Three Lessons From My Sabbatical

palmRecently I had the opportunity to participate in our SAP Social Sabbatical Program for Local Engagement. What does that mean? I got to spend several weeks of my time consulting with a local non-governmental organization (NGO) to help solve one of their business challenges.

Chester County Futures is an amazing non-profit organization making a big difference for select, low-income middle school and high school students in Chester County, PA.  Their goal is to empower students through education and prepare them for post-secondary education and future success. We partnered with their team to supplement their 12th grade curriculum with additional coursework.

Before I applied for the program, I assumed this would be an amazing opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, expand my network, and give back to a non-profit organization. Not only did these assumptions hold true but I also came away with so much more.

Here are three powerful lessons I learned through this experience and how you can apply them in your day-to-day work life:

Lesson 1: The Power of a Single, Simple Vision

Whether I was speaking with the finance person or a coordinator or the executive director – there was a single theme that was spoken by everyone at Chester County Futures – it’s all about the kids. A focus so simple yet so powerful. Everyone said this at one time or another and each had a deep connection to this statement. This wasn’t forced – it was believed. There was an inner passion that each person possessed – it was the foundation for everything that they did each day, reflected in the extra mile they’d go to make something happen, the extra time, energy, and resources they’d invest to make the program a success.

The takeaway? Rally your teams behind a single, simple goal and vision and amazing things will happen.

Lesson 2: The Power of Diversity

Our consulting team from SAP and our day-to-day partners at Chester County Futures added up to six individuals with very different backgrounds, skill sets, and experiences. When we were brainstorming solutions, we’d work in small groups and then reconvene with the larger group for feedback and more brainstorming. This collaborative approach let us to some fun discussions and also some very creative ideas. The outcome of this project would not have been strong if we didn’t use the insight from every team member.

The takeaway? Get feedback and input from people who are different than you if you want the best solutions.

Lesson 3: The Power of Speaking Directly with your Customers

When you begin a project, you might have some preconceived notions or beliefs about what the solution will be. For me, I went in with some ideas and assumptions about what the students might need but those were quickly changed after I had the opportunity to sit down with my end customer, the students! This exercise provided the team with perspective, understanding, and empathy while helping us shape a solution that was relevant for students.

The takeaway? Make the extra effort and time to get yourself directly in front of your customers so you can understand their needs and challenges.

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