Today we meet Paula Bell, an ACBA and the new Director of Operations for Bridging the Gap.
From Program Instructor to Program Manager and now to Director of Operations, we are going behind the scenes and sharing exactly what this transition has looked like for Paula and the Bridging the Gap team. Laura shares more about her decision to hire her first full-time employee and how Paula has added immense value to the company in just a few short months.
In this interview, you’ll discover how:
- Laura and Paula initially connected and how their relationship has evolved over the years as Paula’s involvement with Bridging the Gap has grown.
- Paula’s personal goals aligned with Laura’s business goals which made the decision to hire Paula as the new Director of Operations a no brainer.
- The transition into being the first full-time employee of Bridging the Gap is going for Paula and how it’s freed Laura up to serve the business even better.
Laura Brandenburg: Hey there. I’m Laura Brandenburg from Bridging the Gap here today with Paula Bell. Hi, Paula.
Paula Bell: Hello!
Laura Brandenburg: Paula just started as our Director of Operations. When we’re recording this, it’s close to four months ago. By the time you see it, it might be five or six months. We thought it would be fun to record a video about what it’s been like from both of our experiences.
This has been a new role for Bridging the Gap, a new role for Paula and I know for me hearing from other business owners about how they’re building their team is always really exciting and illuminating. I think, also, we have a lot of business analysis business analyst professionals in our community, hearing how that set Paula up for her path to Director of Operations, or if you’re just considering working for a smaller company or exploring different career pivots, it could be really interesting to hear about her journey into this role as well.
We were just going to sit down and chat. We have a few questions and topics we want to cover, but we’re going to just see where this goes.
Paula, we thought it would make sense to start with how we met originally. When we’ve tried to talk about it, we’re both like, “Oh wait, I’m not really quite sure exactly,” but I know it was at a BBC or for those, you know, Building Business Capability conference several years ago now. And I think you were part of a contest, right? You were trying to take pictures with all the speakers.
Paula Bell: Exactly.
Laura Brandenburg: Is that how you remember it?
Paula Bell: I had to send you that picture because when I was looking at pictures, that one just popped up. But yes, it was, maybe, I don’t even know. I can’t even say what year. I’m not even going to try and say what year it was when we met at BBC, but one of the contests that they had so that you could win some sort of gift card was to take pictures with all the different speakers. You were one of the speakers that year. I took a picture with you, but I really believe where we connected was I remember it was the year the Iowa chapter was the Chapter of the Year and we were about to take a picture by the banner.
I was sitting at a table and you were walking over and we just started chatting. That’s initially how it began. It just started with us just chatting. Now what we were chatting about, I can’t tell you, but I know we were chatting about something.
And then from there, that’s all I know. I don’t even know the rest of the story, how we even stayed connected or anything, to be quite honest.
Laura Brandenburg: My recollection, because I can remember the table that you were. I don’t remember the Iowa part, but I remember that. I feel like I came away from that BBC and that connection feeling like I was going to talk to you about being an instructor for Bridging the Gap. Which is really the first way that we officially worked together.
Possibly, at that time we were offering a variety of career mentoring programs as well. It might have been supporting me of those. I feel like you had prior experience in training and instructing as a business analyst. And that just blew my mind. I was like, “Wait, wait, I could have your help with this.”
Paula Bell: I don’t even remember how that connection really happened though. I don’t remember if it was you emailed me or if we connected on a social media platform or what have you. I do remember the initial conversation about being an instructor and what that would be, but I had no idea from there, which was probably about six years ago, I’d be here where I am today. That wasn’t even in my mind, at that point in time.
I almost really looked at being an instructor as simply a side hustle in a way, as a way give back to the BA community, make some extra money. My kids were small at the time, so it was just a good way to bring in some extra income.
Wow. Giving back to the business analyst community, but how it’s morphed since then has been pretty amazing.
Laura Brandenburg: I wish I could say I had the foresight to know we’d be where we are today, but I also had no clue. I think at that time Doug was already an instructor when you joined. I can’t remember.
We had a bit of an instructor team, but definitely not the team that we have today. Definitely not the processes we have today, which we can talk about a little bit too. I must have been looking to expand the team and I know we had a great connection. I just remember feeling really confident about that initial connection.
You shared a little bit about why you took the instructor role. Is there anything else you wanted to share about that? What was appealing about that role for you?
Paula Bell: It was something different. I had not really ever been an official instructor before. I was a mentor and I actually got out of mentoring because at the end of the day, what I found is I was mentoring a lot of people, but I was giving out a lot of resources, but not getting a lot back in. Let’s put it that way. I was trying to build my own business at the time, too. I wanted to expand my business, get more visibility speaking and things of that nature. I had to really prioritize where I wanted to focus. The instructor part was really appealing to me because it took me out of my comfort zone.
A lot of people see me speak and they’ll say, you’re confident, you’re engaging, but what people don’t know is I’m a nervous wreck before I hit the stage. A lot of that is because I used to stutter when I was younger, and so I had a fear of speaking. The instructor was another way for me to speak, but in a different way to where I’m teaching and I’m helping individuals understand concepts and to get things in their minds, change their mindset on certain things, help them increase their toolkit.
I thought it was very interesting, but I will tell you, I remember doing my first instructor hour. That was nerve wracking. Data modeling instructor hours were always the hardest ones. Every time I signed up for one of those, the amount of prep work that I would do, because you just don’t know what people are going to ask you. But I like that because it’s the unknown, that’s where the fear comes in. It was helping me get over that fear, but also giving back to a community.
It was appealing to me for a couple of reasons. Strengthening me as an individual. I was gaining new skills and then I was also able to give back to the BA community as well. I think that’s really what was the appealing part to it. And the Bridging the Gap company, I had respect for. If I was going to put my time and resources into something, I wanted to put it into a company that I respected. Though, I didn’t know everything you offered and everything you did, I knew enough to know that this would be a good place to put my energy. That’s how that started.
Laura Brandenburg: Sure.
Paula Bell: I’m glad you remember the conversation, Laura. I do not remember everything you talked about, but you had a good feeling when you walked away. I love to hear that. I like to hear that people have good energy for me.
Laura Brandenburg: It felt like it was a good decision, for sure.
Paula Bell: What was it about when you walked away from that conversation that was like, “Yeah, she would be an ideal instructor for BPG?”
Laura Brandenburg: I wish I could tell you. That was such a long time ago. But I just remember like a strong gut feeling, you know, how sometimes you can remember how you felt, but you don’t actually remember what happened? That’s how I feel about that. But I will say, to that point, that feeling has continued to evolve and expand as we’ve expanded your role within the company. There’s always just been this gut feeling that Paula would be the great fit for this next thing that’s opening up.
I feel it’s often been your commitment and your dedication and the skills that you bring as well as just your motivation and compassion and passion for the role. There are a lot of factors to that. I’m sure that showed up in that initial conversation, but I can’t say I remember, specifically.
In the early days, for anyone listening, I made many of my instructor hires very much based on my gut. Some of them were amazing and some of them not so much. And now we have a very structured process that we know brings us in great instructors. If you’re watching this and be like, “How do I just get it?” We have an actual process now.
It’s very different. And it also, I think, really helps the instructor understand what’s expected. Because I know when you started, it was like, “Oh, just go ahead and review these workbooks and give them some feedback,” was pretty much the instruction. We’ve come a long, long way, which is a great segue actually, I think, into the program manager role, because that was the next role that you stepped into.
You’d been an instructor for a couple of years and then I opened up this opportunity for a program manager because it was becoming a lot for me to manage the marketing and manage the entire Business Analyst Blueprint® certification program. As we had more instructors coming in, we were starting to see not total inconsistencies, but just people were doing things in different ways. There was not a lot of standardization and so that program kept demanding more from me from a delivery perspective, and I felt like I needed some help there. That’s my recollection of why I originally created that role. I remember sending you this email with like, “Here’s a new role I’m thinking about. I think you’d be great for it. What do you think?” And you were like, “Hmm, I need to think about this one.”
Paula Bell: You’re right. At the time you sent me that role, I was very heavily involved in expanding my own business as well. I think at that point in time, I had rebranded myself for a while to be a martial artist. There were things that I was going into and delving into and I was working a full-time job. I was like, oh, good grief. How am I going to handle all of this?
I was hesitant at first when I saw everything. I think, initially, I might even have passed or I worded it in such a way where it came off as I had said, no. And then you were like, “Well, let’s talk about this for a little bit. Let’s go through it and let’s talk about it and let’s see if there, because there were so many different things.” I think I had made a comment, “Are some of these items, something that others can do that’s not necessarily on me?” We went through it. And when we started to go through it and talk through the actual expectations in that role and we started to think about who else on the team could potentially do some of the items, it began to become more feasible for me to do.
Because what I didn’t want to do was take on a role and not give what was needed for that role and not be successful in that role with everything else I had going on, because I was still very focused on expanding my business because my goal was to leave corporate. I had that goal in my mind that I wanted to leave corporate America and I wanted to go into roles that more aligned with what I wanted to do with my life going forward.
I’m glad I did it. It wasn’t nowhere as much as I thought it was going to be. We came up with a really good process to get things done, and we started getting more consistency and standardization, like you said, and the instructors were all in. The instructors are phenomenal. The feedback from the instructors and the insights and the things that we should do to change was great.
We did our own business analysis on our own business analysis platform. We were doing BA work as well and it’s been great. At first, it was a little bit, again, challenging because I went into the role and now I’m going a little bit deeper into your business. Being an instructor is one thing. Okay. I have a workbook, I have guidelines, I have things that I need to look at. Okay. Now you want me to actually run the Blueprint delivery, the Blueprint program delivery. And I’m like, I don’t know. I’m not into the actual scheduling and all that.
I remember being on a call where creating a schedule would take us hours, and now we’ve got that thing down to such a well-oiled machine. I can knock out a schedule in 30 minutes to an hour and get the next schedule ready for the next session. It’s been the things that we’ve been able to do to elevate the company to the next level, to provide phenomenal and exceptional service. For the customers we serve, it has been great to watch and know that I was a part of that.
Groundbreaking has been kind of amazing too, because I don’t think I’ve sat down enough just to think about…we’ve done a lot. I’ve only been with the company for five to six years. It hasn’t been like I’ve been with you for 25 years. I’ve only been with you for five to six years and we transformed three times in that five to six years, and we continue to. It’s pretty amazing.
I was honored for you to think that I would be great for that next role, because I know when I started as an instructor, I was making some mistakes and things of that nature. But when you came to me with that, I mean, why did you feel that that was the next step for me, that I would be the next good fit? Because you had other instructors. Why did you feel that I would’ve been the next good fit for that role?
Laura Brandenburg: What stood out to me, specifically, for that was because we have, obviously, all of our instructors are great business analysts, otherwise, training other business analysts isn’t a great fit. I don’t remember exactly what you did, but it also just was apparent to me, you were also a great project manager. The program manager role, yes, there was like procedure development, but it was also very much a project management role. I feel like that has also carried you into the Director of Operations role. It’s also very much a project management role. I saw you as somebody who could wear both of those hats very well.
I don’t exactly remember what it was that you were doing at the time that showed that to me, but I know you do. You were doing event planning. There was a confidence I had in your project management abilities that, to me, made you stand out for that particular role.
And I would say in addition to that, I don’t know if I was aware of it at the time, consciously, but maybe unconsciously, your leadership and ability to manage others and build relationships with others and just the teamwork part of it, which has been essential as we’ve grown as well.
Paula Bell: That’s a hard thing. When you are working with your peers and then you actually ask all your questions to Paula. You don’t go to Laura or to the ops team. You go to Paula. I’ve had that happen in my career before and sometimes that’s hard when you’re like a peer and then now you’re the lead and just going into that.
What was really cool though, is all the instructors were all supportive about it, all behind it, loved it. And the ops team too. I didn’t have that feeling as if anybody felt slighted or anything like that. It was sort of a totally different shift where it was all about the support.
The same thing happened when I moved into the DOO role. The support was amazing on the team because, again, you just don’t know and everybody was just, “This will be amazing for you. This will be awesome for you to do.” It does, it feels good when that happens. I think that was probably, maybe, my biggest concern is how would the team take it as I’ve made these shifts. But we have such a great culture here that it’s not about competition or anything like that. It’s just doing what you love to do. And that’s amazing in itself. The environment’s amazing.
Laura Brandenburg: I do have a question for you that I would think other people thinking about this way of making a pivot might be wondering. I know you get this a lot. How do you do everything you do? How did you manage to work a full-time job, build your own business, and you were working in the program manager role. It was like five to 10 hours a week. I remember one of the things I felt really strongly about was we need to have meetings during the day. I’m not able to do evening meetings for this role. We still have instructor meetings sometimes in the evening, but our day to day interaction needed to be during daytime hours. I know that was not an easy thing to sign up for initially. How did you make all that work?
Paula Bell: I do get asked this question a lot. How on earth are you able to do all the things you do and you have to manage your kids? I have kids too, and a family too, have all that involved. Really and truly, you have to set boundaries, you have to prioritize. And I am run by my calendar. If it’s not on my calendar, it pretty much doesn’t exist. I literally put everything on my calendar. And when it comes to work, how it worked really well is because in my day job, I worked with so many different time zones. A lot of my meetings would happen mid-morning up into early afternoon and then I would be pretty much okay.
When it came to certain meetings, we had 1:1 or webinars that I needed to be on. I just needed to make sure those were on my calendar early enough. The thing that was good for me is I was in a position in my day job, high enough, where I could control my calendar, where I can say I have another meeting over the lunch hour or something like that.
And then there were sometimes I couldn’t. Because of where I was in the organization, I had to be on certain calls, especially if issues came up or something like that. It’s just having that flexibility. And then having a backup plan. Having people that can help you and support you if you can’t be there or being flexible.
You were really good on being flexible. We were able to rearrange things relatively easy. But for those things we couldn’t rearrange, like kickoff meetings, recap webinar, credibility boosters, I would put those on my calendar ahead of time. If somebody would schedule something over it, I just couldn’t make it because those meetings weren’t meetings that happened every single week. It happened once in a five month period. I didn’t feel as bad about that when I did that.
But I would have to tell people is you have to set boundaries. I have watched people say, “Well, I can’t tell them I can’t be on this meeting,” or, “I can’t do this.” And I’ll ask them. “Why?” And a lot of times it’s just fear. Because they feel that if they say they can’t do something, they’re going to get in trouble for it. But there were times, and I didn’t explain. I would just say I have another meeting; I have a conflict. I didn’t have to go into a ton of details. But it is a little bit different depending on what type of role you have. If you’re trying to do a day job and do a side hustle, depending on where you are in the organization, your options may be limited on how flexible you can be.
But I think because of where I stood in the organization, I had a little bit more flexibility on my calendar, even though to be quite honest, people still put stuff on the calendar, regardless of what you said, but I would send a delegate or have somebody else cover for me. But it is a lot of prioritization, setting boundaries, saying no. All of that.
You saw my journey of saying no, because I was very bad at saying no when I started with Bridging the Gap and now I don’t have a problem with it, going forward. You’ve seen my journey of the things that I’ve had to implement to be able to do the things that I want to do, even with my business and things, things of that nature.
It’s been, definitely set your boundaries and let them be. And prioritize your time. And as long as you’re delivering and you’re producing what you need to produce, a lot of managers are cool. As long as you get your job done, just get your job done. But if you’re not a good performer, that’s where you’re going to come into issues, because they’re going to say, well, if you can’t even do this, how are you doing this and that? So, that could be a problem.
Laura Brandenburg: I think that makes a lot of sense. There were times we had to adjust something which was fine. That was part, I think for me, one of the big shifts to the Director of Operations role, realizing I can ask Paula to meet anytime. Not anytime, because you still have other things going on, but there was definitely that constraint on my end knowing as a business, we have her five to 10 hours a week, so I can’t just on a whim say, “Paula, let’s have a meeting on Thursday,” and have it happen. We need to plan these in advance. There needs to be flexibility.
From a business owner perspective, I think it’s a great asset to have people who are doing side hustles. There’s some flexibility that’s required to make it work on your end, as well. It was important to me to be clear on what my boundaries were because I knew I didn’t want to be doing evening or weekend type work for the most part, but I could have some flexibility during the day. That’s where our medium was in terms of meeting each other’s boundaries.
Paula Bell: You’re right. You’re definitely right.
Laura Brandenburg: I feel like we should shift gears to the Director of Operations role. Was there anything you wanted to say about program manager?
Paula Bell: Oh, no. Let’s definitely go to the DOO role.
Laura Brandenburg: The exciting part.
Paula Bell: Yes.
Laura Brandenburg: This has been, like, I feel that it was something that I had wanted in my business for at least a few years. And always just felt like the real grown up entrepreneurs had Director of Operations or Integrators or Chief of Staff, whatever they called them. It had been there in the back of my mind for a long time. And then, my recollection, I remember putting it on an org chart and being like, “It’s happening next year.” This was probably in 2021. And presenting it to our core team, “Just so you know, I think next year is going to be the year that I hire for it. If you’re interested, let me know.” And you were like, “Laura, I’m interested in that.” That’s my memory. Is that how you…?
Paula Bell: You’re right. You had it on an org chart and then I don’t know if I said it on that call or if I would’ve said it in our one to one, but I do remember saying, “I am interested in it, because this would be a great transition for me to get out of corporate.”
Now let me be clear. You are still corporate. You’re corporate America. I just don’t put you in the same as I put other corporate America. The reason I say that is because the culture is very different here. What I was really trying to get away from was working in a culture where I just felt I couldn’t strive to my optimal, to what I know I could do, and I really wanted focus on my own business because I love what I do in my own business. And at some point, you have to break away in order to focus on that. And I felt when you had this, I was like, this actually could be a really good thing to do.
The reason I thought it was a good thing to do, there were a couple of reasons, some of it was selfish and then others was, you know. Selfishly, I did want to leave my day job. I did want to get out of that. It was time. It was time for me to leave. My kids were about to graduate from high school, and I’d always said when they graduated from high school, I wanted to shift into doing my own business.
What I thought was interesting about this role is the way, also, our companies kind of work together in a way. You do training. I don’t have to do BA training. I could send my clients who might be interested in that, go to BTG. It’s already created. I don’t need to do this. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel.
You don’t do the coaching aspect of it. That’s the part I love. I love the coaching aspect of getting to know people, interacting with them, helping them work on projects and stuff. I was like, this could be a great segue into me actually doing what I want to do; leaving corporate, but I’m still involved in a company that aligns with my values and the things that I like, and I can still help.
I have a loyalty to Bridging the Gap. It wasn’t like I could just leave Bridging the Gap that easy. I mean, you probably have to fire me. It’s not like I’m just going to come up one day and say, “Laura, I’m done. I just want to quit.” Right? No. I just don’t see that. You’re so supportive. The majority of the instructors…No, I probably can’t say the majority. A few of the instructors have their own businesses as well. And you’re always supportive of that. It’s never felt like a competition and it’s really rare to get in a culture like that where you can do your own thing and still work and it’s not feeling like we’re in competition with each other. We’re doing our thing.
It was exciting for me to have the opportunity, but you’re right. That’s how I saw it on the chart. I was like, “Really, she’s going to go full time?” “We’re going to a full time position. Hmm. This might work. Let’s talk about this a little bit.” And then to hear you say to me as you were thinking through it and whatnot, I think you were a little bit shocked that I was actually interested.
Because when I said it you were like, “You are, I think this would be the next perfect role for you.” And I was like, “Okay.” And then here goes the selfish part. I really didn’t have to interview for it. And that was great for me. I was burnt out on interviewing. I really didn’t have to interview for it because I was already a part of it. It just worked. It’s just that sort of next level promotion where I could do even more, understand the business even more.
We’re going to go into what scared us after the fact, but it has been challenging. There have been challenges as we’ve been doing this. I don’t think it was as smooth as me moving into the Program Manager position.
Laura Brandenburg: Right.
Paula Bell: This one has been a little bit more bumpy. We’re still good. It’s just been a little bit different.
Laura Brandenburg: Well, and it was. I felt like the Program Manager, from a business perspective, there was a safeness in having you work that five to 10 hours a week. It was a safe kind of level, or it was an incremental upgrade from a project perspective. Whereas bringing you on full-time, like you are my first full-time employee. You came in with a very fair, but also bigger salary than I’ve paid for anyone. Makes perfect sense. But also that was scary for me. It actually still feels a little scary for me. I’m sure you can hear the energy of it. Because I was like, what if I hire this person and then something happens and we can’t sustain the role? There are just all the what ifs came up for me, for sure. That was part of what scared me. It was that, but also I think my tendency to avoid conflict.
I knew that in a contractor, even though we have a great relationship, there’s just a difference that happens between a contractor role and a full-time employee where I knew I needed to express what I really wanted and be clear about what I really wanted or correct if something went off. I just needed to hold myself to being really proactive with that communication.
I would say one of the things I was scared of before was just not doing that and then feeling like I was burying resentments or things like that. That’s more of a tip for others. We’ve been real. I feel like we’ve had many conversations and we prioritized that before. You didn’t interview, but we had a two-hour conversation where we talked about what our motivations were, what we were scared about and what we were going to do to overcome it. We had these big, big conversations that I think set us up for success and continued to invest in those conversations on an ongoing basis because it doesn’t work any other way.
Paula Bell: A hundred percent agreeing. Some of those conversations are hard conversations too, because one of the things that I think scared me was, again, I was leaving this job that I’d been in for 15 and a half years. I’m making a massive career pivot. What I say by that is I’m going into a totally different role. Totally different industry, which is fine. I’d been working in it, but it was a risk because you just don’t know what you don’t know.
There’s a safety that you have working for a Fortune 500 company versus working for a smaller company where you’re the first full-time employee. There are financial considerations and all those sort of things that you have to take into consideration, and trade-offs and things that you have to think about.
But to me, what I’ve learned is there’s nothing better than having peace and really enjoying the environment you work in. It doesn’t make sense to work in an environment where you feel lousy all the time. You don’t like to get up and go to work because you’re just getting a paycheck. I’m so over that at this point. I want to work in an environment where I can thrive. This is a little bit different because for me, in my previous roles I have a certain function that I’ve been over and that’s it. I am over multiple things in this DOO role.
I remember telling you point blank, “Laura. I do not want to be over technology. I don’t want to deal with your technology. I don’t want to troubleshoot the technology. I don’t want to do technology.” It’s not that I’m scared of technology. It’s just that I know in my own business, I manage all of my tech. I know what that takes and what that is. I just didn’t think I had the bandwidth to do more of that.
Whereas I’m now looking at sales, I’m looking at projections, I’m looking at forecasting, I’m looking at strategic initiatives, I’m managing projects, I’m doing work, I’m writing standard operating procedures, I’m creating process models. I’m leading all the project calls; I’m leading all the ops teams calls. I’m leading the instructor meeting calls. It was all of this other stuff. And, granted, I have a learning curve because I don’t understand how everything is set up in Bridging the Gap and understanding what it takes to drive the Blueprint.
The launch was very eye-opening. What it takes to launch the Blueprint. All the different promotionals and things that you do. And even though I understand the concepts, because I do a lot of this in my own business, it’s not my business. I didn’t create it. And so I have this learning curve.
This is actually the thing that was really rough for me, especially the last couple of months, was I feel like I’ve gone into entry level mindset again, because I worked in a company where I knew the stakeholders. I knew the culture. I knew how to get the information I needed. I knew who to talk to. If I didn’t know the answer, I automatically knew who to go to. I knew where to look and that’s a little bit different with what I’m doing now for Director of Operations right.
Now, I’m like, “Okay, where do I find this information? Who do I reach out to?” I pretty much know who I reach out to, but it’s just finding the information and putting the stuff together and understanding that in addition, making sure I’m not dropping the ball on anything that needs to get done for the day.
It’s a lot of balancing. I do believe I’ve gotten better. I still think there’s work to be done, though, because I’m trying to, again, with the learning curve, I’m documenting a lot of things. That takes time. And then customer support, all that takes time. I’m trying not to be too hard on myself either or be too critical on myself because it’s only been since I started in, what, April. I’ve only been here for three, four months. It’s not like if I’ve been doing this for a while, but I try not to be too critical of myself, but it has definitely been just a different mind shift, a mental shift. Do I regret any of it? No. Are there times when I’ve been disappointed on how things went and what’s happened? Of course. That was even when I worked in my corporate job, of course.
I think for me, it hurts more when you’re in a culture that you really, really love and you have that loyalty and respect for someone and you feel like you’ve let them down because of something you’ve missed.
For me, when I worked in my corporate job, we were missing stuff all the time. That was just a part of the culture. It was just like, “We missed this one again. How are we going to fix?” We all jump on a call, but this one was a little bit different because we are pretty well-oiled machine and the things that I knew, I’m coming into something I don’t know that is typically a well-oiled machine, and we messed up me parts of it as we’re learning. That was the hard part, I think, for me to figure out. How could I stop that from happening? Well, I don’t know how I could have stopped that from happening because I’m juggling 15 other things. I don’t know how I could have made that any better.
Laura Brandenburg: I have the same questions around, I mean, I think on the learning curve part, I would say because we also had some other team transition. And so we lost that background knowledge. That, from a CEO perspective, required more from me than I was expecting, because in my mind it’s just clear. We’ve been talking about this for a while or it’s documented. And then I would feel that way. And then I would get in a meeting with you and other team members and it would be very apparent to me it wasn’t as clear as it felt in my head, and that we did need to talk through things.
It makes sense to me that things got…this doesn’t even feel quite like the right word. There were things or challenges that popped up and some of them just happened. And I think what really stood out to me, though, was how you led the team to figuring out how to problem solve and troubleshoot and kept to that positive culture in place. Because there was a few times when I had a little bit of like frustration too, and you were able to hold the energy of the positive culture, which is something I usually really pay attention to holding the energy for.
That was unexpected for me to be able to relax a little bit around always needing to hold that energy and to have somebody who can also hold that energy, or at this point, like, “Laura, I’ve got this, you just go do whatever you need to do to get yourself right. I’ll take care of this.”
I’m still learning how to shift out of feeling like I need to hold both, energetically, the company and all the things that need to get done, because my way of managing all the things that needed to get done was very different than yours. Yours is much more methodical and much more action based. That’s what’s going to help us grow going forward. Not me having it all in my head and thinking things through.
There’s a transition period as you go through that. And we’re in that right now, in the thick of it. And we’ve gone through a lot of it. I’m sure there’s still more to come. It’s exciting to me because I know what’s on the other side is worth it. We have built, already, a much stronger company because of it. And we’re continuing to get stronger because of it.
Paula Bell: 100% agree. It was a little bit, no matter what challenge we had, we definitely rose above it and we work well together. I think I can read you pretty well to where I know where your energy is at the time and I have to offset it. I think we offset each other good too. If I’m having a day or you’re having a day because of things that are going on, or for example, when I had COVID, it was sort of like, okay, everybody leave Paula alone because she can’t function, because she really can’t and we’re going to handle this until she comes back.
We do that for each other all the time. We give each other that sort of space to be able to have your moments where you’re not 100% at your optimal self because we’re human. I do think that’s great.
Because of culture, that’s what makes a difference. That’s one thing I think we should mention here too because I’ve talked about it quite a bit. Culture makes all the difference in the world. And the last two instructors we hired, one of the items that they both brought up consistently was they wanted to be a part of our culture.
What I would love to hear from you that might help other organizations or corporations is how on earth did you build this culture? It’s like the optimal culture you want to work in. And I’m not just saying this because I work for you. It really is. It’s like everybody respects each other. We know what the expectations are. We know what your vision is. We know what your values are. And we continue to review them every single month. We keep that front of mind. We know the type of environment you want to create. We want the interactions to be as positive energy as possible. Even with challenging situations and scenarios, we still try and keep it positive.
How did you build that? How did you create that culture? Because I think a lot of companies want to create it. And you have diversity on your team. Can I also throw that in there? You have diversity on your team. You have diversity from ethnicity, from gender, from age, from skill set, from industry. How did you build that?
Laura Brandenburg: I wish I could give you the 3-step or 10-step formula. I honestly asked myself this question because you’ve asked me this before and I’m like, I don’t know. I would say the value; you called out the values. I think that was a key piece, but we’ve really only got those written down like three years ago. I feel like those were a formalization and recognition of these are the values that have been in place in this company for a while. Now we can share them and talk about them.
If I had to identify something, I would say maybe it’s showing up with authenticity with people and not trying to be somebody I’m not and being really clear about what the business is for and why we’re doing what we’re doing. That’s always been really clear to me. The people that we’re serving, the mission that we have to help people really build a practical skill set. I feel like that and the transformations we see people go through really does gel the team, because they feel like they’re part of something that’s bigger.
You mentioned it right at the beginning, this is meaningful work. It was like an outcome. You were giving back. Yes, you’re profiting. Obviously, everybody on the team is getting paid for what they do. Hopefully it feels like that’s a fair compensation. But you’re also doing work that feels meaningful and has a positive outcome. That was important to me when I started the business is that I was doing work that mattered to me because I had left a corporate job where I felt like the work I did really didn’t have an outcome that I cared about.
You layer a toxic environment on top of that and it’s like, why am I spending all my time doing something I don’t enjoy for an outcome that doesn’t matter to me and being treated like crap. I knew I wanted the antithesis of that. I had no idea it would become what we have today, but it was like the impetus behind starting Bridging the Gap. It’s really been just one step at a time. How do I make this decision in a way that fulfills that vision?
I would say, I guess, that’s the other piece of it. It’s been very incremental. The vision has been there, the vision has expanded and it’s just been like, how do we deal with this challenge in front of us with the tools and the people we have and bring my best to it? Not like some grand scheme every single time.
There are places where we’ve made corrections in the culture. Like we’ve made corrections to certain team members and we’ve made corrections in how we hire instructors because we had some great fits and some not so great fits. Also, just being able to make those corrections when you see it’s not a good fit and to kind of see the truth of that. Those are some of the hardest decisions that I’ve had to make, to be honest. But often they are the most impactful as well.
I will say for you, Paula, you were a big part of that instructor hiring process, which to me, it does define a lot of our culture, like how we hire for instructors. I also think how we hire has helped create diversity because it creates a very level playing field. Everybody is assessed according to the same rubric using the same questions. It’s very standardized. There’s this level playing field that helps take unconscious bias out of the process so that the most qualified candidates end up getting hired.
That has, organically, led to a lot of diversity on the team. That’s my perception of how we’ve created diversity. It hasn’t been like a strategic thing. I feel like there’s probably desire there, but it hasn’t been like, “Oh, I need to hire this person to feel like we are representing. That’s not how people want to be treated anyway. I don’t think anybody wants to be the person who represents this specific thing on a company. You want to be hired because you’re qualified and that’s what that process does.
Paula Bell: Right. 100% agree. We have done a ton of work over the last few years on just how we make sure that everything we do is done with integrity and credibility. Even if people don’t necessarily understand it or agree, that’s okay, but I know I can go to bed or look at myself in a mirror knowing we’re doing our due diligence and we’ve done the right thing. We’re not for everybody, but for those that engage and participate it’s, it’s been a great community. And there’s been great work that’s been done.
Being in this role, if there are other business analysts out there, or even project managers, I mean, I’m a living witness right here on how you pivot. I’ve been in many different industries. I started my career as a software engineer back in the late nineties. And then I moved into, I was a help desk analyst. Then I was a business analyst when it wasn’t even known at that time. They called me an Integration Specialist and I formally got trained and was a business analyst.
I just moved into so many different industries and in so many different roles and it all started, I personally feel, I just had business analysis skill set in my DNA. It always came easy to me. It wasn’t really hard. When I did the formal training, I was like, “Oh, this is easy,” when I watch other people really struggle make an E R D or a use case diagram. Wire frames was really easy to me. It just made sense to me.
I’ve been able to take all of these skills and build my own company and it started out as event planning. That’s when the project management came in. I was able to do my own company and I rebranded myself multiple times to where I am today. And it’s all using the project management and business analysis skills that I’ve had with the technical skills as well. All of that’s been transferable, not knowing back then that I would be in a company, well, and CEO of my own company and DOO of another company in the business analysis space serving BAs, serving project managers and not knowing that at that time. It’s kind of funny how life does that.
You can do it. You don’t have to necessarily be in a BA role. You don’t have to stay in a BA role. You can serve business analysts in many different ways and you can use the skills in many different ways. And that’s what’s been great about this. I’ve been able, now it’s not like I, I don’t really do instructor hours. I do some webinars. I don’t do the teaching webinar. I’m not doing the teaching anymore. I’m not reviewing workbooks unless the second level review. That’s what the team’s doing. I’m more now I’m strategic. To me, it’s more like the strategic leadership sort of role, which is fun that I get to do, some days, not so much, but most days it is right.
There are some days it’s a little bit challenging than others, but it’s still the goal and the culture is what is what keeps me going. If I mess up, I would rather mess up in this company than mess up somewhere else, because I feel like it’s more of a grace that you get a little bit, unless you keep doing the same thing over and over again, but it’s more that grace.
And even when we have those days that have been challenging, we’re human. We have our emotions; we have those things. We’re always able to come back. We bounce back relatively quick. We’ll bounce back either in a couple of hours or by the next day, it just depends on when the scenario happens, but we bounce back pretty quick and then we get back on. What do we need to do to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future? It’s just the way we work really well together.
What’s also amazing is how we are both pretty savvy at, even if we’re having those scenarios, we’ve got to do a webinar, we can get on that webinar. We’ll be just as happy and positive as all get out, though we just had a challenging scenario that hit, but nobody will ever see it because we’re just on there and we’re back. We bring that.
Laura Brandenburg: The show must go on.
Paula Bell: Exactly. It must go on. And, again, to your point, if either one of us are at a point where we need that break, we both know that and we can give that. If you’re not up to it, I’ll be like, you go do what you need to do. I’ve got this. I’ll take care of it. And we just keep it moving and give each other that space that’s needed. It’s been great. The first four months have been great. There were a couple of days, again, we had some challenges and stuff like that, but we worked through them. That’s it.
Laura Brandenburg: Tell me about the best part, because we’ve talked kind of about the challenging and the scary, I feel like. Not that we’ve dwelled on the negative, but what’s the best part of having made this move?
Paula Bell: Let’s do talk about that. One of the best is the flexibility, the time flexibility. Let me tell you, when I worked in my day job, I was on meetings all the time. I mean, it was like. I swear, we had meetings just to figure out when the next meeting was going to be. It was just constant meetings to where I didn’t feel like I was able to be productive.
What I love is how we have it structured. We don’t have meetings on Monday mornings and we very rarely have a meeting on a Friday at all. I feel like I have some days that are just work days and then we are very intentional on the type of meetings that we have and how many.
If we institute another meeting, is there another meeting we can get rid of because now that’s being captured in this meeting that we’re implementing? The flexibility of time in my calendar has been great where I don’t feel like if I have a doctor’s appointment, it’s the end of the world. I have to rush through my doctor’s appointment because I have to be on this call because if Paula is not on this call, we can’t have the call. I don’t feel that sort of pressure. The flexibility of time and of the culture has been freeing. I don’t feel as stressed and as tense.
I get up, come into my office, I do my work. After I exercise or eat breakfast or what have you, or eat breakfast while I’m doing my work, but I just get it and I get it and I do my thing. I have control of my schedule and how I can work.
And then the ability to just take time, myself. Again, we got done with the launch and it was really interesting when you said to me last Friday. Well, you know, Paula, you know, we’ve been working really hard the last couple of weeks. If you want to head out early, because I had Monday off, on Friday do that. I’m not used to that. I’m not used to having that. I was like, “Really I can leave early?” That’s a thing? I can do that and not be bothered and not feel bad about it and not feel guilty about it?” And it was great because I checked out at 1:00 and nobody sent me anything, because I was checking. Nobody sent me anything until I came back in the office on Tuesday, and it was pretty cool to be able to just take that time and do that.
Just, again, the culture, the time, flexibility, the ability you allow me to do my own thing. You do not micromanage me. You’re not looking. “Okay. Is Paula online? What is Paula doing today?” and whatnot. Are there things that you’re looking at to make sure that we don’t miss? Yes, but I think that’s normal because you’re trying to make sure that these things that we may not know that have been checked in the past, they’re getting checked.
To me, that makes sense. I don’t look at that as micromanagement. I’m just looking at that as transition items. But you don’t really do that. You always ask me if I, this is nothing I’m not used to either, you always say, “Are you available for this meeting at such and such time?” Usually people just put the meeting on my calendar, don’t ask me anything and that’s it. But you actually ask, “Can you do this meeting?” And I’m like, “Well, Laura, if you require me to be on the meeting, just tell me I need to be on the meeting.” But that’s not how you roll because you don’t know what else I have on my calendar. You don’t know if I’m doing a quarterly connect with an instructor. You don’t know if I’m having a meeting with another ops team member. You don’t know. The simple fact that you ask me is kind of cool.
How we do meetings is really cool too. I don’t have that stress of I have to give up something to be able to do everything. That’s been me of the exciting things. I don’t have the stress that I had. I do have some stress. You naturally have stress as you do work, but I just don’t have the amount of stress I used to have. And I feel like I’m more productive where I can create things.
I know Monday morning and Fridays; I can at least have those days to create. And my Tuesday, Wednesdays and Thursdays sometimes are busy, but I still have days to be productive and I like that, and I hope that doesn’t ever change. I kind of like that flow.
Laura Brandenburg: Well, that’s awesome. It’s so gratifying to hear that.
Also, as a business owner to have been in a position to create a position for somebody else to have that is pretty awesome.
I will say that’s one of the things I like the most about as we’ve grown with Bridging the Gap, both for this opportunity, but also instructors, just being able to see people get excited about the work and create these opportunities that didn’t exist before, because our business is supporting that. That has been really exciting to me.
One of the things I’m most excited about with having you in the DOO role, it’s so funny that you mentioned, there was a shift when like, oh, I can actually, if I need to talk to Paula tomorrow, most likely we’re going to be able to talk tomorrow. Where before that whole needing to plan ahead or only feeling like I could use so much of your time because you had, obviously, other commitment. But I knew, I just had that sense of your form of energy in our company was going to make such a big difference and it has.
Just seeing the level of documentation and standardization and the resources that are coming out of that, it feels, for the first time, like everything that’s flowing through my head and out that we’re talking about, things are getting created from that. It’s not just that work is getting done, but like also it’s getting put in place in a way that other people could do it if they needed to. It’s being improved along the way. And it’s been really cool to see that unfold as well. And I know we’re just getting started because, obviously, there has been a learning curve.
When you think about what’s going to be possible six, 12 months from now when the learning curve is in the past, then we’re creating new things. I think our synergy’s really going to enable a lot of exciting things as we go forward.
Paula Bell: I agree. It’s interesting as well, because I manage quite a few different projects and one of the things that I love that we do too, is I’m like, okay, Laura, we have all this going on. Let’s think about prioritizing again because I want to make sure I’m not dropping the ball on anything. It’s just being able to have those conversations and reevaluating and reprioritizing and the ability to do it quite quickly and, and whatnot. And to have a team, a tech team, a marketing team, that’s just really big on delivering the value that we want to bring to the customers we serve. It’s just amazing to watch.
And, again, no matter what, it’s just a great team to work with, because everybody’s just so motivated and positive and optimistic and just really passionate about the work that we do in the company. And that’s just awesome. It’s awesome to see.
If there’s one thing that I don’t ever want to change, I don’t ever want that culture to change because the culture is what’s going to drive the right people in and we just want to make sure that we continue to keep that culture going, because there’s something about the culture, because everybody mentions it. That’s the reason why they want to come to BTG, because of the culture. It feels like a family and we are a family. A true family. We’re not just saying we’re family. We truly are family. I mean, we truly look out for each other and we want to make sure everybody’s okay.
Laura Brandenburg: All right. Well, I feel like we have probably talked way longer than we were expecting to in this interview. Do you have any last words that you want to share before we close things out?
Paula Bell: I can’t think of anything outside of, thank you for the opportunity. Thank you for giving me a position in life where I actually enjoy working all day now. It doesn’t feel like I’m actually working though, because I enjoy what I’m doing.
Even when I’m done with Bridging the Gap and I move into my own company, the same energy is still there because I love what I do. It’s not like, oh, I’m finally doing what I love in my company. Thank you for creating that opportunity and having the faith that I was the right person and the right fit for that even though I did question it a couple of times the last couple of weeks, but we pulled through it and everything’s good. I do want to just say, thanks. Thank you for that. I appreciate that.
Laura Brandenburg: Well, thank you for stepping in and I feel like your decision to say yes to that Program Manager role, which I remember that moment, that got us to where we are today. That really allowed our relationship to grow and expand. I know that that was a big thing to step into, and I just appreciate you stepping in every step of the way.
If there’s another business owner out there, I think, maybe the takeaway is get really clear on what you want in the role and why it’s important to you and always the building of those relationships, because you just never know who on your team is going to be the next person that can be elevated.
Paula Bell: Agreed.
Laura Brandenburg: All right. Well, thank you so much for listening. I hope that you found this valuable. If you have questions about it, feel free to leave a comment below wherever you’re watching this or reading this. We’d love to hear from you.
Paula Bell: Exactly.
Laura Brandenburg: All right. Thanks everyone. Thank you, Paula.
Paula Bell: Bye everyone. Bye Laura.
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