Betsy Smith

Communication Enthusiast

Location: Washington, DC

"Every day is a chance to be the best version of myself and the times I do lean in are when I’m most proud and effective."

I joined an East Coast tech startup as a customer service trainer at a challenging time for the department. We were completely swallowed by consumer demand. When I heard we were opening a large call center in Arizona, I was relieved. When I learned they wanted me to help get it up and running, I was ecstatic.

I had been peripherally involved in developing the curriculum, but the process of writing lessons was far from collaborative. I remember being surprised when I had to ask to be included in training meetings. I wish I had known then the power of being charmingly assertive. Instead, I leaned back; assuming others with more responsibility didn’t want my opinion.

Upon arriving in Arizona, it took less than a week to realize we were wildly unprepared. Our training was full of assumptions, knowledge gaps and entirely lacked assessment of learning. The low point was hearing the director of our call center say: “What you’ve put together is a mess. We can’t re-do everything, but you have to fix this. Explain to me how you’re going to get through the next two days of training. We can talk about a more sustainable plan this weekend.”

Though I was embarrassed and disappointed, I’d never felt more engaged at work. I knew it was time to lean in – to face the failure so we could make real improvements. I was shocked when others didn’t have the same reaction. I could tell most of the team was overwhelmed and paralyzed, so despite being junior, I inserted myself as a facilitator, peacekeeper and advocate.

We managed to survive the first wave of new hires, but we only had one week to prepare before the next group of fifty started. It was terrifying. In four days we ripped apart the deeply flawed curriculum, reorganized topics, wrote at least a dozen new lessons, and added assessments. The revised training was a patchwork product, but one we hoped would be far more effective.

I was pleased, but not satisfied, when we saw immediate success with the new curriculum. For the next two months I spent my days delivering training and my nights iterating. I worked hours I can still hardly believe, and mostly, it wasn’t fun at all. There were many times I wanted to say “good enough,” but I’m so glad I never did. I tried to execute with a flourish, which paid off by how much better our students understood their roles and our steady increase in customer satisfaction.

What I learned through this experience is I will always have a constant stream of opportunities to lean in. Every day is a chance to be the best version of myself and the times I do lean in are when I’m most proud and effective.