Tag Archives: Working Out Loud

Fourteen weeks in review

As a child I used to break bread bag tags in half, notch them in my finger and flick them across the room. Strangely satisfying. That’s what today feels like.

It feels weird to have a day of only two meetings. I’m ticking off overdue tasks like a boss, while my colleagues over on the Advancement side work late counting all the Giving Tuesday contributions to VIU student assistance funds. 

One of my long overdue tasks was to do a review. Ideally I’d do one every week, but I’ve been running so hard since I started my job at Vancouver Island University at the end of August, I haven’t had a chance to slow down, catch up, and take stock of what (if anything) I’ve accomplished in the last three months. Today was that day, (and also I started reading Working Out Loud) so here goes.

(Most of the events listed are ones my department is responsible for organizing, so you can imagine the work behind the scenes that goes into them. Many of them are community events at which VIU is expected to have a presence. I realized very quickly this job involves quite a bit of face-to-face relationship building; and no one works more tirelessly at this than our President, Ralph Nilson.)

Week 1:

Aug 24 | Started with Dan taking an entire morning to let me know what’s coming down the line for Fall events, projects, etc.

Aug 27 | Senate retreat – our University Secretary gave a Governance 101 talk for all new members, which was extremely helpful.

Various | Open House planning with my team. Feels like I’m drinking from a fire hose. Meetings. Lots of meetings.

Week 2:

Aug 31-Sept 1 | Board of Governors retreat 

Sept 2 | Senior Management Group (SMG) retreat 

Various | Rock the VIU (orientation day) planning with Enrolment Management and my team. Dan left to be a full time Dad for nine months, with instructions to call him to consult on the big decisions, and if I am really stuck and need advice. Meetings. I asked my assistant to book me onboarding meetings with Deans, Directors, etc.
Week 3:

Sept 8 | BC Business Council reception: First Nations Leaders and BC government cabinet members, plus hundreds of others, in Vancouver.

Sept 11 | Golf for Life fundraiser for the health district

Various | I realize government relations is a huge part of my job. Of course I was an ideal candidate as I used to work in government. More meetings.

Week 4:

Sept 17 | Community Futures event downtown Nanaimo

Sept 18 | United Way campaign kick-off breakfast

Various | still trying to get laptop, notebook, phone, travel to and from Vancouver, etc. all set up. Did I mention I go to a lot of meetings?

Week 5:

Sept 21-23 | Trip to Ottawa with my boss and representatives from two other Universities; two full days of meetings with various officials and organizations.

Sept 24 | Board of Governors committee meetings and regular meeting.

Week 6:

Oct 2 | VIU Open House wherein we invite the community to come and experience what we have to offer

Oct 2 | VIU Library 10th anniversary donor recognition event. I got to support my friend Tim Atkinson, the University Librarian and overall wonderful guy.

Various | Attempted break-in at the furnished apartment I had rented in Nanaimo resulting in a quick move to campus housing, in the midst of all the meetings. My colleagues are extremely supportive during all this.

Week 7:

Oct 6 | Newcomers to Nanaimo event at the museum downtown, attended mainly by international students from VIU and the high school at VIU

Oct 6 | Vital Signs report launch, Nanaimo Foundation

Oct 8 | World Remembers Project Launch

Various | Our marketing manager moved on to another job, so within a month and a half I am faced with a vacancy in my department. I decided to hire someone on a short term basis to do a marketing assessment, because I needed more time and data before searching for a replacement.

Week 8:

Various | Faculty Association collective bargaining agreement reached; preparing the department budget submission for next fiscal year; preparing goals for myself and my department. If there was an event this week, I must have missed it! But of course, the ever-present meetings.

Week 9:

Oct 20 | Chris Hadfield comes to Nanaimo! I greeted him at our VIU event in the afternoon, then attended his talk at the Nanaimo Port Theatre that evening. Afterwards, I got a selfie with him!

Oct 23 | VIU Report to the Community launch including a breakfast with Board/Donors, and a wider VIU community event during the day.

Various | Prepare Key Messages for 2015-16 based on President’s Report to the Community speech; prepare Q2 Variance report for Finance. Meetings meetings meetings.

Week 10:

Oct 28-29 | VIEA Summit: VIU hosted one of the keynote speakers, Shawn Atleo; also Premier Clark made an announcement related to VIU capital projects. Made for an extremely busy week!

Oct 30 | VIU United Way Campaign kick-off event

Various | After presenting my budget to the President and VPs last week, I was sent back to make some revisions. I did those and re-submitted.

Week 11:

Nov 4 | Nanaimo Airport Open House

Nov 5 | Nanaimo-Ladysmith Public Schools public meeting
Week 12:

Nov 9 | Toured Milner Gardens in Qualicum. Yes, VIU has a Gardens and teahouse!

Nov 10 | Travel back home to Vancouver for Nov 11 holiday.

Nov 12 | Back to Nanaimo – VIU Town Hall with the President – Nanaimo campus

Nov 13 | VIU Town Hall with the President – Cowichan campus (Duncan)

Various | meetings, meetings, meetings. Final touches on the VIU Magazine. We ramped up for the Indigenous Lecture Series event later on in November.

Week 13:

Nov 18 | Youth Futures Fund announcement in Victoria; wherein we could not drive to Victoria because of a horrible accident that closed the Malahat Drive into the city, so my colleagues in Advancement chartered a float plane to get 6 representatives from VIU there, including two students who were formerly in foster care, who have taken advantage of the Tuition Waiver program. It was an inspiring, adventurous day. We later got some sponsorship to help us out with the float plane costs. Have I mentioned how amazing our Advancement team is?

Nov 19 | BC Business Summit in Vancouver

Various | planning for the Indigenous Lecture Series and the CEO roundtable meeting with business and First Nations leaders, hosted by our Shqwi qwal for Indigenous Dialogue, Shawn Atleo.

Week 14:

Nov 25 | Young Professionals of Nanaimo Advisory Board. No, I’m no longer a “young” professional – they ask us oldsters for advice from time to time. I was honoured to be invited.

Nov 26 | Board of Governors meeting

Nov 26 | CEO Roundtable

Nov 26 | inaugural Indigenous Speakers Series lecture (to be broadcast on Ideas on CBC Radio One December 14); reception afterwards.

Nov 27 | Premier’s LNG Advisory Council in Vancouver

Various | Thursday was a long, long, long day. I spent the weekend recovering.


I set out to review accomplishments, and I realize most of these are events rather than accomplishments per se. But writing a coherent budget submission within 2 months of starting a job sure felt like an accomplishment to me, as did the myriad events, new people met, new connections made, new relationships that all those events and meetings represent. I have a stellar staff and lots of support. Conducting a review like this really puts all my body of work into perspective, and lets me take a realistic look at what’s possible to get done with the resources I have, in the timeframe I’ve got. 

Early new year’s resolution? Do these reviews once per week. Now that I’m starting to get my feet under me, that seems more likely.

It is in Collaboration that the nature of art is revealed

12 tips on collaboration from the powerhouse creative duo from Giant Ant

We attended our first (and hopefully not last) Creative Mornings Vancouver on July 3 at SFU Woodward’s downtown. Creative Mornings is a breakfast lecture series for creative people, and the GoldCorp Centre for the Arts a perfect venue for such an event.

On this morning, the theme was Collaboration, and the speakers were Jay Grandin and Leah Nelson, the duo behind Giant Ant, which, among other things, has produced animation for the opera StickBoy (I’m kicking myself for missing that performance).

Jay and Leah have been collaborating in work and life since they met in 2004; they knew after their first date they were “done looking,” and have been together ever since. Their twins were born two months previous to this talk. Seeing as how it was 8:30 am, these new parents looked surprisingly alert. (in case you were wondering why I described them as “powerhouse”…).

After doing some work on/for MySpace (I wasn’t clear on the nature of that gig), couch-surfing through Europe via internet connections, they returned to Canada and did some freelance work. More travel ensued to, among other places, Tanzania to do a documentary on street kids, at which point they thought: Why not become business partners?

It is in Collaboration that the nature of art is revealedIn their words, they “found people who were better at stuff than we were,” to collaborate with, and brought them onboard to form Giant Ant Media.

Jay and Leah presented their story in an informal, accessible style, making a cheesy alliteration out of the letters of “OLLABORATION” that somehow made perfect sense:

Outhouse – somebody has to dig the hole: that’s the risk taking. The person at the helm digs, and the rest of the team is there to pull you out of the hole after it’s too deep to get out yourself.

Love – put love in your work or create context where that’s possible. Your values inform your business decisions, and you must love the work. If projects are shitty no one wants to do it, and you won’t put out your best product.

Let go – to a point. If you trust the collective intelligence of your team, then let go and leave them to do their best work.

Asshole – don’t be one! Disagree and argue and fight for ideas. Challenge people. However, do this without being a dickhead/jerk. Make sure feedback is in a “shit” sandwich, where the criticism is couched between two pieces of gratitude and positivity.*

Bad ideas – we all have them. Embrace them. The road to brilliance is paved with bad ideas that must be aired out. Create an environment where bad ideas are welcomed because there could be a germ of a good idea in there.

Orange flag –  let team know when you’re stuck. Just say it – I’m having a hard time. Know ahead of time if you’re having trouble meeting a commitment. Put up that flag while it’s still orange, don’t wait for a red flag that would stop a project from moving forward.

Room –  as in don’t be the smartest person in it. If you are, then you can go to your desk and figure it it yourself (lonely!). But you never are the smartest person in the room, really. [Ed. Note:  – this sounds a lot like Working Out Loud!]

Authorship – give people credit. It ups the ante for the team when their names are on the project, and besides, it’s really nice to get recognition for your work.

Throw it out – fear not, there are better ideas coming. Sometimes you just need a clean slate.

I Hate My Client – when scope goes sideways or they miss their deadlines for revisions, etc., you are likely to blame it on the client. However, 90% of client relationship failures are process failures. We (the creatives contracted to do the work) are the experts in our own process. We need to follow it, especially when we write it into our contracts with our clients. The client is hiring you because you’re the expert. Set it up the process so everyone succeeds.

Ownership – make sure everyone knows what part they own and when it’s to be done. If you leave it till the last minute, it only takes a minute (!)

Nobody Gets Left Behind: we succeed and fail together always. Check in with the team every day. Take headphones off and look around the room. Care about one another. Help each other out.

The audience had a small-group discussion after the talk, then some questions. This was the question I was most interested in: How do Jay and Leah choose their clients?

The answer: ultimately it is their call, but if one or more of their team members has an issue with a project or client, generally they don’t take it. They do have an initial client/project checklist to guide decision-making, which includes items like:

  • Would we show this to our mother?
  • Would we use this product ourselves?
  • Is it a creative opportunity?
  • Is it a financial opportunity?
  • Are we proud to have our name attached to this?



Image is Chris DuToit’s Creative Mornings remix, licensed under Creative Commons. 

*Note: Jay didn’t say the words “shit sandwich,” I’ve heard it called that before. He used the term “Feedback sandwich.” Much kinder and kid-friendly. He is a dad now, after all.

having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen and to be vulnerable. And that's freaking scary.

The scary thing that makes a good workplace great

A little while back I wrote about the one thing that can make a good workplace great, the tolerance for taking risks and making mistakes.

If I were to pick another Big Scary Audacious Goal (which is a more unfortunate acronym than Big Hairy Audacious Goal..?), it would be the ability to have difficult conversations. Even more than tolerating mistakes, this is by far the most difficult skill I’ve had to work on in my career, and I’m not even close to perfection.

having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen and to be vulnerable. And that's freaking scary. Screwing up the courage to face a difficult situation head-on by having a tough conversation is something that could make any relationship go either way: it can lead to working better and becoming closer to the other person, or it could lead to a separation (if you’re lucky, a separation that leaves both people with positive feelings towards each other).

Having successful difficult conversations means taking the time to listen, and to be vulnerable.

And that’s freaking scary.

In fact, both these shifts that can change a workplace culture into a great one have that one thing in common: a willingness to show vulnerability.

I believe the more people talk about those difficult conversations they’ve had, the more acceptable it will be to have more of them. And I believe it’s the role of communication professionals to encourage more intentional, face-to-face communication skills among those we advise. The most useful professional development event I attended last spring was from IABC-BC — Speak Up: Important Conversations. All the speakers were amazing, but Tracey Wimperly’s talk really resonated with me:

“We do business with people, not entities…Conversation between people is where the magic happens … We are coaches and convenors of conscious interpersonal communications … Talking points are great for content, but do our leaders know how to really listen? Do they demonstrate empathy? The soft skills are really the hard stuff … Are our leaders comfortable with the soft skills?” – Tracey Wimperly

People, particularly those in leadership positions, need to signal loud and clear that they are open to having the difficult conversations, by their words and their actions. They need to be vulnerable in order to encourage their employees to feel supported enough to take risks and contribute the whole of their talents and skills.

I was reminded of that again when I listened to Brett Gajda’s podcast, Where There’s Smoke; the episode Be Seen (Vulnerability), with Bobby Umar. Brett practices what he preaches – my partner and I saw him speak at an event the other night, and I envy the people who get to work with him. In the Be Seen episode he gives an example that is so raw and compelling, I choked up thinking of similar examples from my own career.

Here’s one leader who also certainly fits the bill: Dan Pontrefact (you lucky Telus employees, having him on your leadership team!), who has embraced the Working Out Loud movement (Yay!) and wrote a pretty raw piece on why his next book is postponed.

In fact, if I’m ever asked again in an interview what I consider my biggest weakness, I’d probably have to be honest and say: “I find it extraordinarily stressful to have the difficult conversations that must sometimes happen in a professional situation. And I’m working hard on getting better at it, because if you can have difficult conversations where the other person feels valued and respected, even if you have to part ways in the end, you have a stronger relationship because of it.”

Here’s Tracey’s entire talk. It’s well worth eight minutes of your time, especially if you are, like me, a communications professional: