Jill Semegran of Notion Consulting: “Optimism is key”

Optimism is key. I can’t think of a better example of how important it is to have an optimistic attitude than right now. As we are faced with a global pandemic, uncertainty looms all around us in both our professional and personal lives. Despite this uncertainty, more than ever, we need to demonstrate grace, seek […]

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Optimism is key. I can’t think of a better example of how important it is to have an optimistic attitude than right now. As we are faced with a global pandemic, uncertainty looms all around us in both our professional and personal lives. Despite this uncertainty, more than ever, we need to demonstrate grace, seek silver linings, and continue to be aspirational and optimistic.

As a part of my series about “Grit: The Most Overlooked Ingredient of Success” I had the pleasure of interviewing Jill Semegran.

Jill Semegran has more than 20 years of Change Management expertise. Her clients describe her as a real “go-getter” who can accomplish anything she sets her mind to. She is a versatile, flexible and collaborative leader and team player and is committed to delivering quality and results.

Jill has worked with several Fortune 50 companies to lead “total change management solutions” including learning and development strategy and implementation, strategic communications, process design, workshop design and facilitation, change implementation, and measurement. Jill has both an entrepreneurial spirit and big-company experience. Prior to joining Notion, she spent 11 years running her own consulting practice; and prior to that Jill spent time working at Omnicom and Accenture.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what events have drawn you to this specific career path?

The old adage, “everything happens for a reason” certainly rings true when describing how I entered into the career of Change Management. At the ripe age of 21 as a college senior embarking on the job hunt and interview process, a partner at Andersen Consulting said to me, “You are interviewing for the wrong job. You are truly meant to be a Change Management practitioner.” After learning more about the field with a double major in Psychology and Communications, I realized that he couldn’t have been more accurate. Two weeks later, I was hired by that same partner as one of two Rutgers graduates (the other being my roommate, coincidentally) to join the Change Management practice at Andersen Consulting. And, here we are, 20+ years later, and I’m still on my Change Management career journey.

Can you share your story about “Grit and Success”? First can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey?

The consulting lifestyle, while adventurous and dynamic, isn’t always a glamorous one. At around 25 years old, I had just settled into a New York City apartment and was excited to get a new consulting project under my belt. I vividly recall a Senior Partner calling me to let me know that I had been staffed on an overseas assignment. I would be moving to London for six months. In this role, I was very quickly required to step outside my comfort zone and adapt to a new culture, way of living, working, and being. With only a few days’ warning, I had to prepare to leave everything that was once familiar and safe. With time, I would soon realize that I would not only teach others about change, but more importantly, I would experience the process of change myself. It provided me the opportunity to accelerate my own personal and professional growth by successfully accomplishing something new and challenging.

Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

Despite working with new people amid a new culture, I knew this was also an opportunity to prove myself professionally and personally. In the beginning, I recall lonely weekends without the familiarity of my family and friends. With time, what I wanted to accomplish became more apparent to me, and it became clearer that I would need a roadmap and plan to do so. From a professional standpoint, I worked hard on my project to prove myself and demonstrate my skills and capabilities in order to advance my career. Personally, I knew this was an opportunity to turn inward, leverage my extrovert behaviors, and learn as much as I could. I quickly immersed my whole self in a new culture, met new friends, and left London with a more open mind, and a fuller heart.

So how did Grit lead to your eventual success? How did Grit turn things around?

I deem myself to be relatively smart, but more importantly, I’ve always worked hard in every facet of life. Through school, and ultimately college and the workforce, I’ve always put my whole self into every single thing I did. I believe that hard work and practice are necessary ingredients towards achieving success. As mentioned, I may not have always been the smartest person in the room, but I’ve always known how to leverage and maximize my own strengths. I’ve learned to surround myself with gritty people. I’ve also learned that continued growth and practice helps to build expertise.

Based on your experience, can you share 5 pieces of advice about how one can develop Grit? (Please share a story or example for each)

  1. Stay strong, even when you don’t have strength. Early in my career, I had a very demanding boss who would require our team to work extremely long hours on a consistent basis. I clearly remember one night he gave me a major assignment at 5pm. I had very little strength left after an exhausting day, but I mustered up the energy to give it my all and accomplish the task with very little sleep. As I became more confident in my career, I learned the importance of aligning work expectations and not always giving in to demanding requests. However, in that moment, I put forth my best effort, even when I thought it wasn’t possible, in order to deliver with excellence, as expected.
  2. Be confident. Remember, there is more power in how you say something then in what you actually say. Make eye contact, use gestures, and remember that silence can show confidence and poise.
  3. Practice to be good at at least one thing. I’m a skilled public speaker, but I wasn’t always. I have had many opportunities for facilitation throughout my career. I recall a client asking me, “how do you facilitate with such ease?” My response…”practice, practice, practice”. When I was a young consultant, I often wasn’t sure if I was an actress practicing my lines, or a business professional. I would consistently rehearse pitches, and presentations. With time, I soon become a more natural and confident public speaker.
  4. Optimism is key. I can’t think of a better example of how important it is to have an optimistic attitude than right now. As we are faced with a global pandemic, uncertainty looms all around us in both our professional and personal lives. Despite this uncertainty, more than ever, we need to demonstrate grace, seek silver linings, and continue to be aspirational and optimistic.
  5. Show resilience. Another defining moment in my early career was when I asked to attend a retreat in Jamaica for high potential employees. As part of the program, it was a rite of passage to pull an all-nighter with your team to prepare a pitch, which would be presented to the Senior Executive Team the next morning. But when it was my turn to present, due to extreme exhaustion and fatigue, I nearly fainted, and was unable to present my piece of the pitch. At the end of the pitch, with some hydration, I jumped in and presented my piece while also connecting it to the topic of resiliency. This allowed me to demonstrate to the Senior Partners, and more importantly to myself, that I was capable of “in the moment” recovery and resiliency.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped you when things were tough? Can you share a story about that?

My mother was a huge influence in helping me achieve success along the way. People learn by doing, as well as by watching others. My mother, a single, full-time working mother, demonstrated the value of grit every single day. She raised two children, mostly on her own, while also working a full-time job. We all know this is no easy feat, and yet she achieved this with both grace and humility. My mom didn’t realize it, but without trying, she taught me that with hard work, motivation, and passion, you can accomplish any of your goals, big or small.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

This past year, my daughter was preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah. She had spent so much time and effort practicing and perfecting her portions. Suddenly, when Covid-19 hit, we strongly encouraged her to do something that would have a positive impact on the world and to truly make a difference. We quickly pivoted from our original planned project (as change management professionals often need to be experts in the art of the quick pivot). Instead, we decided it was critical to raise money and food for children who would no longer be able to receive school lunches. I hope that through this experience, I taught my daughter the same thing, albeit in a different way, that my mom taught me. It is extremely important to pay it forward, especially to those less fortunate, in order to bring light and opportunities their way.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! I am working with a major pharmaceutical company to help them articulate new ways of working in a virtual world. The Covid-19 crisis has forced me to bring out every skill in my toolbox, and I’m happy to be able to share my perspective and lessons learned with clients who need to quickly shift direction and show commitment for the long haul of enforced isolation.

What advice would you give to other executives or founders to help their employees to thrive?

Right now, amid a global pandemic, the workplace can be stressful and draining. It’s critical to ensure employees feel a sense of purpose in their company, as well as their work. To this point, it’s important for leaders to put their people first. We all know that the keys to higher levels of employee engagement include providing a caring, safe place to work where staff feel heard, valued, recognized, and rewarded. And, in case you didn’t know…higher levels of employee engagement lead to improved levels of customer satisfaction, profitability, productivity, and lower levels of turnover.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

If I can inspire anyone, it would be our youth. We need to inspire youth, especially underprivileged children, so that they can work to fulfill their potential. Specifically, as the reality of having white privilege has become more apparent to me in recent days, we must recognize this disparity. If I could do anything, I would help those that are under-resourced to get better access to education, as well as more equitable hiring and employment opportunities.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.” This quote resonates with me because it reflects our power of choice. We can enact positive change in our lives. It’s impossible to change the past, so it’s important to let go, learn from our experiences, and control how you choose to live in the present and the future.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Sure, follow me on Facebook or LinkedIn at Jill Semegran.

Thank you so much for joining us. This was very inspirational.

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