158: Forging Resilient Work Relationships with Michael Papanek

By May 22, 2017Podcasts

 

 

Michael Papanek talks collective resilience, group breakthroughs, and the action learning model.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The keys to building resilient work relationships
  2. How to use  the Heat Curve to achieve collective resilience and innovative breakthroughs
  3. Ignored, overlooked, and CRITICAL ground rules for meetings

About Michael

Michael Papanek specializes in leadership consultancy and providing strategies, tools and skills to enact change. He is the Principal Consultant and Founder of Michael Papanek Consulting, and has advised leaders from top companies including Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Prior to that, he worked in Interaction Associates as a General Manager and was a systems engineer at Electronic Data Systems.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael Papanek Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Michael, thanks so much for joining us here on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Michael Papanek
Thanks. Happy to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I got a real kick out of as I was doing my research I learned that you are the grandson of Kurt Lewin, called the founder or father of social psychology. And I remember in psychology class, my teacher said, “I’ve heard that name pronounced three different ways. I don’t know if it’s Kurt Luwin, Kurt Levin, Kurt Lewine, Kurt Lavine.” So, first, can you set the story straight, how do we pronounce this great man’s name?

Michael Papanek
Well, actually, if you were in Germany you might’ve said Lavine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Papanek
But when he came to the United States, my mother, he’s my grandfather on my mom’s side, it was always Lewin. So, today, you would say Kurt Lewin, and people that follow his thinking are Lewinians.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Noted. And are you a Lewinian?

Michael Papanek
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am a Lithuanian. So is that related?

Michael Papanek
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And so then you did not get the chance to meet him in your life but he had an influence on you nonetheless.

Michael Papanek
Yeah, he really did, it’s interesting. He died pretty young. He died when my mother was a teenager. He was only in the United States for a few years, and never spoke English, had a massive impact on psychological thought and thinking. Growing up, especially as a kid, I would just sometimes hear about and certainly see pictures of father, as my mother referred to him, and over the years I started to find out who he really was. I mean, again, as a young man I’m not sure. I almost ran away from the family legacy a little bit.

I worked on technology. I was a programmer. I was not going to be on the human side of things. But then I really couldn’t ignore, I couldn’t resist, I couldn’t avoid becoming more and more interested in the things that he was interested in: how do people get along, why do they get along, why don’t they, what do we do with really intractable differences, what’s the role of leadership. All these questions that he provided such great ideas about.

So I became an organizational consultant, a leadership consultant, a change management consultant enough years ago that I had some phenomenal conversations with my mom, Dr. Miriam Lewin, about Lewin. People still write to me from all over the world asking about him. Unfortunately, my mother passed away so I can’t ask her anymore. But I’m very proud really to be doing anything that might follow in his footsteps in any way.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great. And so then you’ve collected a number of your thoughts and ideas and synthesized them in your recent book From Breakdown to Breakthrough. Sort of what’s the big idea, the main point that you’ve put forward there?

Michael Papanek
Well, I wanted to answer a few questions. One of the key questions is, “Why is it, under stress and change, some business relationships get stronger and people pull together, sometimes form lifelong relationships and while other times under stress and difficulty we fall apart, we turn on each other?” Why does that happen?

And so the big idea, I think, the answer in the book is that what we want to have is resilient relationships. A resilient relationship is one that I defined as being strong, flexible and fair. And so if you have resilient relationships that’s how you’re going to win the long game of business, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So they have those components of being strong, flexible and fair, and so if they have those and the stress from the outside kind of makes them all the more powerful versus crumbles. Well, can you maybe walk us through a little bit how does a relationship become strong and flexible and fair?

Michael Papanek
Well, when you think about one of the stories that I tell in the book that I call Mr. No, and back many years ago in the 1980s I worked for EDS, Electronic Data Systems. This was Ross Perot’s old company, yeah. And there was an agreement between, you know, General Motors had actually acquired EDS, and Roger Smith, at the time, and Ross Perot made this agreement that was supposed to be obviously a wonderful move to make. However, it was not well-accepted and fought quite dramatically by the GM people.

There were a lot of reasons for that, and what happened is EDS would basically come in with the attitude that, “You guys are in big trouble. And if you’re any good at what you did, as far as the IT part of General Motors, you wouldn’t need EDS. So we’re here to save you.” So you can imagine that doesn’t create a very good relationship. And so I had one fellow that I had to work with, either was writing code in a certain area, and he had to sign off changes before they could be put into production, and he would never sign off any of the changes. He didn’t trust us. He didn’t know if we’d really done what we should have. In his opinion we’re probably doing the wrong thing anyway, and he was an incredible bottleneck.

And it was kind of a rite of passage when you were a new guy at EDS on that team, they’d send you in to speak with this guy so that he could sort of chew you up and spit you out. And they sent me in and I’m sort of clutching my little signoff sheet which won’t protect me, and I had the same experience everybody else had because, in some ways, that’s what I expected.

And I saw this, not really as a client, certainly not as a fellow human being, not as a reasonable person, but kind of, again, a representative of this GM rested and vested, retired and placed bureaucrat. And so he treated me, I think, in a way, in fact, that I deserved to be treated. So I needed a resilient relationship with him or the entire team, frankly, wasn’t really going to get anywhere, and I wasn’t planning on going anywhere so this had to get worked out somehow. I knew he wouldn’t go anywhere.

So when I went into him one day, I went into his office, I looked around the office and I saw a picture of two his kids in hockey uniforms. And rather than just being the EDS corporate guy in the bright red tie, I acted like a human being and asked him about his kid. I’m kind of into hockey, I pretended to be more into hockey than I was, I guess. But I started to get to know him.

So the first move in building resilient relationship, and it may sound intuitive but people skip it, is to find that other person as a real person. Understand them not so that you can be necessarily best friends but so you understand more about who they are, why they do what they do, what they want, what they’re trying to avoid, where are they in their journey, and then I can become a part of that and then I can also see, “Will they do that for me?”

Most of the time when you do that for someone they’re going to return the favor. And so that’s sort of the beginning of a resilient relationship, is understanding who they are. From there we can start to take some risks together, we can start to build more trust, and eventually get into a virtuous kind of cycle where we’re working together, we’re creating value for each other, that’s the strong part. We can do that even if conditions change, that’s the flexible part. And the energy that people are putting into the business relationship and the rewards of getting out are reasonable, are fair, and that’s the fair part of strong, flexible or fair.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so it all starts with being interested in that person as a fellow human and with normal interests and values and needs and families and all that.

Michael Papanek
That’s right, and the business they’re trying to be accountable for. They’re trying to accomplish something, and if we can understand more about who they are. Ironically, people won’t tell you the truth about what they really want because they might be used, some people using that against them. So it’s ironic, you’d think, “Well, we ought to just tell each other what we really care about and then we could meet each other’s needs.” But too often that’s really hard to do. And so, again, taking this first step is really an active leadership that many business people, frankly, don’t experience a lot, who’s someone that really cares, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And you say an active leadership. I guess I’m also envisioning this from the perspective of if someone has a boss, a manager who feels rough, giving them a tough time, maybe demanding and critical and not offering a lot of support or encouragement. You’re saying the same first steps apply. Could you maybe paint a picture for how folks in that situation might put it into practice?

Michael Papanek
Yeah. Well, I’d say one of the first things I’d say to anybody in that situation, and I hope this isn’t the case, but they have to be open to the idea that maybe this business relationship won’t work out.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Papanek
So we don’t want to lose a job. It’s very important to have a job, and meet all the responsibilities that you’re trying to by having that job. But I found over the long term, if you have the mindset that says, “Well, I just got to take this or figure this out somehow no matter what,” I think that’s limiting. I think it’s better to say, “Look, I’m going to try really hard to work for this person. There are other reasons why this job makes sense, etcetera, and I just have to know that I may not be able to do it and keep myself intact to follow my own values.”

So one of the first things that I think people need to realize in a situation like that is as bad as it is, and as complex as it might be, you might have a choice that you don’t realize. And I think having that choice in mind lets you act a little more powerfully. I would try to take those steps with a manager like that where I try to find out more about why they’re behaving the way they are. Again, just so I can understand it.

Again, it might be so difficult, they might be such a difficult manager or a boss that it’s pretty hard to get them to change their behavior. But I’m never going to change somebody’s behavior if I don’t, first, know what’s driving it. So if the individual can think about, “Okay, if I want this relationship to work I’ve got to understand my boss even if it’s not a pleasant situation or somebody that I like.” So that’s sort of the first step. Let’s build an awareness so we can form a theory or a point of view that says, “Here’s why that manager is doing what they’re doing.”

Based on that we can try to take actions but eventually you’re going to have to take the risk, probably giving feedback to that boss before you go elsewhere or take other steps. So I want to know, at the end of the day, have I been fair? Have I treated this person the way that even my manager? Have I treated them the way that I would be proud of? And then if they don’t respond in kind maybe I’m going to take my good work elsewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then I’d like to hear, when you say you want to get a sense for why they behave the way they do, I mean, I guess there are sometimes you can just directly ask, but other times you probably don’t. Like, “Why are you always ragging on me?” That probably won’t go so well. Do you have any sort of scripts or favorite phrases or questions that help you get the ball rolling here?

Michael Papanek
Yeah, I think you will have to take a chance and say that you’re not happy with something. So why would I ask unless I can say to the boss, “You know the way that you gave me that assignment last night I didn’t appreciate some aspects of that. Can I talk to you about it?” And if they’re like, “No, I don’t really care. I don’t want to hear it,” then, like I said, you’re learning as you go.

One of the main ideas of the book is action learning which is, again, a Lewinian concept which is if you want to understand something, try to change it. So if I can’t just directly say, “You know, I didn’t appreciate the way you gave me that assignment yesterday,” then I’d have to describe why I didn’t appreciate it, “Why did that happen? Or what do you think about that? Or do you understand what I mean?” Then you can get, hopefully, an answer.

If you can’t get that answer then that tells you something about this leader and that they’re going to be difficult to work with if you can’t build awareness. So the first step in changing anyone is to have a shared awareness or else it’s really you’re kind of dancing around the problem. You’re not really taking an action.

Then based on how they react you’d get a better sense of… but that’s really the script, “Here’s what you’re doing. Here’s the impact it has. May I ask you about it?” But there’s, “It’s not okay with me,” must be said in some way so that they can understand. And, again, a lot of people go, “Oh, my goodness, I was stressed out. I shouldn’t have taken it out on you. I never want you to feel stress like that at work. I’m glad you said something.” Yeah, that’s a good leader or a human.

If somebody says, “Well, if you can’t stand the heat get out of the kitchen,” then at least you put a marker in, you mentioned it once. Then if it keeps happening you mention it again. And then you have great choices. But the thing that I like to say sometimes to clients that are dealing with difficulties, and you can have a difficult boss no matter who you are, including the CEO, is I like to say that, “I’m not against anyone but I am for myself.”

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Michael Papanek
So I don’t need to control everybody else, I don’t need to tell everybody else what’s right or wrong, but I have some standards and values and beliefs for myself and I must stand up for those because I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t care where you work, nobody else is going to stand up for you but you.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright.

Michael Papanek
Most companies won’t react well to that but you’ve got to do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’m wondering then, as you’ve worked with many marquee clients and individuals at those companies with regard to some of these issues, I have a hunch that the fear associated with going there is probably disproportionate to the odds of having a positive outcome or conversation. I know this is hard to do but if I could put you on the spot and say approximately, how often are folks pleasantly surprised by this exchange versus like, “Oh, man, I got an earful and I kind of preferred to not have done that?”

Michael Papanek
Yeah, that’s what we call a CLM, a career-limiting move.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Papanek
Yes, the infamous career-limiting move. Well, yeah, you’re certainly putting me on the spot. I’ve got to say, first, there is a little assessment, “Is it safe?” We look at managers, one of the things that’s very important for managers to be aware of, or anyone to be aware of, is pattern establishment. So you’re going to establish patterns with your colleagues, with your customers, with the people who work for you and with the people you work for.

If other people gets their head bitten off, if other people ends up getting punished in one way or another for trying to give some sort of a feedback to the boss, then that tells you a lesson and you don’t need to make a mistake and just kind of become the next one to face the consequences. Having done sort of the most basic assessment of safety, I would say 75% or more of the time people are happy. And somebody had to act like an adult in this situation.

Again, once my intention, when I bring it up, am I trying to be fair? Am I trying to serve my own needs without necessarily trying to counter anybody else’s needs? Do they have to lose for me to win? So if my attitude is right and my intention is right then the percentage goes up much higher. If you act like a victim, if you complain without a solution, if you’re avoiding accountability, and most importantly if you’re doing all this while you’re not doing so well in your basic job, well, now you’re taking a much bigger risk, and I’d say the percentage is much more likely to backfire on you.

So, where’s my standing? Do I have the right? Have I earned the ability? And if you’re doing your basic job correctly, you have. But I want to do a little assessment first. I’d say the other thing is how painful is it? Life is too short. And I’ve worked with way too many people, as you say, in great companies, and there’s got to be something redeeming. I love the work. I love my colleagues. I love the customer. I love the technology. I love whatever it is. Something is got to be worth the trouble of dealing with a difficult employee, or manager, excuse me, because it’s one of the top reasons.

As the old saying, “People don’t leave their company. They leave their boss.” And so that’s a key relationship when you think about resilient relationships, one of the first things you want to do is assess all your relationships. Which ones are most important to you so you can make sure those are resilient? The relationship you have with your direct supervisors, or as a manager with your team members, is probably number one in everybody’s list.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, thank you. We went deep there and I loved it. So now I want to hit up another concept that you lay out a little bit. What’s the story with a heat curve and different types of meetings?

Michael Papanek
Yeah, so what happens with the heat curve, here’s what I noticed with a lot of the companies I worked with, and this includes publicly-traded executive boards that are running large public companies. I find it across teams. And that’s their ability to handle what I call heat. And I described this ability in what I call the heat curve.

So it’s a little hard to do on a podcast, but if the listeners would imagine our little XY axis, and on the horizontal line is heat. So heat is increasing, let’s say left to right, and then high to low is the ability for breakdown or breakthrough. And the curve basically says that as heat in a meeting increases the ability for breakthrough first increases.

So what I mean by this is those great meetings where you’re not bored, you’re certainly not checking your email, you’re really interested in the meeting, you can’t wait to speak, we’re finally discussing important ideas, we’re resolving conflicts or we’re creating innovation. Great meeting. And so that’s good heat and at least the breakthrough.

The problem is that eventually the heat can be too much. We can start to turn on each other. We can be too difficult, too stressful and then the curve breaks down and goes all the way down into the breakdown space. So what does this all have to do with business? What people want is a culture that matches their strategy. And, generally, what people need is an innovative, fast-pace strategy especially prepared to kind of quote the old days, whenever those were. Right?

We talk about how things got to be faster, we’ve got to risk more, we’ve got to fail more, innovation is corporate improv, we’ve got to have each other’s back, we’ve got to be able to take chances together. We essentially need a good heat curve. So some companies I worked with, some cultures, even I’ve noticed this in some countries a little bit – though I’m not an expert on global culture by any means – some meetings cannot handle any heat at all.

You’ve been in this kind of a meeting where as soon as anybody says something controversial, or barely controversial, somebody says, “Let’s take that offline.” Right? You’ve been in those meetings? Or the boss wrinkles his or her eyebrow. Literally a micro expression can shut off all conversation in some cultures. That’s a heat curve. And at the first sign of heat, goes, bam, right down past into breakdown.

And so what I do with a lot of organizations is help them shift their heat curve up into the right, if you can kind of follow the visual there, which essentially means you have a climbing heat curve that doesn’t drop off as soon. I’ll give you an example. Again, I’ll leave the name of the company out but it’s a very large publicly-traded consumer products company. They’ve been very successful but they were much slower in product innovation than their competitors literally on the clock, on the calendar. It’s costing them a lot of money. So they needed to be much faster, more decisive.

The problem was that that created a lot of heat. People were used to managing risks. They had what they called a nice culture and, therefore, they had nice meetings. The problem with the nice meetings is as soon as somebody said, “How can you say that? Didn’t we try that in the product two years ago? Why would it work now if it didn’t work last time?” Now that, to me, is a really good strategic question, “Why should it work now if it didn’t work last time?”

But the guy who ran that project two years ago who’s in the room, that was his baby and he did everything to make it work, he’s going to take that personally. And so rather than letting the heat go up, answering that question, or maybe having a great product breakthrough, somebody says, “Well, hold on a minute. Joe did a great job and everybody tried and it really wasn’t Joe’s fault. It didn’t go wrong.” And they shut the heat down and they try to avoid going into breakdown.

So that’s what I mean by the heat curve. You need a healthy heat, a positive heat, heat that generates light. We don’t want to have people feel attacked then they’re going to start to defend themselves. Again, that’s what a resilient team has. So, in my mind, and maybe one of the other key points of the book – you asked, “What’s the key point of the book?”

Another one I think is that resilience is too often right now in books and research see as an individual trait, “Michael is resilient or Michael is not resilient.” Leaders are resilient. Take this survey about your attitudes in life. Listen to this story about the endurance with Shackleton which is a wonderful story if you know it. And these are about resilient individuals.

We’ve studied people after 9/11 in New York or how that they bounced back. I’ve had personal experience in my life that certainly tested my individual resilience. But what the heat curve is measuring is the collective resilience. I don’t think resilience is really an independent individual phenomenon. It’s not a leadership trait as much as it’s a social phenomenon. We are resilient or we are not resilient. That’s why I focus on the relationship. The unit, to me, is not the person. I’m not trying to type the individual and how resilient they are. I’m trying to figure out and type the relationship, how resilient the relationship or series of relationships are.

Pete Mockaitis
So, when the drivers of a heat curve, in terms of being more up into the right as in we can just candidly say what we need to say and be enriched by each other’s perspective with having a bold, vigorous, candid discussion, that’s good news in terms of getting stuff done and innovation and all that kind of good stuff. What is behind that then? Is it just a matter of each relationship in the web or matrix of relationships is strong, flexible and fair? Or how do you go about getting that shift to the heat curve going?

Michael Papanek
Yes, in one sense it is very much about those relationships in the room. The meeting is really reflecting. It is where those relationships are made, but if it’s the only place they’re made then you’re missing something. And that the members of the leadership team, if they’re in there making collective decisions must be because they have some sort of interdependence with each other. So I would say, yes, it’s very important that we start with the individual relationships in the group.

I would also say there are things you can do in meetings that will help us handle more and more heat. Some of these things are somewhat from a myriad of people, the idea of having some ground rules, how do we listen to each other, what do we do when we disagree. So we want to learn the more productive methods for handling conflicts, and that’s one of the key things that are going to help us climb that heat curve. There’s an old saying I like, “Whenever two people are arguing, they’re both right.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael Papanek
Now, you say that in a technology firm with engineers and people’s heads will explode, “No, no, no, there’s only one answer. That can’t be possible. Two people who disagree can’t be right.” But if I think about it that way and I say, “What is right about what the other party or group is saying? How is that right at least for them? What are they solving for?” This is usually called interests when we talk about conflict and negotiation.

So what are people’s underlying interests? And so many of these executives, the same executive team I was talking about that needed to be bolder, that needed to innovate but couldn’t handle heat, one of the things that would happen to them is when they disagreed they would become what we call very positional. Meaning they would have one position, it’s the only answer and the other person have the other position, “That product is going to succeed,” or it’s, “Fail.” Or, “This is the right price to charge,” or, “No, we have to charge this other price.”

These seem quite intractable and that’s where you’re testing how good your heat curve is. Rather than arguing back and forth over the position and usually ending up with a political resolution based on power, we want to focus more on interests and we had to teach those executives how to share those interests. Again, reveal something about themselves, reveal where their thinking is coming from, understanding that and then trying to build the solution that meets as many interests as possible rather than getting into the win-lose kind of a battle. Now that’s one way that we do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you mentioned ground rules as well. I’d love to hear, in some ways I think that certain ground rules are just assumed or fine. But you tell me, what would you say are some examples of ground rules that are frequently not in place or not followed and make a world of difference in terms of the meeting’s ability to have a good heat curve?

Michael Papanek
Yeah. Well, first of all, I’m totally with you on the idea that a lot of ground rules are not all that valuable. When I go into a company and I see a laminated set of ground rules on the wall in every meeting room, on the one hand I’m thinking, “All right, if they really use that that’s good.” On the other hand I’m thinking, “A laminated plaque on the wall is not a living thing.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Michael Papanek
And we kind of wave at the ground rules but people don’t enforce them. So what ground rules you have but almost more important than that is what happens when they’re violated? Does anybody do anything? Does anybody say, “You know, we have a ground rule about letting people finish,” or, “We have a ground rule about listening before providing a counter point of view”? I don’t think you did that just then. That’s a moment where you really have a good heat curve.

If someone can say out loud in a meeting, “Hold on a minute, we have ground rules here. Either they’re not real or you just violated them. And you get to call me on it when I violate the ground rules. And you know what? I probably will.” Why are the ground rules there? Because they’re typical errors we make. They’re rules to try to avoid those typical errors that’s why if your meetings are perfect then I guess you don’t need ground rules. Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well-said, typical errors we make that’s why…

Michael Papanek
Yeah, they should be. That’s quite right, “Hey, guys, we usually run over. Okay, let’s have a ground rule to stay on the agenda timing.” That’s a very simplistic tactical not a very strategic ground rule but, again, following them. There’s a lot of companies that used to have them but they didn’t work for them so they abandoned ground rules not because ground rules are a bad idea but because nobody enforced them.

Essentially they’re working agreements. They’re aspects of our culture. Our meeting is a microcosm of the culture that we have in our company so it should reflect our values. I would say also that the key one that people miss, the most valuable one that’s not on anybody’s list is a ground rule that I call a clear framework for decision-making.

So what happens too often in meetings and in processes in companies is we start rushing to try to make a decision and nobody really has talked about how the decision is going to be made. Who exactly is the final decision-maker? What’s the deadline for this decision-maker? Who are the key stakeholders? And what is the fallback option if we can’t reach an agreement?

What happens in too many companies is they avoid decision-making, they make a decision but certain people don’t agree so they get to object at random, making the same decision over and over, we slow down implementation and we reduce ownership; we reduce accountability. So I think decision-making is an important place to work because it’s so critical.

And so if you’re in a meeting, you want to improve your heat curve, you want to be able to handle more heat I would say, “Hold on, before we start talking about the pros and cons, how exactly are we making it?” If it’s not clear, ask, “How exactly are we making this decision?” Sometimes we don’t have to agree. If we’ve already clarified, “You know what, we’re all giving input to Mary, and Mary is going to make the final decision.” So at a certain point we can handle that heat because we don’t have to agree. Now Mary is going to have to figure out what to do based on the input.

But having meetings where consensus is implied but isn’t really how we’re going to make a decision, that is really damaging. So don’t pretend this consensus if you don’t know how the decision that are being made, and you don’t know how to participate, so find out.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, Michael, this is so good. Absolutely. I’m having flashbacks to consulting at Bain where we had a Fortune 500 retail organization client, and they had a tool called RAPID for the rules and decision-making for recommender, approver, performer, informer and decider, and there was always the question, “Who has the D? Who has the decision-making authority?” And then it really just slow things down when it is an implied, well-said, an implied consensus but not a real consensus.

And then what I found is sometimes when folks challenged or questioned, “Hey, who’s really in charge or owns the project or who gets to make the decision?” Sometimes folks say, “Oh, it’s collaborative.” And I kind of view that as a non-answer. It’s kind of like punting. It’s like, “Well, we don’t really know. You can sort of figure it out.” And I think that’s destructive. What’s your take?

Michael Papanek
Yeah, there’s so much language for decision-making in companies. That’s one reason we can tell that it’s important, right? “Who’s got the D?” is one. “Let’s be collaborative,” that’s one. I have a whole book, I have a whole little personal collection of these. One of my favorites/least favorites, if you know what I mean, is socialize, “Well, let’s socialize this idea.”

Sometimes people reach “alignment.” Now, I’m not against collaboration, alignment, etcetera, they’re all fine. But often they do exactly what you’re talking about, it’s a way to avoid getting clear, it’s a way to wiggle around and have some lack of accountability, lack of ownership. Here’s my belief, and I’ve seen this over and over, people actually, in the end, love clarity on decision-making.

Pete Mockaitis
Amen.

Michael Papanek
And they don’t have to get their way, they just want a fair hearing and I believe they deserve that. In companies, people don’t always get to have their way but they ought to get a fair hearing. And so, again, if I say to you, “Look, we’ve got a deadline in this decision. It’s complicated. It’s important. There’s a lot of stakeholders, but if we’re going to take a good decision here’s when I’m going to make it by, and here’s the process. I’d love you to give me some input. We’re going to have a big meeting with a lot of the stakeholders next week. I’m going to send out a request for input on email. I’m going to draft a draft decision and I’ll send it back out to people. You get to give me comments. Then I’ll make the final decision.”

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Awesome. So we got the process, we got the roles, we know who ultimately decides.

Michael Papanek
The deadline.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ve got how the input emerges, the deadline. Anything else on the checklist for decision clarity?

Michael Papanek
Scope. So the only thing in a little decision-making framework is the scope. So one of the things that often gets us into trouble is the scope of the decision, “Well, wait a minute. What are you deciding? Are you changing the entire way the sales team is structured? Or are you changing something about territory assignments? What decision are we making here?”

Now, both decisions matter a great deal to the salespeople, right? So it’s very important that they know how big or small is this. Now sometimes it needs to be big. Sometimes if it isn’t big enough, people aren’t interested in solving the problem. But other times people are assuming implications. Again, these things aren’t clear, we don’t know how to process them, our heat curve drops off and we fall back to this kind of dysfunction.

So what I’m trying to do as a leader or project manager or somebody who’s just trying to implement something, I’m trying to get people a functional way to express their needs so they don’t take dysfunctional ways to do it. That’s where the relationship goes into breakdown. So in a way, as a leader, it’s tough because in the end I’m accountable for creating an environment where people can give effective input and not feel like they’re getting rolled over. And I’m doing that while I’m running a business. And so, in the end, that’s what’s great about creating an effective culture, trying to have strong, flexible and fair relationships is it’s an asset. It becomes an asset to the company.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fantastic. Thank you. Well, now, you’ve also discussed three shifts that need to occur for developing a resilient relationship. Could you give us maybe the one-minute version of each of these and how we can make it?

Michael Papanek
All right, yes. So the one-minute version. So these are strategies. So, as you said, the outcome is a strong, flexible and fair relationship. How do I do that? So the first shift is to go from ignorance to knowledge, and that’s, again, we talked about that a little bit prior in this podcast trying to understand the whole person, certainly it might be mostly on a professional basis, it could also be on personal basis, who are they and reveal to them who you are. So move from ignorance – just not knowing, not understanding – to knowledge. That’s the first one.

Once you’ve done that you can try the second strategy which we call moving from doubt to trust. So if I want to have a resilient relationship, I can’t have doubt about that relationship. The metaphor I use is like a rickety chair. If you’ve ever been forced to use a chair that’s not really well-made it’s kind of you can’t put your whole weight on it, it might collapse. In the end it’s not restful. It’s worse than no chair at all. If we build trust in a relationship it becomes like a solid chair, you can lean into it, it’s not going to fall apart under pressure. And so trust has to do with entertaining people’s intentions and seeing how their actions are consistent with that.

Then, finally, after moving from doubt to trust, we talked about what we call moving from talk to action. So one of the things I found that I thought was missing is that so much advice has to do with what to say. How do we communicate? How do we have difficult conversations or courageous conversations or any number of…

Pete Mockaitis
Crucial conversations.

Michael Papanek
Yes, crucial conversations. And let me be clear, I believe in those approaches and they are necessary to what I’m talking about and to being effective. However, they’re insufficient in certain situations. The curve runs out. The old saying was, “You can’t talk yourself out of a situation that you acted yourself into,” right? So when I’m working with trying to build resilient teams in organizations and relationships, we’re asking, “Don’t ask what you can say. Ask what action can you take. That will prove to the other party or person what you’re trying to say.”

If you couldn’t send your message, again, what do we hear all the time? Employees are our greatest asset. We want empowerment. We want engagement. We want all these things. We want your input to be effective. We care what you think. But then they sort of this is all lip service and the team’s morale is low, too many leaders call a meeting. What I’m interested in doing is figuring out what action can I take. So that’s the third strategy when you’re dealing with a situation, moving from talk to action.

The other great thing, again, about that is it sort of reinforces that action learning idea that says, “Look, let me take an action and see how the other party responds. If I take a risk, will this person rise to the occasion? Or will they worry about their own interest and let me drop to the wayside?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s great. Thank you. Well, tell me, Michael, is there anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael Papanek
Well, I’ll actually combine. I’ll take us towards one of my favorite things while staying on the topic, and this is the Grateful Dead. So the idea of resilient relationships that is strong, flexible and fair, it’s my intention that this can be used in any relationship. So that’s a relationship certainly between people, but it could be a relationship between a company and their customers. It can be the relationship you have with an idea or an organization.

And I’ve had, let’s call it, a long relationship with the Grateful Dead. I mean, the Grateful Dead are gone now because Jerry Garcia passed away. But I started attending Grateful Dead concerts as a very young man and went on for decades doing it, and I was not alone. Their fans were the most loyal. This is a band that made record amounts of money on the road that only had one hit single in their entire time.

So while they were not a commercial success in that way, they were incredible success because their relationship with their fans was resilient beyond belief. People would travel with them, they’d give up careers to go be with them. They wouldn’t attend one concert, they’d attend 12 or 20. And that’s because the Grateful Dead, for a rock band, and this has been analyzed, by the way, by other business people besides myself who have tried to understand how they did what they did for so long, and the remaining members are still at it more than 50 years after they started.

First of all, their relationship with their fans is strong. Not only did they provide music that the fans enjoyed but going to a Grateful Dead concert was like going to, I don’t know what, summer camp, New Year’s Eve and Christmas all rolled into one. It was a huge happening. People had friends that they would only see on tour or at the shows. People sold their wares. There was a huge thing in the parking lot. So people got a lot of value from being a Dead fan even beyond just the music.

Flexible, they played everywhere and they provide many different ways to get tickets so that if you were really a fan you were highly likely to be able to see them and experience them and even get a good seat. And then, finally, they were very fair to their fans. One of the things they did that really nobody else does, except for a couple of bands, is allow taping. So, for many years, if you got the right kind of ticket, you were allowed to go to the show and literally record the show and then share that recording with anybody you wanted. This is their product and they were giving it away for free. The only requirement they had was that the fans couldn’t make money selling the music.

And that, again, continued kind of to build the fan base. People who couldn’t be at shows can view the shows and made them want to go even more, traded all these more relationships. So just a little bit about one of my favorite bands and how they were so resilient with their fans.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is a nice little case study. Thank you. So, now, could you share with us a favorite quote?

Michael Papanek
I’m going to go ahead and give you a Lewin quote, “There’s nothing more practical than a good theory.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. And how about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Michael Papanek
They did a study that found that there’s a lot of talk about saying my goals out loud. They did a study that said the people who announced they were going to lose weight actually were less likely to lose weight than the people that didn’t state it, tell anyone. So I thought that was interesting. The reason they believe, their theory was that they got a little reward from telling people. This reward reduced their desire to do the actual thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. And how about a favorite book?

Michael Papanek
I’m going to go way back to a classic of organizational development by Will Schutz called The Truth Option which I just think is an amazing title for a book, you know, there is that option, the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
One of several.

Michael Papanek
Yes, and Will Schutz, and you may or may not have heard of him but he was another sort of pillar of organizational work here in the San Francisco Bay Area for many years, very focused on resilience. I’ll sneak in another favorite quote from Will Schutz which is, “You can’t go anywhere new until you tell the truth about where you are.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool, whether that’s a product or service or app or something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Michael Papanek
I really think that appreciative inquiry is one of the tools that a lot of us use in change and in coaching. I had the privilege of meeting Frank Barrett who’s one of the professors who developed appreciative inquiry, so a little prog for him. And that tool of using your appreciative inquiry when working as a coach or a leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that’s helpful?

Michael Papanek
Playing music. I think music is so important. At least, to me, I can’t imagine life without it. And there are so many studies that show that it keeps our brain sharp as we get older. I can entertain myself. But most importantly, again, music is a social activity for me. I’ve got my own little band and we play and perform and build such great connections. And I think it’s such an important brain practice. It activates so many parts of your mind, your body and your soul.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite nugget, a sort of articulation of your message that really seems to resonate and get folks nodding their heads and taking notes?

Michael Papanek
What you resist persists.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Michael Papanek
So the idea is that, again, every time there’s an argument both sides are right. It’s sort of another way of saying the same idea. If I push hard against something or someone, usually they’re going to push hard back. And so I think people appreciate this idea that says, again, I’m not against anybody. I am still for myself. But is there a way to stop resisting against something so that we can implement a change? That’s where we often get stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And tell me, if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Michael Papanek
I’d send them to my website MichaelPapanek.com. You can contact me there. I’m at Michael@MichaelPapanek.com, or there’s contact info on the website. And I’ll ask people, I’ll mention that we don’t have it out yet but I’m just getting ready to release a large new part of the site about Lewin. I have a lot of personal family heirlooms from Kurt Lewin and some pretty interesting stories to tell. So we’re going to be adding that to the website pretty soon.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, great. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michael Papanek
I would say remember that you don’t need to be subject to your relationships. You’re actually in charge of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Michael, thank you. This is so fun. Good luck and keep on rocking.

Michael Papanek
Thank you so much, Pete. I really enjoyed it.

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The Gold Nugget

The Gold Nugget

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