 5 am, put on a Brooks Brothers shirt, suit and tie, stop for coffee at Starbucks, in the office at 6 am… working. Every day. It was the same thing for two and a half years. Around that same time, Volkswagen put out a commercial that perfectly described the sad routine of my life in Dallas.


I was thinking about Dallas, routine and career development this morning. While it was a great move for my career, and I eventually became the Director of HR Services in Dallas before moving to a start up, it was one of the hardest times of my life. Every day was the same thing, every trip down the expressway, back and forth, draining a little bit of life out of me. The Brooks Brothers, the Starbucks, the Volvo reinforcing that I was just another twenty-something doing exactly the same thing. "Where did we go wrong," I would ask myself. But it didn't have to be that way.

There are two important lessons that I learned in Dallas. First, WE create our day in and day out. We create our routines, our habits, our daily work lives. We each decide what we get out of this. Every day can be the same, the same set of customer issues, the same challenge in driving adoption, the same reports and schedule and one on one meetings and… and… It can all repeat until a VW commercial makes you want to cry. Or you can make it your own. You can change it up. Shift the schedule. Approach it differently. Work from home or a coffee shop or North Dakota. Work without a computer for a day or two. Don't use email for a week. Change it up.

Second, habits and routines are great for some aspects of your work life, but if you are doing the same thing day after day and doing those things in the same way day after day, then you are going to get the same result. Whether that is emailing customers to drive adoption with the same message you sent last week, leaving the same voice mails again and again, or providing the same insights from the same reports. You are going to get the same results. This is also true of career development. If you are working on the same development activities you worked on in your last role, asking the same or similar people for feedback on what you are good at and what you need to improve, or reading the same types of books, you are going to get the same results.

This week do something different for your personal development. Make a point to inject something unusual in your plan. It doesn't have to be outrageous or complicated or made by Volkswagen. Change your story just a little bit. And then do something different again next week and the week after that. The results will surprise you.


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.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Embracing cultural differences when your startup goes international


Did you see the Cadillac commercial during the Olympics? The commercial starts with an actor standing by a pool asking, "Why do we work so hard?" Then he walks around his enormous house and swimming pool to his Cadillac while talking about the virtues of America's work habits. How did you feel when you saw it? Did you feel a pang of pride, "You're damn right! USA USA USA!" Or did you pause and think, "Wait, what? Am I really working so hard for this stuff, for a car?" I'll admit to feeling a bit of both. The Cadillac is pretty sexy, but really, is that why I work as much as I do? No way! Is it my house? No! My collection of Olympic champion dressage horses? Okay, I don't really have those but you get the point. I don't work hard for things. Or not only for things. I work hard because I like to work. I love my job. I feel an obligation to my team, my company. I work hard because that is what Dad taught me. That is what is expected. You get up at 5 am, eat breakfast and go to work. When the sun goes down you come home. Monday through Saturday. That is the way it's done. Only it's not done that way everywhere.
One of the first things you learn when working internationally is that our work rules, habits and expectations do not apply. Not even close. "Other countries work. They stroll home. They stop by a café. They take the entire month of August off. Off!" the actor notes in the Cadillac commercial. And it's true. They work differently. Some work less. Some take August off. In the US, most employees get two weeks of paid vacation time. Often they don't even use it all. When I first started working with international companies and started to understand their time off and vacation rules, I was indignant at the idea. "You get how much time off?" Clearly we Americans know what we are doing? Working 10 hour days, six days a week, 50+ weeks a year. This is the right way. Right? Over time and with experience working with my international peers and team, I have learned that it's not the right way, just a way. Europeans have something different. Not better, not worse, just different. 
These differences are one of the great things about growing your company internationally, partnering with global businesses and hiring your first international employee and then team. The differences shine a new light on how and why we work. Europeans have found a brilliant balance to life and work. There is life and there is work and often life comes first. Americans have found a passion and engagement in work that the Europeans may often miss. At least for a couple months of the year. So how much vacation time do you get? How much do you take?

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.

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