Judging the 2nd Annual Sheboygan County Athena Leadership Awards

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/10/judging-the-2nd-annual-sheboygan-county-athena-leadership-awards/

This year I had the privilege of serving as a judge for the 2nd Annual Sheboygan County Athena Leadership Awards. I am still humbled and honored to have been voted one of the top 5 finalists out of 25 incredible nominees last year. Many of these women are the kind of women I aspire to be, so to be honored alongside them was incredible. I am still thankful for the recognition and opportunity to meet so many amazing women in my community.

 

Here is some info about the award from the Athena Award website if you are not familiar with it:

“The ATHENA Leadership Award is presented to a woman —or man— who is honored for professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.

Since the program’s inception in 1982, more than 7,000 exemplary leaders in over 500 communities have received the prestigious ATHENA Award in the United States, Bermuda, Canada, China, Greece, India, Russia, Unite Arab Emirates and United Kingdom. By honoring exceptional leaders, the ATHENA Leadership Award Program seeks to inspire others to achieve excellence in their professional and personal lives.

ATHENA Leadership Award recipients are individuals who:

  • Have achieved the highest level of professional excellence.
  • Contribute time and energy to improve the quality of life for others in the community.
  • Actively assist others, particularly women, in realizing their full leadership potential.

 

While reading the nominee forms and recommendation letters as part of my judging duties, I was thankful to get a window into the lives of the nominees. Getting to know more of the movers and shakers around here made Sheboygan feel even more like a close-knit, vibrant, caring, community to me. I can’t go anywhere in Sheboygan without seeing someone I know, and often when I’m meeting a new person, we will have mutual friends. It makes it feel like a small world in a good way in this county of 116,000. There are truly some amazing project and people here. See you at the awards on November 15!

SAFE Coalition for Human Rights Conference 2018 Experience

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/09/safe-coalition-for-human-rights-conference-2018-experience/

The SAFE Coalition for Human Rights Conference 2018 held at the historic Palmer House hotel in the heart of Chicago brought together a variety of respected abolitionists from all over the world. This conference made me realize more than ever that the fight against human trafficking is very interdisciplinary: law enforcement, politicians, educators, non-profit leaders, healthcare professionals, first responders, counselors, psychologists, social workers, and more are all on the front lines of this fight. There are many different types of professionals working on the issue from different angles and meeting different needs. I made friends with a lot of amazing people from around the world, some of whom have received national and international awards for their efforts.

One of the most impactful points of the conference came from someone I wouldn’t have expected: a finance professional working on anti-human trafficking for the US government. He said in the anti-trafficking world, we talk a lot of about stopping trafficking, but how do we actually do that? We need traffickers to WANT to stop trafficking for it to ever truly stop. Why do traffickers do what they do? Money. Selling human beings is profitable. He said we must disrupt the human trafficking market so much that the market risk is too high for it to be profitable anymore. When Backpage.com, the one-stop-shop for sex buyers, was shut down earlier this year, approximately 70% of traffickers’ revenue stream was disrupted he said. Traffickers are hurting. He and his team participate in undercover group chats with real traffickers, and they were all discussing taking legal action because the closure was affecting their business so much. This really opened my eyes to the fact that the power to end human trafficking really lies in attacking their profits. Every other anti-trafficking effort either seeks to prevent people from falling into this evil or restore people once they have been traumatized by this evil. In other words, it’s taking some people out of the human trafficking cycle but the cycle will still exist as long as there are profits to be made.

I’m not a humanist. I believe humans are all inherently flawed and will always find ways to abuse each other as we have seen throughout history. I believe hope is found in realizing you have the power to change someone else’s reality by your choices to love them. No matter what great advances are made in anti-trafficking around the world, we cannot definitively say no one will ever traffick another human again. We CAN each say I will do everything I can to prevent it from happening to those in my sphere of influence and restore those in my sphere of influence to a healthy life. I came away from the conference energized and with a greater understanding of where my work in my corner of the world fits into the global fight.

How to Build Collaboration into the Life of your Non-Profit: Look for Shared Mission

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/08/how-to-build-collaboration-into-the-life-of-your-non-profit-look-for-shared-mission/

Collaboration between non-profits is essential to serving the community better in a more unified way. We who work or volunteer in non-profits all have fantastic intentions to love and serve the community, but sometimes we shoot ourselves in the foot and limit our potential for impact by not working together on projects that fit within the scope of our individual missions.

This idea was solidified in my mind during a presentation Young Non-Profit Professionals Network hosted this month featuring a group of seasoned fundraisers from Lakeland University in Sheboygan. One of the fundraisers asserted that Sheboygan County has too many non-profits, and we need to work together to be effective. I balked at first at the statement that we have “too many” as if it is a bad thing that lots of people are wanting to help the community through various causes. Then I started to understand her point that when we are divided so much that we can’t effectively conquer the issues in our community, that’s a problem.

Freedom Cry has been committed to collaboration with other non-profits from the beginning, with our mission statement communicating this goal: working IN PARTNERSHIP with our community and others to break the cycle of human trafficking in Sheboygan County, WI through prevention and support resources. One example of how we collaborated with other organizations happened in June of 2017 when the Hope’s Hearts project was born. Freedom Cry reached out to the John Michael Kohler Arts Center, Horizons4Girls, and the STARS program to collaborate on launching this project. It worked really well. The project got off to a great start and is still going strong a year later. To read more about Hope’s Hearts, please go to our website https://www.freedomcryinc.org/new-page-1/.

Another great Hope’s Hearts project collaboration was born a few weeks ago. I met the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters Sheboygan as she presented to the Charitable Giving Committee at JOA of which I am a part. The director mentioned in her presentation that the organization likes to work together with other organizations to provide activities for their adult mentors to do with the youth they mentor, especially because male mentors feel less awkward out in public with children if they have a shared activity to do together. I immediately recognized this as a golden opportunity for Freedom Cry to collaborate with them, so after the meeting I connected the executive director with leaders at Freedom Cry and the John Michael Kohler Arts Center to see if we could have Big Brothers Big Sisters mentors and youth come to the Art Center to work on Hope’s Hearts together. To convince the executive director, I explained how Big Brothers Big Sisters and the Hope’s Hearts project have very similar missions to build up and encourage hurting youth. I communicated to them that we are all working toward a very similar goal but just coming at it from different angles. Mentoring at-risk (or better put at-hope) youth is ESSENTIAL to preventing human trafficking because traffickers prey on the vulnerability that comes from instability and trauma in a young person’s life. The executive director agreed to come and check out what we are doing with Hope’s Hearts to see what a collaboration with us would look like.

After reflecting on these successful collaborations, I’m even more inspired to keep looking for mission overlaps and collaboration opportunities as I’m out in the world networking with other non-profit leaders.

Why You Should Join a Committee

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/07/why-you-should-join-a-committee/

Being on a committee can sound intimidating or like it will involve a lot of boring meetings, but it is really beneficial to your career and actually fun if you make it. Take advantage if someone invites you to join one!

I am on two committees: the JOA Charitable Giving Committee at work and the Society for Technical Communication Scholarship Committee. I joined both of these committees this year. These are the awesome benefits I’ve found:

Develop new relationships

We know that 80% of getting jobs is networking, and developing new, quality relationships in the work world is always good, so why not develop some new relationships on a committee? Usually, you will meet new coworkers or friends or work with people that you wouldn’t otherwise work with. Working together toward a common goal always makes you feel more connected and provides bonding experiences.

Expand your skills

Really engaging in the meetings and thinking of new or better ways to drive the goals of the committee forward will definitely expand your collaboration, communication, analyzation, and problem-solving skills. For example, recently one of the committees I am on was struggling to handle all the requests pouring in for us to look at, so I suggested we develop a rubric of criteria that would allow us to evaluate each request in an efficient manner to save time at meetings and take the pressure off the committee chair. We brainstormed the criteria together, and I developed the rubric document. The next meeting went much more smoothly as we were able to start getting requests off the table. It made me feel great that I could use my technical writer mind in a room full of my coworkers to bring a solution to the table that they probably wouldn’t have thought of.

Feel more connected to the life of the organization or community

The goals of many committees are to impact other people directly in some way, and that’s an awesome feeling. Committees have a great way of making you feel as though you are impacting the company or organization you work for or the greater community in some capacity which builds a great sense of purpose and belonging. You also end up feeling much more invested in the health and goals of your organization or community and you’ll want to see it continue to improve.

Society for Technical Communication Summit 2018 Experience

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/06/society-for-technical-communication-summit-2018-experience/

As I walked through the sparkling, modern Hyatt Regency hotel in Orlando, huge hallways and ballrooms opened up before me with towering windows revealing palm trees outside. Just as I felt simultaneously small and refreshed by the wide open spaces in this new environment, I felt my perspective on the technical communication industry widening even as I keenly felt my small presence within it. Six years working full time as a technical writer at a small engineering company in Sheboygan Falls, WI hadn’t exposed me to a whole lot of other people working in my field. I knew attending this conference would help open my eyes; it did deliver on that expectation. Through the education sessions and my interactions with fellow writers, I began to understand where my company and way of doing my job fit into the industry as a whole. I learned how the type of company I work for, the software we use, our workflows, and how our challenges were the same or different from others’ challenges.

I loved the immediate comradery and constant connection with other conference attendees throughout the day as we ate, drank, and navigated the resort together. I used every opportunity, even waiting in line, to meet new people and ask questions. I met with representatives from vendors and consultants who really knew their stuff and could help my company, which felt empowering. Issues I’d been having for years suddenly looked like they could be solved with the snappy-looking software packages presented by smiling faces who understood my pain.

All of the education sessions I chose to attend were interesting, but here are some of my favorites:

Add UX Methodologies to your Portfolio

It was the first day of the conference for me, and I was eager to make new connections, so I arrived at this 8-hour session early and sat in the front. This worked out well for me as I was picked to be part of the usability test simulation and got a free book to boot. I was instructed to come up to the front and sit down in front of a computer with a poorly designed expense report software. The instructor gave me a list of instructions on what tasks to perform on the software as the rest of the class observed and took notes. The instructor stayed calm even in the midst of technical difficulties and asked me a bunch of open-ended questions to find out what I was experiencing while trying to complete the tasks. Through this process, I realized how nuanced usability is and how our user experience creates a negative or positive feeling toward having to complete work with that software in the future. Making products fun and easy to use is crucial to whether or not users will be excited to come back to using them. I became inspired to work on making our customer documentation more appealing and easy to use.

Tech Writing Meets Translation: Tips and Tricks

This might have been my favorite class, especially because my company is trying to cut down on translation costs. Filled with practical insights, this class gave some great tips I felt like I could start using as soon as I got back to work. Sometimes what you learn as a technical writing student is actually not best practice for translation. For example, I learned to only spell out what acronyms mean the first time the acronym is used in a document, assuming that from then on readers will understand it. However, we have to think about how users actually use our content. They search for what they need and only read that section as opposed to reading the whole chapter or document in a sitting, so we need to explain relevant acronyms in every major section they are used. The session was filled with other such useful tidbits that never would have occurred to me.

Future of Technical Communication: Findings from Adobe Tech Comm Survey 2018 Adobe

I remembered getting the Adobe Tech Comm Survey to my inbox at work, so I was excited when I realized that an expert from Adobe would be at the conference to present the results. This session helped me understand both where my skills and the work processes in my company sit within the industry and also where the industry is going in terms of publishing outputs and responding to technological developments such as artificial intelligence. I found out that the way I do things at work is very common in the industry, but that we could be more on the cutting edge than we are now.

After a relaxing week and a half exploring Fort Lauderdale, Miami, and Key West on vacation, I got back to work and started reviewing my notes and forming a plan for how to present my learnings to the rest of my team. I knew some ideas were bigger than others and would require more time and money investment. I also knew that there might be resistance to some ideas simply because of how big of a change they would mean for our work processes, but I also felt inspired to present my ideas well to give them the best chance of taking root. Gaining the perspective, tools, and inspiration to make waves at work was definitely the greatest benefit of attending the STC Summit 2018.

Coastal Young Professionals Week Experience 2018

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/05/coastal-young-professionals-week-experience-2018/

Coastal Young Professionals Week in Sheboygan is always a great time of connecting with other young professionals and learning. The annual week of events includes an awards ceremony, education sessions on various topics interesting to young professionals, tours of local companies, and exercise classes. I would highly recommend young professionals in Sheboygan County attend some of the events offered as they have been really beneficial to me in past years.

The first event I attended was the Next Wave Young Professional Awards held at Acuity. I was nominated for community volunteer of the year, and while I didn’t win that title, I won a Next Wave Award, meaning I was selected as one of their Top 10 Young Professionals from the group of 31 nominees. It was really awesome of JOA to sponsor 10 people to come with me to this event as it really helped me feel supported.

The second event I attended was actually one I was invited to participate in as a speaker. Coastal Young Professionals Network chose to hold a trolley tour event with a focus on trafficking and drugs, how they are related, and how they are affecting our relatively safe community. I was chosen to speak on the topic of what we can do about it, so I spoke on Freedom Cry’s mission and how people can get involved in our projects. It was a great afternoon filled with creating awareness, making new connections, exploring the county and listening to three other speakers on the topic, one of which is our local human trafficking detective, Tamara Remington.

The third event I attended was a class made specifically for women on how to negotiate salary and other aspects of employment in the hiring process or when you wish to change your job or get a promotion within the organization. We had some fabulous wine and appetizers at Lakeview Wine Bar that has beautiful views of Lake Michigan and is one of my favorite spots in the whole county. We did some negotiating activities and heard from an HR executive at Sargento. The biggest takeaway from that class for me was just that we need to evaluate our wants and needs before going into a negotiation of any kind, be open and honest about our circumstances in life up front and what those needs are, and if we don’t know something, simply ask questions. The hiring process can be a scary thing if you feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells and don’t feel empowered to be open, honest, and ask questions early on in the hiring process, so it was great to get that affirmation from a woman who has done hundreds if not thousands of negotiations over the course of her career.

Learning to Delegate: It’s a Skill

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/04/learning-to-delegate-its-a-skill/

I used to be bad at delegating. In college, I was always the leader of group projects. I wanted an A on every project and wouldn’t accept anything less. I couldn’t let the fate of my grade be decided by others who I deemed less competent or hard working. When things didn’t get done, I would do them myself. I lived the old saying, “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” I got my desired result (I graduated with perfect grades), but I came out of college somewhat distrusting of others’ ability to get things done in the workplace.

Fast forward to almost 6 years into my career as a technical writer. Freedom Cry, the non-profit I volunteer for, was starting to cast the vision for 2018 and it included creating a lot of project teams, one of which I would be the leader of. As I thought about this much-needed change to our organizational structure, I realized that I would have to face my lack of practice in delegating. Up until this point, I had done almost all the external writing and communication projects myself in addition to internal technical writing and record keeping. I would get projects requested of me and sit alone somewhere pounding on my computer until they were completed. This had to change.

I held my first team meeting and came prepared with a list of assignments. I asked my teammates for a refresher on their skills and how they wanted to contribute. I had heard that a good way to manage people is to tell them what is needed and give them the parameters of the project and the resources needed to complete it before setting them loose. That’s what I did. It worked really well. One of my team members even requested that I don’t demand updates constantly on the work she is doing and just let her get to a point in her project where she is ready to send me a really good first draft. I successfully resisted micro-managing.

I’m not the only one who has struggled with delegating. It’s a skill that requires practice, especially for certain personality types. Last month, I attended a presentation from Dr. Alan Patterson who has more than three decades of international consulting experience in change management, leadership development, and executive coaching and has worked with a lot of major household name companies. One of his comments really stuck with me. He said Achiever personality types (of which according to the CliftonStrength Finders test, I am one) really struggle with delegation because they focus on going deep technically within their profession and getting so good at the details that they don’t trust someone else to do the work. He said when these people are given managerial or leadership roles, they often struggle to take their hands off of the details of projects and invest in coaching others. I immediately thought of myself and the transition I’m slowly making to a more managerial type role within Freedom Cry and the excellent growing experience it has been for me.

Do you also struggle with delegation? What experiences can you give yourself to help you grow in this area?

Corporate Giving and Non-Profit Fundraising: Two Perspectives

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/03/corporate-giving-and-non-profit-fundraising-two-perspectives/

Recently I’ve had the opportunity to view charitable giving from two different perspectives, the side of the giver and the side of the receiver. I am serving on the Charitable Giving Committee at work this year and lately, the board of Freedom Cry has been discussing fundraising, so I have gained insight into the act of charitable giving from both sides of the transaction. It has been interesting to understand the motivations of both sides.

 

Non-profits need funding now or yesterday so they can get on with their singular mission. They simply want to be able to provide the services they promise. They need to effectively communicate their mission and success stories and data so that people will be struck with compassion for the suffering of others and motivated to give. They need to prove why their work is valuable.

Corporations want to give back because it’s the right thing to do, yes, but also because it makes them look good and helps them engage and thus retain talented employees which helps their bottom line. After all, for-profit companies are, well, for-profit. Employees want to work for a company that makes them feel good, that provides them with opportunities to be involved in the community or give back. People want to purchase goods and services from companies that they feel are good for society.

 

We see examples all the time in the news of companies losing stock because they are perceived as bad for society. The very recent Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal is an example of that. After it came out that information about Facebook’s users got into the hands of Cambridge Analytica and was used to manipulate their political leanings in the recent presidential election, Facebook’s stock plummeted and some users (including some of my friends) declared they were getting rid of Facebook forever. Facebook doesn’t want to be perceived as contributing to the weakening of American democracy. Companies give back to non-profits and charities in order to be held in high esteem in the public eye and considered trustworthy.

 

What does this mean for companies providing funding and non-profits looking to get funding? It means to be successful we need to understand each other’s motives and goals before we start writing grant applications or looking for worthy non-profits. It’s been very helpful to me to see things from both sides of the equation, because it furthers the goals both of my workplace and my non-profit.

Sheboygan County Chamber of Commerce Focal Point Panel Discussion

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/02/sheboygan-chamber-discussion/

I was invited to attend a focal point panel discussion at the Sheboygan Chamber of Commerce with the four other Sheboygan County Athena Award finalists of 2017 to discuss our thoughts on leadership and mentoring. There were heartfelt stories, tears, tips, and comradery as we gave our audience glimpses into our varied experiences.

One of the honored women was a theater major with an entrepreneurial spirit fostered by a desire to help her young son with his learning disability through playing board games. She created her own unique board game rental business. Another honoree was a lawyer who dreamed of being an FBI agent until circumstances got in her way. Another was a school district superintendent who dared to believe in programs for her kids that would have been cut otherwise. The woman sitting next to me was the HR director for Sargento Foods. She requires that her employees have fun at work, and if they aren’t having fun, she asks them to leave for the day. I was captured by how different our life experiences were, and how we each act as mentors and leaders in our own unique ways.

Read More

Getting Curious about Complaints: Interdepartmental Communication to Solve Problems

http://beckysmiltneek.com/2018/01/proin-in-venenatis-eros/

Complaining at work is usually a negative and potentially annoying way to communicate with coworkers. We usually do it because we need to create a catharsis by blowing off steam or we want to bond with a coworker over our difficulties. However, if examined correctly, complaints can reveal opportunities for improvement that we may not have recognized before. We also may not realize that the coworker we are talking to could actually help effect the solution. This is why interdepartmental communication is so essential.

How do we examine complaints correctly? I found myself in this situation recently. A coworker and friend from a different department came to me complaining. Normally I just nod, listen, and provide verbal affirmation of how terrible it is, but this time I realized that I could potentially help. Without telling her what I was doing, I began to ask her open-ended questions to drill down to the root of the problem. I wanted to help her see how she could take action to change the issue and how I could help. By the end of the conversation, we had determined that the problem could be solved with improved documentation and training and also by further building customers’ overall trust in our expertise as a company. The second solution would need to be addressed by multiple departments and would take time. The first solution was one I could act on immediately since I am on the technical documentation and training team. I offered to add a statement to the appropriate documentation and ask our training coordinator to address the issue with future customers and train them on how to solve it. We left the conversation with next steps for her to get more specific information for me to add to the documentation.

I could tell she was encouraged that we had left the conversation with steps forward to a solution rather than just a bonding experience. None of this would have happened if I had not begun to actively listen for the opportunity for improvement and began to steer the conversation in the direction of identifying the real problem and ways to solve it. I was curious, so I used the effective model of asking “Why?” until the real problem was uncovered. Getting curious about complaints can lead to more effective interdepartmental communication and problem solving.