Five years ago today, I launched Frameworks. Fresh-faced and passionate about supporting the health and safety profession to create change, I was definitely more focused on the challenge I faced professionally rather than what I was about to experience personally. I have learnt so much – about development, about health and safety, about business… but mainly, a lot about myself.
I don’t think you can work in the business of people development without a high level of self-awareness and a growth mindset. For the Acre Frameworks team, much of the last five years has been spent outside of our comfort zone, with projects seemingly always getting bigger and more complex. As our offering has grown and evolved, we have had to be agile and innovative, and there have certainly been times where we felt out of our depth. During that time, I’m proud to say that our commitment to a culture of learning has allowed us to celebrate our successes and to grow from our challenging failures. Regarding the latter scenario, one thing I remain confident in is our ability to ‘fail forward.’ So with that in mind, I want to share with you my biggest learnings from the last five years.
‘If you do please everyone, you are not making enough progress’
Since starting Frameworks, I have been trolled, de-platformed and aggressively challenged around my intentions or for having a difference of opinion. As a ‘people pleaser’ and as someone who is honestly highly sensitive to criticism, this destroyed me for the first twelve months in business. When I put something out there and someone didn’t agree, I honed in on that feedback; when certain people refused to let me speak at events, I took it to heart; when people challenged my motivations, I was genuinely hurt.
But then I heard this quote from Sheryl Sandberg: “If you do please everyone, you are not making enough progress” – and it saved me. I didn’t leave a career in recruitment and start Frameworks for people to agree with me. I set up Frameworks to transform the behaviors of a profession that I truly believe is driven by a genuine, clear purpose but that struggled to let that purpose thrive in a traditional, heavily technical culture. In order to create healthier and safer workplaces, I saw a call to action for H&S professionals to change their own behaviors to incite behavior change in others. So now, if people challenge me, I take it as a good thing... I’m getting to the people that need to hear our message most.
When I started Frameworks, I negatively internalized feedback, especially from clients and even if it was constructive. The story I told myself was: “I am/we aren’t good enough.” In my mind, if we didn’t get 100% positive feedback, we had not performed.
Two years into the business, a client called me up and was less than impressed at the momentum we had gathered on a programme. It was a difficult call, but this team leader was kind enough to be honest and clear with their feedback. We got curious and unearthed the fact that the coach leading our programme had struggled to get participants to commit their time and effort to the process.
When we dug a little deeper, we discovered that we hadn’t positioned the intention of the programme clearly to those involved and as a result, they couldn’t see the value in setting aside the right time and space to reap the benefits.
We hadn’t set the project up for success, and the coach leading the programme didn’t give the client impromptu feedback on the lack of engagement. This learning transformed the way we run projects, and when it comes to radically candid feedback - we not only give it, we ask for and encourage it in return.
The client isn’t always ‘right’
This is something that I have discovered over time as our experience and confidence has grown. When starting out, I was quick to agree and say ‘yes’ to offers of work. I think that’s fairly standard for people in start-ups. We say ‘yes’ to everything because we are grateful for the work and for the revenue.
I am still, and always will be, grateful for new opportunities but as time has gone on, I’ve learnt the power of digging deeper and refraining from work that might not have an individual or team’s best interests at heart... at least at the outset! We feel strongly about challenging a client’s thinking in service of them – to get to the root of the problem and to co-create programmes that we believe will deliver impact based on our knowledge and experience. So far, it has served us well. I think our clients know that when we coach them to explore the potential limitations of how they envision a programme playing out, we do it with the right intention.
Play to your strengths
When starting a small business, you can end up spreading yourself too thin. For the first two years I was sales, delivering, marketing and project management; although I enjoyed the variety, it wasn’t sustainable. When setting up a business, it’s also easy to assume ‘I know best’... After all, it’s my vision, my ‘why?’, my strategy, right? As soon as I started hiring though, I realized that wasn’t sustainable either.
I am now fortunate enough to have a small, but brilliant team. Don’t get me wrong - we can rumble, we can drive each other mad (well, I know I can drive them mad), and we often have very different opinions, but we share similar values and are aligned when it comes to our mission. As the team has grown, I’ve learnt to embrace an important lesson: Play to your strengths. For a time, I tried to force team members whose passion was delivering programmes to do sales... At one point, I had coaches trying to develop software! Now as we approach our growth strategy, we’re working hard to play to individuals’ strengths and motivations. This doesn’t mean we don’t grow and try new things, but we are more consciously aware of what we each bring to the party.
Insight into Action
When we started out, I was consciously incompetent when it came to what ‘good’ development looked like. I was lucky enough to have had many development opportunities personally, but had never spent much time being curious about how people learn and what makes change stick. It’s that old question with non-technical development: Can you really learn this stuff? We believe that people are inherently curious, resourceful, and creative, but critical to developing new skills is intentionally applying a growth mindset. Ultimately, we are supporting people in the pursuit of self-leadership - increasing their self-awareness, improving their self-management, bolstering their self-motivation, acknowledging their self-efficacy, and growing their self-confidence.
When we set up Frameworks, we only had our psychometric Discovery Tool. We gave people feedback on their development needs, helped them set objectives and then left them to it. The problem was, like most development interventions with little follow up, little changed. Over time we have learnt that people need to connect with what’s in it for them to develop and understand what it looks like to break down goals into day-to-day behavior change - practice, get feedback, adapt, repeat. We have also evidenced the immense power of coaching people to uncover and challenge their internal limiting beliefs. In short, as our methodology has evolved, we now understand our role in encouraging others to turn insight into action. We support people to get comfortable with failure, to experiment and to reflect on their learnings. This, we believe, is the future of development.
Celebrate the successes
I have always been my worst critic and set high expectations for myself, but nothing prepares you for the level of self-critique you face when starting a new business. Even with the support and guidance of others, I have always been quick to focus on what didn’t go well. What I have learnt over time, mainly from coaching others, is that it is essential when trying something new to celebrate the successes.
We have been fortunate to have so many of these over the years, and although our incredible client list and case studies is something we are all really grateful for and proud of, the biggest marker of success for me is when clients share the positive impact our work has had on them professionally, and even more importantly, personally... That’s when I am most proud as that’s why we do what we do. Letting ourselves stop and enjoy those moments not only allows us to really connect with our purpose, but also gives us energy to push forward on the more difficult of days.
The future is exciting
All of this couldn’t have happened without the support of the team at Acre, our network, and our incredible clients. The next few months look to be our most exciting yet as we partner with clients to deliver some exciting global programmes and expand our offering to all purpose-led professions. We are excited to be growing, to be delivering genuine impact for our clients and to be able to continue learning along the way.