A Decade Plus of Impact and Adventure at Appian
Terri McCormick describes her role as “helping others be better at their job.” She’s a Senior Manager of Talent Development and a recent winner of Appian’s Pillar Award.
The quarterly Pillar Award recognizes employees who embody the four Appian values in action with a personalized prize. The values are:
- Work to impact (not completion)
- Constructive Dissent (with resolution)
Terri shared how she’s built psychological safety with her team and its impact, her camping and snorkeling-filled award-prize trip, and her upcoming adventurous retirement plans.
How the Appian Pillar Awards felt like the Oscars.
Getting the award was both humbling and felt validating of a decade of hard work at Appian. After they announced it, I received around 140 messages in Google Chat of people congratulating me. I spent about two hours reading and responding to every single person. I felt like an Oscar winner looking out at all my peers filled with gratitude. It was a month before my 10-year anniversary at Appian so it felt like a “Lifetime Achievement Award”.
Throughout my time at Appian, I have been able to create an environment where people can live our value of dissent and challenge how things have been done, which only happens with feeling safe and seen at work. The award felt like a celebration of that work, which was incredibly humbling.
Making an impact that’s difficult to measure.
I specifically remember an employee reaching out to me to say “hey I took one of your classes five years ago and I still remember and use the presentation skills you talked about.”
I didn’t even remember the specific class they took but the fact that they remembered fills my heart. Something you say might resonate with someone a month or even five years down the road and that’s one of the reasons I enjoyed my work.
I know the impact I have made at Appian is hard to measure. My role isn’t so much tied to specific metrics, it’s instead meant to activate a little voice in someone’s head. Maybe a manager now gives their employee a break because they learned about fundamental attribution error in one of my courses. Maybe they treat their coworker with a little more grace in a difficult situation. Maybe they end every presentation with “what questions do you have?” instead of “do you have any questions?” a technique that sparks more discussion, which is something I teach in my presentation skills class. Maybe it’s a gesture or the way they approach something with curiosity and compassion to learn their coworkers' DISC style and way of working.
Caption: Training as part of Appian’s MBA Learning & Development program in London.
Two ways to build psychological safety.
To me, psychological safety means the willingness to take risks and make mistakes, without judgment or retaliation.
Throughout my years, I’ve been able to learn when to challenge and speak up, and when to just listen and execute. I’m from a military background and I was really clear on the second part. And it definitely took me some time to learn about when it's okay to speak up and push back. I’ve worked at other places where there’s a cost to speak up. At Appian, part of my role has been to help teach people to speak up and challenge ideas in a respectful way. I’ve found two main ways to build that psychologically safe environment:
1. “Blue sky brainstorm” for important, not urgent projects.
It is important to create intentional time for freedom of thinking on the big goals. Friday afternoons I used to block off my team’s calendar for “blue sky thinking” as a chance to go back to our team goals and maybe experiment with a project that was in its early stages. Oftentimes, these conversations, without the pressure of a deadline, spark new ideas. This approach led to new workshops in partnership with AppianWomen, and new processes for how our team worked. The Eisenhower Matrix is useful to categorize what work is important, but not urgent. Intentional time to be creative and free with ideas is crucial.
2. More one on one meetings, fewer group meetings.
I’ve found one-on-one conversations really help to ensure everyone is on the same page. As a global company, this means activities and decisions might take more time; I believe this to be an example of “slow down to speed up.” Recently, I had a meeting with one of my colleagues about our manager who’s in Australia. We don’t always have time for all three of us to meet together so I met with both separately to help each of them understand my point of view and learn about their views on an upcoming project. As a result, I understood their ideas, goals, and priorities. This approach also creates space for deeper questions and any conversation you approach with curiosity is going to be more fruitful.
Hiking in the US Virgin Island National Park and snorkeling with turtles, thanks to Appian.
The Pillar Award comes with a personalized experience and mine was a trip to a National Park. Last March, while it was snowing in Northern Virginia, I was on the beach in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I rented a canvas platform tent and during the week I hiked, swam, snorkeled with turtles, and more. I had a lump sum of money to spend on the trip however I liked, and I had to remind myself that this wasn't a business trip. It was five days where I really enjoyed my life and at the same time reflected on my career at Appian.
Matt Calkins often says “You have the right to impress your colleagues. Always create an environment where you feel inspired and motivated to do your best work and that your work is appreciated.”I think the Pillar Award really is the epitome of that.
My next move: To explore the US in a travel trailer.
As my time at Appian comes to an end (Retirement, here I come!), I’ll be off on my next adventure. I’m planning to take a trailer across the U.S. to camp, explore new states, and be outdoors.
I look forward to both meeting interesting people—and to be an interesting person that others can meet! Although I’ll be a solo traveler, I know I’ll never be alone with so many other hikers and campers around me. I’m excited to make many short-duration and high-impact connections throughout these excursions.
I’ve loved my time at Appian over the past 12 years, and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to contribute my best work in a place that truly appreciates me.