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645: How to Make a Bigger Impact by Connecting First with Dr. Melanie Katzman

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Melanie Katzman shares strategies for establishing a great connection to facilitate great work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The trick to a great first impression
  2.  The one question to gain better perspective
  3. The listening hack that makes all the difference 

About Melanie

Dr. Melanie Katzman is a business psychologist and coach to the world’s top public and private companies. Her latest book, Connect First: 52 Simple Ways to Ignite Success, Meaning, and Joy at Work, is a #1 WSJ bestseller. 

She has delivered workshops and keynotes to organizations worldwide for three decades. During COVID-19, she is an especially sought-after virtual speaker, giving groups the tools for coping with newfound daily stressors, teaching immediately actionable techniques that have meaningful and enduring results. 

Melanie has been featured in the financial and popular media, and has appeared on numerous podcasts and television outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. Melanie Katzman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Melanie, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Melanie Katzman
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about your wisdom and Connect First. Great title. My hats off to you.

Melanie Katzman
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Can we kick it off by hearing about maybe the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made in the process of putting together the book Connect First?

Melanie Katzman
Sure. So, Pete, I’m a clinical psychologist with decades of experience seeing people individually as a therapist. At the same time, I’ve been a corporate consultant to both startups as well as large multinationals. And one of the things that I found is that no matter where I was working, no matter who I was working with, whether it be in America or other parts of the world, people at their core, are all wired the same.

We all want to belong. We want to be recognized. We want information. We crave praise. We want to be appreciated. And so, in creating Connect First, what I was able to do was pull from the experiences I have as both a therapist, as a consultant, and put that all together in a way that I hope communicates to everybody that we need to connect first through our common humanity.

And the surprise, the delight in the book and in the book tour, has been that people really resonate with that message. It just makes sense. It is what people experience. And particularly during a pandemic, it’s what people crave, that human connection. So, it’s a delightful surprise, it wasn’t a full surprise because it’s exactly why I wrote the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we talk about connecting first, maybe what’s the alternative? What do people do first if not connect that’s problematic?

Melanie Katzman
So, many people at work are so focused on being transactional, getting the job done, that they forget that the thing that you have to do first is to establish a relationship with people, you need to slow down to speed up. If you don’t develop trust, then you can’t actually ask people to push, to prod, to innovate, to take chances, to deal with conflict. And, too often, people show up at the office and just feel like, “If someone is being paid, they need to do it,” and, “If I ask, and I’m the boss, it should happen,” versus, “I need to actually demonstrate and establish respect and trust.”

Similarly, people will say, “Oh, we have an inclusion program.” And, somehow, because we have a program or a poster that that will somehow translate into people really feeling as if they have a seat at the table. And as we know, it’s a lot more complicated than that.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, boy, the word should there really perked my ears up in terms of it’s sort of like we have these expectations or assumptions about how the world ought to operate, and if yours is that people should do awesome, innovative, stretched, extraordinary work because they’re getting a paycheck, we’re saying that worldview is not accurate to reality.

Melanie Katzman
I just think that what we know, what science shows us and I think many of our experiences demonstrate is that people do better work when they’re internally, intrinsically motivated, that money makes a difference to a point but, actually, to get passion, well, we talk about passion. We want passionate purpose-driven people on our team.

Well, passion is hot. It’s not cognitive. I can think I want to do a good job but I’m going to be really driven and passionate about doing a job because I care. That caring comes from an emotional connection to the work and to the people I’m working with, and that requires the human connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think people ask me, “So, Pete, how do you be awesome at your job?” just like at a party or something. I like, “Boy, 600 interviews, how do I distill it?”

Melanie Katzman
How do you distill it? What do you say?

Pete Mockaitis
I’m still figuring out, it’s like, “Okay, can I give you five things? One of them is caring.”

Melanie Katzman
Right. Like, “We could just say be a human.” I mean, that sounds ridiculous but people show up at work and they feel like they should be an automatron, and they should just churn it out versus “I’m really going to be thoughtful about how I approach my requests, how I deliver my work, the words I choose, and who I choose to say them to and with.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Okay. Well, so then you described 52 separate actions in your book, which is a bundle – I love it – and that’s organized into seven main themes. Could maybe give us the rundown, 30 seconds to a minute, on each of the seven themes? What are they?

Melanie Katzman
Sure. And they’re actually built on each other. So, when I first decided to write this book, people are like, “Wait. So, this is like a Ms. Manners for business?” I’m like, “No, no, no, no. We’ll start with the basics.” So, the beginning of the book is all about establishing trust. Just getting the basics right, like saying “Please,” and, “Thank you,” making eye contact. Like, the first chapter in the book is smiling. Like, “I smile at you, you smile back.” That’s not hard work.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s my favorite.

Melanie Katzman
Right? Even behind your big microphone, I can see you’re smiling, and it’s actually one of the problems we have now with masks. You can’t see the smile. But a smile is really, you know, it just gets us going as people. So, the first chapter is smiling. And then I go on to review other basics, all the things we know we should do but we forget to do, right? That’s the thanks-you-s, the please-s.

Then, from there, it’s “Use your senses.” See everybody, not just the people who you think who are important. Not the people who you think have influence or were the buddies, the ones who look like you, you’re comfortable with. See truly everybody. Listen. Don’t just try to hear, to reload, so that you can make your point louder and more definitively, but actually listen. Eat with other people. Breaking bread, old-time ritual of really a way of getting to know someone.

So, I talk about the importance of using your senses – seeing, hearing, eating, really quieting yourself and your internal dialogue to know what’s happening around you. Then be popular. And I use that kind of purposely, provocatively. Be the person people want to be with. So, come bearing conversational gifts, help the people that you’re with. Be smarter because they’ve been with you and because you’re willing to share.

And then we want to clear conflict. And how do you clear conflicts? It’s really having the confidence to say no to certain things, to say yes to others, to give feedback as a gift, to really be unafraid in entering some of those scary conversations. And then it’s really about being inclusive, in casting a wide net. And I even have chapters about how to be a good host, which people say, “That’s funny. This is a job. People are coming into my office.” I’m like, “No, no, no, you need to be responsible for the curation, for the comfort you create.”

And then we want to face the future unafraid. And that’s really if you have established respect, if you are seeing beyond your immediate box, if you are unafraid in tackling difficult conversations, then you can really collaborate with multiple stakeholders, bringing lots of voices into the room, ask questions that don’t have answers and be unafraid of what bubbles up.

And so, I really then talk to people about honoring history at the same time that you’re looking towards the future, embracing aging, embracing difference, and, ultimately, the book ends with a dream. Dream big. So, we start with a smile, we end with a dream. Start with the basics and then end with all of the ways in which you can apply these 52 suggestions so that you can build a different world, build a different culture at your company, and feel better at your job, which is why I dared to have joy in the title, because a lot of people are like, “Joy at work? That’s an oxymoron.” I’m like, “Nope, you get the positive results when you have joyful people pursuing meaningful work. And that creates a success.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, beautiful. Thank you. Okay. So, we have seven themes, and they’re sort of stair-stepping up, starting with establish respect, engage the senses, become popular, grow the loyalty, resolve conflicts, fight fear, have a big impact, we start with a smile, we end with a dream. Awesome.

So, now, within these seven themes, we got 52 actions, which is a lot of actions. So, we love the 80/20 principle here on How to be Awesome at Your Job. So, could you zero in on a couple, I don’t know, two, three, five, that just have just the disproportionate impact on making great connections? Maybe they’re high impact, they’re easy to do, they’re often overlooked. What are sort of the like the bullseye actions that make all the difference?

Melanie Katzman
And, by the way, you raised the fact that it’s 52, and that can seem really daunting, but one of the things I encourage people to do when they get the book is to read it in a way that suits you. It’s written with for the attention-deprived executive or worker so that you can dip in, get the information you need for the moment that you’re in.

So, if you’re in the middle of a conflict, you’re going to be, “What do I need to do? Well, this person seems like someone I can’t relate to. Let me pull these few chapters.” You can kind of go in and get what you need when you need it. But, on the other hand, you could also read the book as a yearlong exercise in personal development so that you can do a chapter a week.

Now, in terms of a couple of my favorites, like one of my absolute favorites is “Got it.” And those are two words that change the whole demeanor of work. So, I’m sure you’ve been in this situation, many of my clients have been, I have been, where you shoot off an email request and you look, you glance, “Where did it go? I asked for some information. I need it to be able to enact whatever transaction I’m doing, the deal I’m trying to close, the work I’m trying to complete, and I don’t know whether someone is working on it, I’ve been spammed, I’m not important.”

And whether you are the boss or you are the underling, when somebody doesn’t respond to your request, you don’t know how to take the next step. And we all want to manage our own time, but if you don’t know when the response is coming, or if it’s coming, then you can’t deal with your own timing, which is an incredible empowerment, and it’s this experience of disrespect.

So, I encourage people to say, “Got it.” And for extra credit, “Got it. Your answer is coming in 10 minutes, or it’s going to take me some time to pull the numbers together. I’ll get back to you tonight,” or, “Got it. I’m working on X. Should I re-prioritize to work on Y because this is an important request?” So, I encourage people to use those two words.

Pete Mockaitis
Or even “Got it. I’m afraid I’m not going to be the person who can help you with this.”

Melanie Katzman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that still helps them with their timelines and what to do next.

Melanie Katzman
Advance the ball, right? Say, “Got it,” so then you know. The other really super simple, call people by their name. Like, it is a neural hack. People snap to attention when they hear their name, and too often we don’t call people by their name, or working in diverse organizations, people make up a name that’s easy for them to remember or pronounce.

Pete Mockaitis
Champ. Sport.

Melanie Katzman
Right. And it’s like it happens all the time, but it’s so easy. If I address you by your name, you feel like we already have a connection. If I can’t remember your name, but I remember your face, I can say, “Hey, Pete, I remember like a few years ago…” “Hey, guy, I don’t remember your name but we had such a good conversation. Remember we were standing at the coffee area at the conference, looking at X…” And then you go, “Okay. She cares enough, remember your name.” So, there’s all sorts of tricks to that, to like asking people the history of their name. It’s a quick way to understand someone’s background. So, it sounds simple, but like say, “Got it,” call people by their name.

Moving along the line. Another thing I would say is ask a beautiful question. Come prepared to ask a great question. It honors the person. So, when you do interviews for potential candidates, if someone asked a question that could be answered on the website, what have you learned? You’ve learned that they’re lazy, right? If somebody comes and they have already done the research to ask you a question that reflects what they and how they think, they are going to impress you and then you can also answer them in a way that can engage them.

And so, a lot of different suggestions within the book have to do with bringing what I call conversational gifts. Doing your research so that you’re showing up ready to have a good conversation. And preparing a good question doesn’t take a lot of time but does make a huge difference.

Pete Mockaitis
So a beautiful question, so how that gets formulated, one is that you’ve done your homework and your research as opposed to a lazy question that’s readily available in press releases or website.

Melanie Katzman
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Another is that you’ve done some real good thinking. Any more ingredients or steps or pro-tips for formulating a beautiful question or maybe some examples?

Melanie Katzman
So, I will work with people who are high potentials who are being coached at their company’s request by me, and that’s one set of engagements I have. The other is people will be coming to me when they’re wanting to transition to another role, or they have lost their job and they’re looking to repackage themselves to reenter the workforce.

And so, what I will say to people, I say, “If you’re going for the classic informational interview, so you’ve got a foot in the door, so do the research on who you’re meeting with and what their place is in the market. What are the questions they might be asking themselves and what is information that you have that connects the dots in ways that they may not have thought about before?”

So, for example, I’m going for an interview at a production company, and they make educational films about climate change. So, I’m going to show up and I can either say, “So, tell me who are your founders? Or, are you tackling this topic or that topic?” or I might want to say, “Hey, I’ve noticed that there’s a tremendous increase and demand for school-age programming but there’s an absence of quality product out there.”

“For example, so and so is doing such and such, so and so is doing such and such, but actually your sweet spot seems to be the creation of these kinds of products and you haven’t looked at the school market yet. What would you think about doing that? You could tackle this kind of climate question in this kind of way, educate people, fulfill your mission but also answer an area in the market that’s underserved.”

So, you’re coming in and you’ve done some strategic thinking, you’ve analyzed the marketplace, you’ve looked at what they provide, and you’re offering an opinion. Now, some people will say to me, “I should be paid before I offer up that perspective,” and I would say, “You want to get a job that you’re going to be paid well? Demonstrate that you’re worth it, come and be generous in your thinking and in your willingness to share your thinking.”

Pete Mockaitis
And if you already have the job, I mean, yeah, you’re just there all the time with regard to the meetings and having researched some things and noticed some things that maybe other people haven’t. Well, I just love that so much because I think about being on the receiving end of those questions in terms of, “I’ve actually never heard that organization you’re citing. I wasn’t aware of that trend that you’re pointing out.”

Melanie Katzman
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“You seem brilliant and I want you close by so I don’t overlook something really important.”

Melanie Katzman
But that’s exactly it. You can’t go wrong if you help people be smarter. And the other part of that is when you’re networking, both internally networking or externally, because often times when people are coming up for promotion, or want to be coming up for a promotion, it’s important to do some victory laps around the organization, talk to people, have them get to know you.

I think some of the great questions to ask are you go to someone who you admire in the organization, and say, “How do you get your information? What are the things that you read? On your commute, how are you spending your time getting information?” everyone likes to talk about themselves, and most people like to stop and think about, “Yeah, how do I do that?” And if I want to have the strategic capability of someone who’s very senior in my organization, I want to know what they’re inputting into their internal computer so I’m getting access to some of that good data.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s so good. And what’s so funny is there’s often blogs that you may have never even heard of that really have so much good stuff. I think there’s one about law, like Above the Law, or one about accounting that’s kind of edgy, and it’s sort of like, “I’ve never heard of that.” And I think maybe, I don’t know, a quarter or so of the people in the field may have, or it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I’ve heard about that. But is that really worth looking at?” It’s like, “Oh, this super smart person is there all the time.” “So, apparently it is. Now, I know.” And that’s available right there, just get that curation step.

Melanie Katzman
Absolutely. What I do, non-pandemic times, one of the things I do was I lead leadership retreats in different parts of the world where I bring people together from very different backgrounds and very different nationalities and sectors to understand particular issues of the moment, and we will invariably end up in traffic because it’s just part of the job. And one of the things that we’ll do is just, I’ll say, “Hey, what’s the top five things that are coming up in each of your Twitter feeds? And where is it coming from?”

And it’s fascinating. You have people there that are Chinese entrepreneurs, and French politicians, and Brazilian businessmen and women, and a tech exec from California, and what they’re listening to or reading is so profoundly different, And at a time that we know that we can end up in our own reverberating echo chambers, understanding what different people are accessing is so informative. So, it’s just a really fun great question.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is beautiful. And I want to hit a particular action you highlight which is to listen to inspire. How do I do that?

Melanie Katzman
Well, one of the first things is, as I was saying earlier on, like, to really listen. So, too often I think we listen to reload, “So, I go with what I want to tell you. So, I’m just busy formulating in my head my response,” versus, “I’m listening to you to understand what you want me to really hear.” And I think a mistaken impression often is that we need to demonstrate empathy, that I’m listening to someone and I’m a good listener, I’m having an empathetic response, so I’m searching my autobiographical library for something I can say to show, Pete, that I can relate.

While I’m doing that, I’m not listening to what Pete is really saying. So, rather than focusing on me and what I’m going to do when you stop talking, I need to quiet down inside and actually listen to what you’re saying, show that I’m paying attention. And any kind of visual contact, I think the challenge is to keep your mouth closed and to show interest without using your words. And it’s an exercise I do with people when I am running programs because it’s super hard to listen without speaking and, yet, it’s very impactful when someone listens to you without speaking. It brings you in by their head nods, by their eye contact, by their smiles, by their hand motions.

And an interesting point from my experience has been that when I do encourage teams to have conversations where someone is speaking and nobody’s interrupting for over five minutes. Imagine, over five minutes, it seems like it’s endless. The first minute, people are talking, it feels really good to be listened to. The second minute, the other person is just listening and shaking their head but not saying anything. It feels awkward. The third minute, someone starts, the person who’s speaking, speaks more and adds more detail. The fourth minute might go a little awkward. By the fifth minute, they have revealed something they were never planning on revealing.

And so, five minutes of uninterrupted attention will generally get a much deeper fuller expression of what’s going on, and it’s a little investment for a huge impact. So, to listen to inspire, shut up. Shut up inside and shut up outside. Just listen and absorb and demonstrate your engagement.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Melanie, tell me, anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Melanie Katzman
Okay. I think one thing I just want to mention is that we are having this interview during a pandemic, and as a psychologist working in business, I am so struck by the difficulties that people are having and that we need to take this seriously. Like, there’s a pandemic right now that’s related to a virus but there is a tsunami of mental health crises that is just going to pound us if we don’t take measures now to help people set clear boundaries between work and home, between the beginning and the end of the day. We need to listen carefully to the distress signals that people are sending up, some are much more subtly than others.

A lot of my work these days has been in delivering webinars for companies in lieu of the in-person talks and keynotes I usually do, helping provide a safe place for people to talk about the ways in which they can communicate better when they’re working from home, and ways that they can establish the human personal connection at work in the absence of physical interactions. So, I think we are physically-distanced and psychologically and socially desperate for connection. And companies need to work hard to answer that need.

And so, my big message is, to whoever is listening, really stop, listen deeply, pay attention, and put some effort into helping these connections unfold because if you don’t, I think you’re really going to end up with a very exhausted and debilitated workforce.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you. And now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Melanie Katzman
I think one of my favorite quotes, maybe it’s part of the reason why I wrote a book has lots of steps, and it’s a Chinese philosophical quote, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Melanie Katzman
You got to start moving to make things happen and it’ll just be a little step.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Melanie Katzman
So, I love to look at neurobiology as a way of inspiring us in the office and in the workplace. And one of the studies I think is really important is it’s an fMRI study that shows you how your body heats up in reaction to different emotions. And there’s research that shows us that love and anger physiologically look very much the same. We kind of light up red if you look at these fMRIs.

And it’s important because they are emotions of approach. So, I don’t know if I want to hug you or I want to belt you, but either way I’m having a lot of reaction to you. And I think in the workplace, we often forget that when someone is really worked up about something and they seem pissed off and angry and even difficult, it may be because the person cares so deeply.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really true.

Melanie Katzman
So, I love that piece of data because it really affirms what I see. The problem child that I’m called in to coach is often the person who’s just caring so much.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true. Like, I don’t get upset about things I don’t care about, and it happens in work frequently. And it’s easier if I just don’t care.

Melanie Katzman
Exactly. But sometimes I have to coach people, “Don’t care so much,” right? And so, I just think it’s an important factor for us to consider that the person who cares so much may be sometimes the individual on your team who can seem the most difficult and the most challenging, so we want to value that passion and help that passionate individual channel that energy into the most effective way.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Melanie Katzman
There’s a classic called Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy, which is actually the new book was written in 1970 something. But I really like it because it’s about, “How do we change the things that we can change, control the things we can control, and learn how to focus on those particularly at times when we’re feeling out of control, depressed, or helpless?”

And what we find is, you know, my favorite psychologist or consultant joke is, how many consultants does it take to change a lightbulb?”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I think I know this one. Oh, I know a therapist. I don’t know about consultants.

Melanie Katzman
I’m a therapist and a consultant so I go between the two. So, which is the answer?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m not going to give the punchline. Take it away, Melanie. Take it away.

Melanie Katzman
Oh, you’re not? Okay. The lightbulb has to want to change itself, right? And so, ultimately, the power is with us. We need to be able to change ourselves. And sometimes it’s changing our actions, sometimes it’s changing the way we think. And so, my answer to your question, given the times we’re living in, is that there are some things that we can change and there are some things we can’t, but to be able to survive and thrive during this period, we need to change the way we think or perceive or assess things in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool?

Melanie Katzman
My paper and pencil. I have all sorts of electronics that help facilitate my work but I find that having a daily list that I write down helps me track and prioritize what I’m going to do, and it feels great crossing it off versus just hitting delete. So, I like a paper and pencil.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that you’re known for, people quote it back to you frequently or Kindle book highlighted all the time?

Melanie Katzman
Well, I think, oftentimes, it has to do with a lot of what we’ve been talking about, which is you have to slow down to move fast, that the investments in making a strong connection is really a very small one in terms of time, but if you are intentional with your actions, you’ll have a very big impact. So, small acts of human kindness have huge and rewarding impact.

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

Melanie Katzman
Follow me on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn at Melanie Katzman. And all of these different social media platforms, almost every week I put out a minute of advice, so you can grab a minute with Melanie and it’s just very topical, practical advice that helps you just be better in that day and, hopefully, in that week.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Melanie Katzman
Yeah. It’s up to you. It doesn’t matter whether you are in a cubicle, whether you are working out of a closet right now, or whether you’re occupying a corner office, that it’s up to you and how you behave. And that will change and impact the culture of everybody around you. And that if you want to have joy and meaning at work, you make it happen by what you do and how you do it, and how you do it with people who you might not even think to include but probably should and could and will benefit by doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Melanie, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all of your connecting.

Melanie Katzman
Thank you so much. And it was great to be connected to you, and thanks for a great interview.

644: How to Sharpen Your Skills for Jobs That Don’t Exist Yet with Michelle Weise

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Michelle Weise sheds light on the learning challenges professionals will face in the near future—and how we can prepare for them.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to surface your hidden skills
  2. How to keep AI from making you irrelevant
  3. Nifty tools for upskilling quickly

About Michelle

Michelle Weise was just named to the Thinkers50 thinkers to watch in 2021. She is senior advisor to Imaginable Futures, a venture of The Omidyar Group, and BrightHive, a data collaboration platform. 

She is former chief innovation officer of Strada Education Network and Southern New Hampshire University. She led the higher education practice at Clay Christensen’s Institute for Disruptive Innovation. Her most recent book is LONG LIFE LEARNING: Preparing for Jobs that Don’t Even Exist Yet (Wiley, 2020). Her first book, with Clay Christensen (2014) is Hire Education: Mastery, Modularization, and the Workforce Revolution.

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

  • MunkPack. Save 20% on delicious, keto-friendly snacks at Munkpack.com with the promo code AWESOME.

Michelle Weise Interview Transcript

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

Michelle Weise
Great to be with you, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, as I was reading all about you, one thing that I found, I guess, touching or moving or wanting to touch up on for a moment was we’ve spoken with some people who have worked and written books with Stephen R. Covey, and it was just sort of beautiful to hear some memories of that great man and teacher who’ve lived on, and, likewise, I wanted to hear a bit from you, to start us off, about working with Clayton Christensen. What’s something folks should know about him and who he was when you were collaborating with him?

Michelle Weise
He was one of the most generous people. He would always kind of make you feel like you were the most important person talking to him at that moment. And, it’s funny, I had a lot of folks who would see him speak at large events and they could sense his sort of folksy tone from him and his kindness, and he would say these beautiful things, and people would turn to me and say, “Is he really that nice? Is this for show?” and it really wasn’t.

He was sort of rooted in that way. He was driven by a really intense faith. He was a Mormon. At his funeral, it was kind of amazing to hear the incredible amount of service he did on the sidelines. And that just sort of…that feeling of just kindness and generosity that was emanating from him, I think it just showed through every action.

And, for me, it was life-changing to work with him directly and to write with him and to learn from him, and to go very deep into the theories of disruptive innovation and sort of see where he would get frustrated with kind of the misuse of his theories. And everything I learned about storytelling, I learned from him.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing. And so, oh, yeah, we’re going to be doing a little bit of storytelling, I suppose, here about your insights associated with long life learning. I keep almost saying life-long learning every time, it probably happens to you a lot with your collaborators here. So, well, hey, let’s go meta for a second. Michelle, tell me, how can we tell this story most effectively?

Michelle Weise
Yes, so the reason why we’re getting tripped up on long life learning is we’re so much more familiar with this concept of life-long learning that we should be constantly learning how to learn throughout our lives. What I tried to do in this book was to move us into action. I was just noticing a lot of inertia around this concept because we know we need to reskill throughout our longer more turbulent work lives. But where is the actual infrastructure to sort of take these on and off ramps, in and out of learning and work, or do both at the same time and not have it feel so painful?

And so, for me, this mental shift comes through this concept of a longer life. If we extend our life spans, which we know since 1840, we’ve tacking on three months of life to every single year since 1840, so our life spans are just definitely extending but so are our work lives. When you look at early Baby Boomers and how long they’re staying in the workforce and how many job changes they go through by the time they retire, it just helps us kind of snap us into attention, and to say, “We have to start building a better functioning ecosystem in which we can access the education and training we need in order to thrive in the labor market.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that thesis seems to just make sense as a natural implication of living longer and such. So, could you maybe share with us something that’s surprising or counterintuitive as a discovery that you’ve made along the way as you’re putting this together?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I have been doing a lot of research on the future or work, and what I noticed in a lot of the literature and the analyses out there by chief economists as they’re trying to sort of forecast all the different kinds of ways in which jobs are going to become obsolete or this industry will become decimated by these technologies, what I realized was this kind of intense focus on the “it”, or the things or the jobs, or the tasks and numbers.

And so, what I realized is if we actually kind of move away from thinking about the future of work to the future of workers, and all of us having to somehow kind of move through this learn-earn, learn-earn cycle, to me it kind of helped surface some of the most intractable issues and barriers that we need to solve for today.

So, what my book does is it really actually elevates the voices of people who only have a high school degree, who are constantly being overlooked for work they could actually perform, and noticing where the barriers kind of coalesce. So, these concepts that I come up with around better career navigation, or better wrap-around support services, or more targeted educational pathways, or more integrated learning and earning, and more fair and transparent skills-based hiring practices, those aren’t just coming from me thinking what we need to do. It’s really kind of trying to gather all this qualitative data.

We did over a hundred hour-long in-depth interviews with folks to sort of sass out, “Where do people keep kind of bumping up against pain points?” And if we designed this future system better, then all of us are going to actually end up benefiting. It’s the same idea of the curve cuts that we did when we kind of created the Americans With Disabilities Act.

When you’re cutting into the curve and you’re making a sloping curve, you’re not only helping folks who are disabled who need to use a wheelchair, but you’re helping mothers pushing strollers, or FedEx delivery folks with their dolleys, you’re helping runners, cyclists, skateboarders. It’s this idea of universal design. But when we want to target our focus, because it just seems like this huge, expansive challenge, we focus on the people, the future of workers.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Okay. Well, so then, as we got a lot of workers listening right now, can you sort of frame things up for us a little bit in terms of…? So, you make a point that the old model of, hey, there’s education, then there’s work, then there’s retirement isn’t what we should be relying upon going forward. Can you expand upon that?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, just the notion that we could have one or a handful of jobs and retire in comfort, that’s already become sort of a quaint notion. And when you look at the amount of job changes that people are experiencing by the time they retire, folks are already going through, on average, 12 job changes by the time they retire.

And so, as we think about that longer more turbulent work life that is shaped by rapid advancements in technology, we can only extrapolate from there, “Wow, we may have to somehow entertain 20 or 30 job changes by the time we retire. And so, how in the world are we going to navigate that when one is just so difficult to navigate?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, lay it on us, how should we navigate these optimally?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I think the perfect illustration of what’s not working today is when we look at what the pandemic has shown us, which is when retail and hospitality were just completely decimated as industries, we had no way for people who were in those customer service roles or those frontline worker roles to actually transfer their skills from retail or from hospitality into something totally different but to identify their kind of transferable skills.

And I think, all of us, we believe that we have really important kinds of skills. Those transferable skills that can help us port our assets from one specific area to another. But, in general, when you think about the job market, we think about it in such a linear format. We kind of, if we start off in retail, or if we start off in office admin, when we think about advancement, we think within that line of work. It’s harder for us to sort of think about moving beyond that industry that we started in.

And the reason why we feel that way is because that’s what employers tell us, right? The employers want to see exact work experience in hospitality to move you up to a manager role. We don’t have ways of validating other kinds of experiences. So, one of the key solutions for us that are exciting for us to anticipate, and we already see these different kinds of AI-powered platforms.

What they’re doing is they’re helping us surface maybe some of our hidden skills. The skills that aren’t necessarily recognized by a formal credential, like a degree or a certificate or a certification. And what they’re doing is, as we’re typing in, I used to be a barista, that signal of the barista helps the platform actually surface, “Oh, did you know that folks who were baristas they have these specific competencies and skills.”

So, there are ways in which these platforms can not only help us surface our own skills but then help us envision pathways where we might actually be 75% of the way there towards something in human resources, or 85% of the way there towards something in advertising and marketing. We just didn’t know it; we couldn’t envision it for ourselves.

So, these kinds of tech-enabled platforms are interesting kinds of seeds of innovation to look at that might help us not only kind of validate our own skills whether we’ve acquired them through taking care of our own families or through work experience, and also understand the kinds of gaps we might have to fill in order to move into these other opportunities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really interesting when you mentioned that if you’re a barista, you can very well have under the surface like all of these skills that you’re applying there. And that reminds me of a previous guest we had, Todd Rose, talking about dark horses and how what might seem like completely different skills are actually, if you zoom way in, super similar in terms of, “Oh, actually, well, you’re using your hands to shape these things into other things so that they fit. Those are similar.” Much like, “Oh, you are optimizing a manufacturing production schedule is sort of like solving a puzzle over in the realm of math or physics or something that, who would’ve known, those are quite common or quite complementary.”

Michelle Weise
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, these platforms you speak of, how do we get our hands on one? So, can I go to some website right now and it’s going to tell me all my hidden skills?

Michelle Weise
So, that’s one of the challenges. There is like a free one off of Emsi called Skills Match where you can start to surface and kind of build a resume using these technologies. But this is one of the challenges and this is what I’m trying to point out in my book is that there are hundreds of thousands of innovations and solutions out there. The problem is for any normal person to understand where to go, like if we’re suddenly laid off, we don’t know who to call, where to go, who to talk to.

There are so many of these solutions out there but they’re not knit together in a way that’s easily understandable and navigable for any person. It’s not that we need a whole slew of new innovations. We need these things to become just more accessible so we can understand and comprehend how to navigate this who to go to for, “How do I know that when I pick this learning experience, a future employer is going to validate it and understand what it means? And how do I know precisely which skills I need to acquire? And which school actually offers those three competencies? I don’t need a degree, maybe. Maybe I already have a degree. I don’t want to go back to school full time. How do I get just what I need in order to move on?” And that’s one of the challenges.

But there’s a bunch of these groups, like Skyhigh, FutureFit. And what they’re doing right now is they’re more B2B, they’re more working with enterprises and trying to help them get a better understanding of who’s in their workforce. Because a lot of companies, and it’s very odd to think about it this way, but most companies don’t actually know what their people can do.

They know job titles, they know names. They don’t have a real granular sense of the skillsets, the competencies, all those hidden talents that folks have. So, that’s where these innovations are starting is trying to help employers be less wasteful, not always recruit externally, but look at the talent that they have right in front of them, and think, “Maybe I could actually take 30% of these folks and build their skills in X, Y, or Z technique or strategic goals for the future.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s exciting, and, indeed, it just seems like a huge opportunity that’s just waiting to be plucked. A great manager would know a lot of what their team is capable of. Yet, how is that information captured, collected, and transmitted elsewhere? And one of the incentives for doing so, you’re like, “No, Michelle is a rock star. She’s working for me. Get your hands off. I don’t want you to snag and do a completely different function.”

Michelle Weise
That is a real challenge within the companies. Yeah, this kind of like zero-sum game of, “Oh, if you take my person, you’re hurting me versus helping the company.” It’s hard to get out of that mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally, unless you have sort of a widespread culture and reciprocity and such so that you say, “Hey, you know what, there’s give and take, I might lose Michelle for a couple months, but I’m going to get Phil who’s amazing and fills another role that we really need,” so there’s that trust there that can be handy.

Well, now, you just got me dreaming big, Michelle. I remember I once, I don’t know if I’m going to do this or not, but I hope someone is doing this. But when you talked about the high school folks who did not have diplomas and yet are capable of doing so much but it’s hard for them to sort of prove that. I kind of imagine just like forming this whole business where we just sort of like assess the crap out of people in terms of like all of these batteries of things because I come from strategy consulting and we did case interviews, and I found that that was a pretty excellent means of identifying if some folks have a particular set of skills. And so, that’s one kind of a test for one set of skills.

Likewise, there’s many tests for many other skills. Wouldn’t it be cool if folks could go to some sort of facility for a week or something and get a rundown on all their skills in a language that firms could read and understand, and then open up opportunity for people as well as savings for the companies? It seems like someone should have invented that. Maybe it needs to be me or maybe that’s in the works. But, Michelle, give us your take on to what extent does that exists, a means of identifying and appreciating hidden skills so that companies can save money and not have to hire the Harvard grad, and professionals who don’t have the degree can see some cool opportunities?

Michelle Weise
Yeah. So, what you’re identifying when you’re talking about seeing how someone responds to a case study is you’re testing their problem-solving capabilities, you’re trying to see, “What kind of systems-thinking, critical-thinking capabilities do they have?” I was just talking to a colleague who used to work at Arthur Andersen and they had this very open-question format where they would do the same things where they’d be trying to assess out someone’s sense of initiative and collaboration and these more fuzzy things, but trying to see how they talk about this in the context of solving a problem.

The good news is that there are these innovators who are working on new kinds of ways of assessing curiosity, problem-solving, all these really important kinds of skills that we know are going to be deeply valuable in the future of work. Because as we think about the rapid advancements of AI and how intelligent these AI are, where it’s not only able to read, drive, see, but it’s also able to write poetry, it can paint Picassos. It’s getting scary how far these technologies are sort of infiltrating our lives. What is our human advantage? What is our competitive advantage when we compare ourselves to these machines who can usually do some of this work far more flawlessly than we can? And it comes in these human skills.

So, places Imbellis and Mursion and all these different groups are trying to figure out ways to test out someone’s problem-solving capabilities where you’re on a computer and you’re thrust into this setting where you’re in this natural environment in the mountains and something is dead in front of you, and you need to kind of poke it and look at it, sort of see what is going on, and you’re trying to figure out what happened.

And so, on the backend you have psychometricians kind of figuring out what all those clicks mean, what are you doing when you’re putting these two datasets together. So, there’s really interesting ways in which groups are trying to democratize the process, and say, “We’re looking for the best problem-solvers in the world. If you can kind of solve this problem, this is really exciting.” And it makes me think of what you’re talking about with Todd Rose’s concept of the dark horse.

One of the most valuable assets that we will bring to the table is our ability to take concepts from seemingly unrelated domains and make them make sense in the context of the problem we’re trying to solve. So, InnoCentive, as an example, this was a platform that was created partly because at Eli Lilly, these chemists and scientists couldn’t figure out a problem so they posted it online and they found out that a lawyer could actually solve the problem using his sort of different kinds of contextualized expertise to help them figure out a way forward. Or, when they tried to figure out how to create more efficient ways of solving for oil spills in oceans, it was actually a pastry chef who talked about the process of making chocolate mousse and how that might actually help us think through how you remove oil from water.

And this is all, I’m totally stealing this from David Epstein’s book Range, but it’s this idea of, “How are we going to cultivate not only problem-solvers but people who can display that sense of range?” And it doesn’t always come from a four-year college degree. We don’t always get that real intensive interdisciplinary learning that we probably should. And, for me, for the next steps for higher education, that is a real opportunity for them to kind of break down silos across disciplines and departments. But, as we think about those skills that are going to make us most valuable, it’s going to be those kinds of hidden ways of thinking about problems.

Pete Mockaitis
So, let’s hit that for a minute there. So, AI can do a lot, and right now we’re very much evaluating humans being able to draw from different disciplines and putting them together. So, What are the fundamental kinds of principles or distinctions that…? Like, we think human brains are going to be able to do this better than machines even 20 years from now. What are those things? It’s not playing chess or Jeopardy, but what is it?

Michelle Weise
I think probably the most helpful way of thinking about it is when I talked to an executive from Apple who, he actually went to Stanford for a mechanical engineering degree, but as part of his general curriculum he took a class on ethics. And he mentioned that that class is probably one of the most valuable classes he had while he was an undergraduate, because when they’re producing technology, new technologies, new products, the thing they have to think about is, he called it sort of volume impact repercussions, where they have to think of second-, third-order effects of what they’re building, because, in an instant, millions of people are going to be leveraging whatever it is they are producing. And so, they really have to kind of anticipate forward and think, “What are all the ways in which this can go wrong?”

And if we think about where we are today with social media, we didn’t do enough of that. We didn’t extrapolate enough far forward. And when you hear the co-founders of a bunch of these different social media companies, you hear them say, “I didn’t think that this is the way that it was going to be used.” But this is what humans do bring to the table when we sort of bring ethics and judgment and values, and try to think forward.

And this also has implications on the kinds of people you bring around the table to do that sort of analyses. It has to be a diverse group. It cannot just be young white male undergrads kind of thinking about this problem. It has to be a diverse group of folks kind of thinking about those volume impact repercussions. So, I think those real skills in exercising judgment are going to be critical, that we can’t rely on the AI to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, second-, third-order things. And I guess that makes sense to me in terms of like as I think about things that are like playing chess or Jeopardy or even like composing or painting, it’s sort of like they’re all kind of bounded in a way in terms of find the right answer, or the right move, or apply a principle of color or sound.

Michelle Weise
Right, they’re finite. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Versus saying, speculating as to what social media and how it will impact us with widespread adoption. That does seem harder to stick inside code. Anything else that we humans do great?

Michelle Weise
So, a couple of years ago, Amazon had tried to leverage AI to diversity their hiring processes, and they thought maybe AI could do a better job than humans. And so, they kind of built out this new system, the AI started kind of going through the diverse set of applications. And then it was the humans kind of watching and seeing the output to sort of identify, “Huh, kind of strange that so many of these folks are named Jarod. Or, a lot of them played lacrosse.”

And they started to realize, “Oh, my gosh, we’ve trained the AI on flawed data.” They kind of looked at their existing talent pool. They tried to sort of say, “These are the senior leaders at our company that do great work.” But what they did was they trained the AI to search for people that looked and sounded exactly like their existing leadership, and that is not a way that you diversify your talent pool.

And so, it took humans to kind of notice and sort of exercise some judgment to say, “Wait, something is wrong. Interrogate it. Look deeply, look into the data,” and sort of say, “Oh, okay. We’ve got a problem here.” Because the AI will only just kind of repeatedly get smarter and smarter with the data that it is trained on. And we see this also happening, unfortunately, in the legal system where we’re developing sentencing structures based on deeply inequitable past data of how we’ve punished people.

So, we need this kind of deep-thinking humans for the future who have enough domain expertise to be able to question the AI because we cannot just let it…the crazy thing is that most companies…

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Jarod is in here. Whatever you say, robot.

Michelle Weise
Yeah, most companies like don’t know if they can trust their AI right now. I have a statistic in the book where they are not comfortable auditing the sort of their existing AI.

Pete Mockaitis
Not comfortable auditing it?

Michelle Weise
Yes, so this is from an Accenture study that basically fewer than a third of companies surveyed have a high degree of confidence in the fairness and auditability of their AI systems, and less than half have similar confidence in the safety of those systems. So, we’re so reliant on these technologies and yet we don’t fully trust the algorithms that undergird them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I buy that even in a very easy example. I think about machine-generated transcription, which, I mean, that’s existed for 20, 30, 40 years and yet it’s still not great. I don’t know. If you have 98% accuracy, okay, that sounds really impressive, but that’s really still like three errors every minute. And so, in this conversation we’d have a hundred or two, and so I wouldn’t call that good.

And so, anyway, I just find that, I don’t know, not to be quite grouchy, but I’m a little skeptical myself in terms of maybe eventually it will be awesome but right now I’m not super impressed, and maybe I just haven’t been looking at the right places to blow me away.

Michelle Weise
No, what you are pointing out is what this MIT economist named Daron Acemoglu calls so-so automation. So, like when we think about just the rise of ATMs in the last few decades, what’s interesting about an ATM is that it is far better than a so-so technology because it actually completely made obsolete the role of a person counting money because it could do it really well.

And we don’t actually have a lot of technologies that we’re building today, the transcription one is a perfect example, or the robots that we use in warehouses where we have to depend on people as pick-and-packers to be able to sort of get the thing out of the robot’s sort of treasure trove and put it into a box.

So, we’re creating technologies that are just so-so. They’re not great enough to completely obviate a certain task. And, as a result, we’re not creating enough forms of truly creative labor. Because when ATMs kind of took over, what was fascinating to see is the sort of burgeoning of the services industry in banking. It wasn’t that people just became useless, it’s that they actually transferred their skills into different domains.

Here, what we’re having is a lot of kind of unfulfilling what researchers called ghost work. It’s this kind of interstitial stuff that we have to do on the backend even when we’re training AI. You have tons of people, these mechanical turkers who are working for cents on the dollar, who are identifying all the photos that are coming up from the AI to say, “That’s a face. That’s the same face as that one. That’s a body part. Ooh, that’s not a body part we want to show.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s a cat. That’s not a cat.” Right?

Michelle Weise
Exactly. And, “Not a hotdog. A hotdog.”

Pete Mockaitis
Silicon Valley.

Michelle Weise
But we have a lot of terrible work that’s emerging because of that not-great-enough technology. Right now, we’re in this awkward phase where we’re not creating enough forms of creative labor.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michelle, these are a lot of interesting ideas. I’d love it if we could sort of zoom in here now for the professional who are maybe in their 30s or 40s who got a lot of work left in their career before retirement, likely. So, what’s our game plan in terms of learning the right stuff effectively and well and keeping our careers moving in a great trajectory?

Michelle Weise
Yes. So, I think one way forward is, unfortunately, for us as job seekers, a lot of the burden rests on us, and a lot of the financial risks also rests on us to make these decisions on our own. But moving into the future, what we really need to see and what, I think, will signify the kind of company that we want to work for are the ones who stop this kind of dis-investment in training their existing workforce and start to realize, “I have all this talent within. How do I help them acquire the skills they need to be successful?”

And I think the most powerful indicator of a company that is truly invested in us as job seekers are the ones that tell us, “You don’t have to do this on your own. We’re not going to just dangle tuition assistance or tuition reimbursement dollars and say, ‘Hey, we’re glad that you would like to advance your education. Go do it on your own time on top of everything else you’ve got going on in your lives.’”

The most competitive forward-thinking companies are going to realize that the workplace is really the classroom of the future. And I’m not talking about on-the-job compliance training, risk mitigation work, like sexual harassment training. I am talking about real new skills-building activities. So, it’s critical that the company not only identifies really transparent internal mobility pathways for you and for us, but it also has to be very explicit about carving out time in the flow of the workday for you to acquire those skills because it’s not fair for us to have to somehow squeeze it in on top of stitching together multiple part-time jobs, or all our caregiving activities. It’s too hard to just kind of stack that on top of everything else.

So, I think the things that we need to look out for the future are the companies that are truly invested in our reskilling and upskilling who kind of figure out ways to make that learning bite-sized, or for an hour a day, or an hour a week where we can be doing this in the flow of work. And, also, for educational institutions and providers to be able to modularized their learning in ways that’s more accessible where we’re not always bending to the sort of linear structure, the college or the university, but that it’s much more flexible and easily consumable.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s a beautiful world that I’d love for us to live in. And I guess part of why this podcast exists is that we’re not there, and it is a little bit of a do-it-yourself proposition for a lot of folks these days, and fair or not, pleasant or not, stressful. So, let’s talk to the professional who’s in an environment that’s not so enlightened with regard to offering some great learning opportunity, and let’s say even, hey, they’re a little mercenary, they’re just going to go take it, “At 11:00 a.m., when there’s no other meeting on the calendar, I’m just going to do me some learning.” What are some of the top resources you’d recommend to them? I’m a huge fan of LinkedIn Learning myself, but what else would you say in terms of, “All right, you got an hour. You’re going to do some learning,” what are some of your favorite places to go?

Michelle Weise
So, one that I talk about in the book is called GLEAC. And what they do is they make this kind of mobile-friendly learning apps where they just take minutes and they have folks, for instance, who are customer service or retail folks in Prada stores, as an example, where they’re building up their reflection and communication of this kind of human skills that they’re developing where they’re exercising their judgment. And they are these bite-sized learning applications that a worker can kind of leverage while they’re working.

Another one would be Mursion that I’m kind of really interested in.

So, we tend to think of executive coaching as reserved for people kind of mid-level managers and up. What Mursion enables us to do is practice those really important human skills in a low-stakes environment. So, giving feedback, receiving feedback, these really critical skills for success in the workforce but we generally only practice them in a high-stakes environment, when we actually have to give someone really tough feedback or when we’re receiving it from our bosses.

And, generally, I know whenever I do this, I leave the conversation sort of thinking about all the different ways in which I could’ve done it better. And this environment actually has avatars in front of you, and the quality of the imagery is good enough where you can notice different people’s nonverbal cues, and you hear their voices change, and so you have to be responsive in that moment.

And it’s actually this kind of interesting AI-powered platform that’s puppeteer-ed by one human also in the background, where the human can play the role of like six or seven different people with different voices and different characteristics. And so, it gives you that chance to practice negotiation, all these different kinds of skills that we need to get better at because the fascinating thing, just in general, with human skills is even though we’re human, we’re not very sophisticated at them. We actually have to practice these skills. And just because we take a LinkedIn Learning class on empathy, we’re not somehow going to become more emotionally intelligent just from taking that one class. We have to figure out ways to practice this. So, those are the kinds of innovations that I’m excited about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, then, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Michelle Weise
One thing that might be important for job seekers to know about is the existence of different kinds of alternative learning providers kind of outside the traditional realm of colleges and universities. I think most people have heard of these things called coding bootcamps where you go and you get pretty savvy in web development or frontend development and you do this for 6 to 12 weeks, you pay $20,000 out of pocket, and maybe you get this great job.

Those have typically kind of been more geared to folks who already have a degree, sort of more affluent who can actually afford to pay out of pocket. But there are these interesting other set of providers that I call on-ramps where they do this kind of really important human skills-building work but they also help learners get skills in healthcare, advanced manufacturing, cybersecurity, data science, enough to get hired by.

There are amazing stories of a US Postal Service worker becoming a quality assurance engineer for Facebook through this data science immersive program. And what they’re doing is that they’re actually stitching together that kind of career navigation with a very precise educational pathway with a direct connection to an employer.

And so, there are these kinds of opportunities available. It’s a matter of trying to, again, it’s back to us as the individual job seekers, the burden is on us to kind of find some of these. But a really interesting example of another one is one called Climb Hire we know that Salesforce administrators, they are a job that are in demand, that are in high demand. And so, what they’re doing is they’re building these skills but they’re also embedding social capital building into the learning process where they’re helping folks, who may not have the best professional networks, learn how important it is to build relationships, build professional networks.

And when a person actually gets a job at a company, as a Salesforce administrator, the onus is on them to refer and bring someone else into the company from Climb Hire because the CEO realized from LinkedIn data, as an example, that people are nine times more likely to get a job through a referral so they’re helping job seekers and learners really build this skill because it is something that you kind of have to learn how to do unless you’re sort of born into an incredible network.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Michelle Weise
So, you heard me talk about David Epstein who wrote Range, and he talks about deep learning, but he says, “The most effective learning looks inefficient. It looks like falling behind.” And I love this quote just because I think when we think about all the ways in which we are kind of channeled and incentivized to achieve, we’re always measuring through this kind of testing that is actually not measuring what matters.

And if we were actually to sort of really understand what kind of learners and that kind of deep learning in folks, it would actually look like failing. And I think that’s, I don’t know, that’s important for us to know.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Michelle Weise
Probably Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Michelle Weise
I have one of those keyboards that are split into two and kind of at an angle.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too.

Michelle Weise
I have some tendonitis, so.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I’ve got the Freestyle2 from Kinesis.

Michelle Weise
That’s what I have.

Pete Mockaitis
But you got the tents going. I didn’t get the tents. I just got the split because I’ve got, I guess, some wider shoulders and so I always found that I was…Yeah, so I like being able to stretch out and be me without having to crunch them in.

Michelle Weise
Yeah. I have the same exact one, the Freestyle2. Underneath you can flip out the thingies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s right.

Michelle Weise
You know what I realized, I think I pressed the delete button so much that I actually really kind of hurt my wrist and needed to re-shift my posture.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that there’s something beautiful hiding in that. Perhaps it’s revision, commitment to excellence, iterating, learning, that meta stuff there.

Michelle Weise
Yeah, nothing you write is golden.

Pete Mockaitis
Not at first anyway. And how about a favorite habit?

Michelle Weise
Oh, walking.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that you’re kind of known for, people quote back to you a lot?

Michelle Weise
Oh, I think maybe because I learned this from Clayton Christensen, one of the most powerful parts of the theories is when you see something that looks less than, our immediate kind of reflexes is to sort of scorn or disparage it or to dismiss it as, “Ah, it’s not an important innovation to pay attention to,” but Clay always said it could be just good enough. And that is something that I try to convey to folks. When we have that very human reflex, when we perceive newness as danger, that might be actually the precise time where we need to take a beat and look at the thing more carefully.

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

Michelle Weise
I’m always available through Twitter and LinkedIn @rwmichelle or I have a website called RiseAndDesign.io.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Michelle Weise
I think, in general, it’s still this concept of collaboration. I think we, generally, just because of the way we trained from K-12 on through college, it’s so often kind of this notion that things are a zero-sum game, where if you’re winning, I’m losing. But in this concept of kind of long life learning, there’s no winning list. And so, how do we actually change our behavior instead of always sort of trying to be the leader? How do we actually make sure we’re collaborating in truly distinctive ways? I think that’s something that I think about a lot. It’s a hard behavior to turn to given the way that we’re trained.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Michelle, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck in your long life learning.

Michelle Weise
Thank you. You, too.

643: The Overlooked Fundamentals of Inspiring and Managing Teams with 15Five’s Shane Metcalf

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Shane Metcalf reveals his top research-based do’s and don’ts for being a great manager.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one meeting a manager should always make
  2. The teambuilding technique for great teams from the get-go
  3. How and why to keep an employee dossier 

About Shane

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc, Fast Company, Business Insider, Washington Post, Tech Crunch, and Bloomberg. 

As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven continuous performance management. 15Five has won numerous awards for their company culture, including the prestigious Inc Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on GlassDoor. 

Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn, and listen to him co-host the Best-Self Management Podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Shane Metcalf Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, it’s good to be here and I’m hoping that I’m qualified. I’m, like, asking myself, “Am I being awesome at my job today?” And, you know what, I think I am actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the website says you’re a visionary, so.

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hey, man.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a lot to live up to.

Shane Metcalf
That’s all, you know, websites are amazing. It’s like, “Shane Metcalf. Visionary.” Yeah, one of the many illusions of the digital world, that I’m a visionary.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, I don’t think you envisioned getting a job after spilling orange juice on a customer but you’ve got a fun story there. I’ve got to hear it.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, I was, God, I was probably about 19, 18 or 19 and I was working in a restaurant called The Western Sky Café in the town where I grew up called Taos, New Mexico. And I’ve been in the restaurant industry for four or five years or something, kind of worked my way through high school. And one day I was waiting, I was serving tables, and I go to deliver a glass of orange juice to this gentleman wearing a white shirt. And, lo and behold, something happens and I spilled the glass of orange juice all over this poor gentleman. And he’s pretty gracious, and I made the most of it and I handled it however I do.

And then about 20 minutes later, somebody comes up to me and approaches me, and he’s actually the guy who was washing the windows. We’d hired a professional window washer to wash the windows of our restaurant. And he comes up to me and he says, “I was so impressed by how you handled spilling that glass of orange juice on that poor dude. I’m wondering, do you want a job? Do you want a different job?” and he offered me a job to join his window-washing company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And so, I still don’t really understand what I did that was so impressive other than like being apologetic and probably comping his meal and not being an a-hole after spilling orange juice on him, but, yes, so it got me a job. I think the lesson there is that we never see the big picture. We don’t understand how things that seem catastrophic and bad news are actually the drivers of creative evolution.

And zooming out a little bit, I mean, this is a very small example of that, but one of my favorite quotes is from this cosmologist named Brian Swimme, and he said that the driver of life’s creative evolution…” remember, this is a cosmologist so he’s thinking on this massive time scales, “…is always bad news, breakdowns, and chaos.” It was the extinction of the dinosaurs that paved the way for small mammals to proliferate and become humans. It’s just part of the recipe of evolution is that the things that look horrible are actually moving the storyline forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, I could chew on that for a good while. And so, you move the storyline forward in terms of the experience of work and management and culture at your client organizations. Your company is called 15Five. First of all, what is that and what do you do?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. So, 15Five, we are a people and performance platform. And so, what does that mean? So, we build software education and services that helps to create highly-engaged and high-performing teams by helping people become their best selves. We believe that human development, like careers, are an opportunity for incubating human potential.

So, if we stop looking at our company as, “Hey, I’m going to hire a bunch of human resources to then kind of extract value from them and generate profit and then kind of throw out the used resources.” If we stop thinking of our people like that and actually looking at them as potential to be unlocked, we think that’s really where the best performance, the most creativity, the most engagement, the most retention, and, ultimately, the most rewarding experience we can create for not only our people but also for ourselves.

So, our software does everything from performance reviews and engagement surveys, to more manager-focused tools like check-ins, one-on-ones, peer recognition, real-time feedback. Creating more of these opportunities to communicate and have the right and most important high-leveraged conversations to improve everything inside of a company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, if those conversations are high-leverage, it sure sounds like we should be having them. Can you give us a picture for just how high that leverage is? Like, what kind of results or lift or value do you see generated for your clients? Do you have any cool case stories or numbers to share here?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. You can go to our website. We have over 2500 companies using us and there’s a lot of really interesting stories. No two companies are alike and so no two applications are going to be the same. But one of the things that I love hearing one of our customers, I had people like Credit Karma. She says loves 15Five because it instantly gives her X-ray vision into, “Which are the managers that are actually engaging their teams and giving feedback? And which managers are just not doing the basics of what foundational management principles really are actually being kind of required of us as managers, as people leaders, as people that are organizing other humans and helping to untap their creativity in problem-solving and the ability to move the needle forward?”

Pete Mockaitis
So, they can just see straight up, “Are the managers doing it? Are they in the platform having the conversations? Are they not?”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, and what’s the quality of their conversations, what’s the quality of the feedback. Gallup says, I mean, there’s a pretty damning statistic from Gallup. Gallup says only one out of 10 managers should actually be managers.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on their competence.

Shane Metcalf
Based on their competencies

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And competencies, strengths. It’s a bit of black box when you try to figure out, “Well, what are they determining that from?” But, bottom line, managing people is actually a pretty tough job. Giving proper feedback, getting people aligned with their strengths in their right roles is not always a simple thing and it does require a bit of attention and intention.

And so, what we try to do with our software is provide the scaffolding of what great management really looks like and make it easy, automate that. Automate the asking of the right questions on a regular basis. It’s a bit of a reinvention of the annual performance review. It’s slightly more frequent, less of a heavy lift, more future-focused than just looking at the past.

Also, not only tied to comp because there’s a big mistake in only tying performance conversations to compensation conversations because people are just trying to game the system to try to make more money, and they don’t go into the conversations as much around, “How can I actually improve performance? And what are the blind spots? What are the areas for me to improve upon?”

But then you have manager tools like the check-in, and that allows you to automate the asking of questions around, “Where are you stuck? Where do you need help with? What’s an idea you have to improve your role?” And you can front load your one-on-ones with getting this check-in so that you can sit down and actually have a coaching conversation versus a check-in conversation and waste that 30 minutes in person on just during what the latest is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so much of what you’re saying is resonating big. I just want to make sure we’ve got the why nicely installed here. So, have you seen some rocking things in terms of the, I don’t know, Gallup engagement number, or the attrition rate, or sales performance? Or, can you give us a couple hot numbers?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, some of these things are hard to measure an ROI on. And so, the thing that I go back to is retention. We can go into an organization and through increasing recognition, increasing feedback channels, we keep people at companies longer, we keep the right people at companies longer. Engagement, we’re just starting to play in the engagement game, and so what I’m really excited about is, not too far from now, we’ll be able to run the assessment of engagement, get a score, and then, through the deployment of 15Five, of the check-ins and better one-one-ones, see the impact of that.

And it’s so customizable, so depending on what you’re struggling with as a company, you can then custom-tailor the questions to direct those conversations. So, say, you’re struggling with meaning, say, you’re getting low-meaning scores in your engagement surveys. You can then start asking questions and lead the trainings around, “What actually gives you meaning in your role? Where do you find meaning and inspiration inside the company? And maybe you aren’t finding it. Okay, cool. Well, let’s have a conversation around what that actually look like. Are you just separating your job from meaning and inspiration? Or is there an opportunity to merge those two? And, potentially, also, maybe change roles. Start bringing more of your strengths to the table when you’re actually doing that same role.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig into, so we talked about the basic foundational scaffolding management stuff. Like, we had Bruce Tulgan on the show, and we talked about what he called the crisis of undermanagement and it still haunts me to this day, how I’m guilty of some of that, and how insightful it is in terms of, like, yeah, you actually don’t have a clue unless you’re doing some of these very basic stuff on a regular basis.

So, lay it out for us, what are the basic things that managers need to be doing? And what are the basic questions that need to be asked and how often? Like, give us the one-on-one. Like, what should a manager who’s like doing his or her basic job be doing in terms of conversations?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, okay. Well, look, and some of this stuff is so obvious that I like to think that, “Oh, well, everybody is doing…every manager is doing a one-on-one with their people at least twice a month.” And so many times that’s not actually happening. So, let’s just start there. Let’s just start with one-on-ones because one-on-ones are a container to be having a conversation. It doesn’t mean you’re having a really high-quality conversation but that’s the foundation, so regular one-on-ones. And then how do you actually design those one-one-ones?

So, first of all, the one-on-one isn’t for you as a manager. It’s not for you to be holding your people accountable and making sure that they’ve done the tasks of their role. This is actually your employees one-on-one. This is the chance for them to actually have a direct channel to you to talk about the things that are either going well, the things they want, career development conversations, blockers, places they’re stuck in solving a problem.

And so, if you can orient the one-on-one as more of a coaching conversation, and, again, this is really kind of starting to shift out of the mindset as a manager, of a task manager, which is we want to be leaving behind, and more into as a coach, “I’m here to help you get your next job.” That’s how I think managers should be thinking about this, is, “I want to help you be successful so that you can go and get whatever job you want. Once successful, you’re going to get a promotion, you can move careers, you can move industries. And so, that’s part of the context here I have as your manager is to help you get your next job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And I think from an unhealthy perspective, it’s like, “My job as a manager is to keep you in your place so that you don’t try to take my job,” and that’s an unhealthy approach to management.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, some foundational pieces in terms of the right mindset, helping them succeed, and get whatever job they want, as well as having one-on-ones just occurring on a regular basis, at least twice a month, as you say. All right. And then those one-on-ones is not about, “Do this or this or this or this,” not about accountability on the task checklist but rather about serving them and their needs. And then what are some key questions that are important to cover there?

Shane Metcalf
Sure. Okay. So, other pieces of this that I think are going to be useful in terms of, “How do you then actually maximize your one-on-ones?” is, “Are you setting the right goals? Are you helping your people get clear on what they’re trying to accomplish in their role?” Honestly, we actually should go back to the beginning and really go back to role clarity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s do it.

Shane Metcalf
So, kind of surprising but one of the key things to psychological safety that we’ve discovered, not 15Five but Amy Edmondson and all the research being done on psychological safety, is that role clarity is a massive factor of whether people feel safe at work, whether people feel like they actually know what they’re supposed to be working on and what are the expectations, and the actual agreements of what they’re supposed to be doing in their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that resonates.

Shane Metcalf
And very few people have.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like when I don’t know, it’s so like, “What’s important here and what should I be doing? And am I doing it? Am I not doing it? I hope I’m doing it but I can’t be sure.” And, thusly, there’s always a lingering possibility that somebody be like, “Pete, you know what, you’re just not crushing it the way we want you to.” It’s like, “What does crushing really mean in this role, in this organization?” So, role clarity is huge. Most people don’t have it.

Shane Metcalf
And, look, that starts at the beginning. Like, you should be able to take your job description that you’re posting for that job to hire that person. You should be able to. That should be so well thought out and detailed that basically you take that, copy and paste it from the website, and that is that person’s role description. It should actually hold true.

If you want some examples of this, if you go to our careers page at 15five at 15Five.com/careers, you can see what a really well-thought-out job description actually looks like. Because, ultimately, the job description, we call them actual role and performance agreements. It’s the role, this is exactly what we want in this role, and this is exactly the performance expectations. This is what okay looks like, this is what great looks like, and this is what exceptional looks like in this role. So, that right there is something that the manager and the employee should be crystal clear. And it takes a little bit of work upfront but it’s frontloading the work in the beginning to avoid pain down the line.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, give us an example there in terms of on your careers page you’ve done the work of showing them before they even apply for the role, “This is what’s up and what we consider great versus okay on those dimensions.” That’s pretty cool.

Shane Metcalf
So, you have that clarity, and then people are coming into that position with that clarity. And then the beginning of that relationship, your first week with your new manager is super important. Lots of research has shown the first 90 days of somebody’s role experience at a job is going to be kind of a determinant of how long they stay. Onboarding is super important.

And, again, another thing that a lot of companies get wrong about onboarding is they make the onboarding all about the company, “Look at our values, and look at what we’re doing, and this is where we’re going. We’re going to be a rocket ship and we’re going to do all these things. Aren’t you excited to join our club?” That definitely has a place but you want to balance it with a lot of attention on the individual that’s actually joining.

Help them discover new things about themselves. Ask them what their personal values are. Discover what their strengths are. What does success for them look like in this role? Because, then, it’s actually, “Oh, wow, this company is curious about me and they’re helping me learn and grow and evolve on my own path.” And that’s going to win every single time. If you help your people learn, evolve, and grow, walk their own hero’s journey, you’re going to get better performance. They’ll either leave your company sooner if they’re not the right fit or they’re going to stay longer if they are the right fit.

So, in the onboarding process, we do what we call a best-self kickoff. This is generally about a two-hour meeting, and so you get assigned a new employee and it prompts you to do a best-self kickoff, which is going through a set of questions designed to really actually build rapport and have the manager and employee get to know each other.

And, again, it’s about frontloading some of the work here so you can build a better relationship. I mean, business is all relationship. Every single thing we do in business actually is about relationship. All collaboration is relationship. So, if you have more rapport, you can have more truth. If you have more truth, you can be more efficient with how quickly bad news gets communicated, how fast you learn about what’s really going on with your people and what the real problems of your company are.

And so, the best-self kickoff is just a series of questions to go through and understand things like, “How do you like to receive feedback? What’s your preferred method of communicating? Which channels do you like to be on? Should I text you? Should I Slack you? Should I email you? Where are your work boundaries? Do you have obligations at home that really have you not be available at certain hours?”

Those are the kinds of questions that so rarely get answered and agreed upon and established in the beginning of a management relationship, and so without those things, there’s a bunch of expectations which are always going to lead to disappointment and people being, like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they didn’t give me a public recognition and just gave me a private high-five.” And maybe they really love public recognition and you would’ve found that out if you’d only done the best-self kickoff.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s so good and I’m reminded of one of our guests, Mary Abbajay, wrote a book about “Managing Up,” and she said exactly this, like, “Here’s something that make all the difference in the world with your manager relationships is to have the conversation about, ‘Hey, what are your expectations and preferences on all these dimensions?’” And so, just get that understanding from each other. And she says that in her experience, like less than 1% of people have had this conversation.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But it makes all the difference in the world in terms of having a great relationship. And so, if you’re not as fortunate to be a 15Five client organization, you can still engage in these conversations and get some of that clarity and expectation setting to proactively diffuse/preempt just a billion kerfuffles and moments of irritation down the road.

Shane Metcalf
Absolutely. And, like, if you can keep kind of an employee dossier where it’s like, “Okay, cool. This person on my team, their family is this. Their strength, their top-five strengths are these. Their preferred method of communication, the way they like to receive appreciation is this way.” You have an incredible resource to have that person feel deeply seen and appreciated.

And that’s how you’re actually going to get the best out of that person. You can give them all the perks and rewards, but if they don’t actually feel seen and appreciated by their manager, it dramatically shortens the life cycle of them at your company as well as it just kind of limits the amount of success and joy they’re going to have in their role at your company.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s hit the dossier and some of the big points. So, top five strengths, I mean, that’s easy to get a StrengthsFinder or whatnot as well as maybe some reflections.

Shane Metcalf
And it is. So, like, the two evidence-based strengths profiles are Gallup and VIA Character Strengths. At least that’s what my head of people science tells me. And the strengths are really interesting because strengths, I like to say the first time I did strengths, I did my top five from Gallup and I got them and I read the thing, and it kind of felt like a bad horoscope. It’s kind of like, “Meh, okay, kind of resonates. Whatever.” It didn’t really make an impact.

It wasn’t until later that I actually worked with a facilitator and a coach on strengths that the lightbulb really went on. And I think most people are in that kind of bad horoscope relationship to strengths. And strength is unbelievably powerful but it takes a little bit of digging. It takes a little bit more contemplation to really unlock them.

And so, I would highly recommend, if you’re a manager, make a study of strengths. Help your people not just take the strengths assessment but then really be in a months-long conversation, and really you should be in conversations about your strengths your entire career because the more you look into it, the more it opens up, and the more you realize, “Wow, okay, I really could develop these strengths into my superpowers as a professional.”

You want to talk about how to be awesome at your job, it’s strengths. Use your strengths. That’s the secret. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a big part of the game is really digging in beyond, “Oh, Activator. Okay,” “Ideation, all right.” It’s like, “No, no, seriously. What are the kinds of places where I’m getting like all these ideas? What’s the kinds of activities I’m doing as I’m getting those…?” To really dig deep such that it’s not just a, “Hey, good for you, Shane. Here’s a star for this strength you’ve got,” but to really zoom in on, “How do I cultivate that into a superpower?” and I guess what I’m finding personally as I do this sort of thing is that a lot of the gain is getting all the stuff that needs doing that are not my strengths done in different ways without me.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of things, whether trusting people, developing processes and systems and talent in others, just like, “This is yours. You own this now. I’m saying goodbye because I’m okay at this and you’re great at it, and it just makes more sense for it to be here,” but it takes a lot of doing to make that handoff.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. And I think as managers, essentially, we’re orchestrators. We are the ones with the greater responsibility to make sure that we’re helping our people actually understand their strengths. And this is kind of a recent revelation that kind of blew my mind is that every strength has a need and a contribution. Like, “What does this strength want to contribute and what is the need of this strength?”

And you can go look up like Gallup strength needs. I think you’ll find a chart on this. But it kind of opened my eyes of like, “Wow, right.” Like, part of what’s so difficult about designing cultures and designing really thriving companies and cultures is that, fundamentally, I think culture is about meeting human needs. And so, we have universal ones around belonging, and connection, and esteem, and growth, and autonomy, and mastery, and all these things. But then there’s the nuance ways that it shows up.

And, okay, Pete, you have a different top five strengths than me, I’m assuming. And maybe we have the exact same ones. It would be interesting to compare but those are all going to have their own unique combination of needs to feel truly fulfilled. And so, designing a culture where you can meet a broader range of human needs is how you win the culture game.

Business, traditionally, was like, “Hey, we only care about you as a professional. You’re a cog in the machine. We don’t even really care about your thoughts about things, let alone your feelings about things.” And, now, we’re just broadening the scope of this. We’re saying, “Actually, we want to support you in having a great life as well as a great career, because we’re in personal development as also professional development. And so, we’re going to support/nourish the whole being, the whole human.”

And I think there’s distinctions there because we’re not actually supporting the whole human. There are parts of us that truly are better off to not be addressing in the professional context. But there’s a much broader range of the whole human that we can address as business leaders than we’ve traditionally been led to believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I love it, Shane, how you walked us back a little bit and we zoomed out and we say, “Let’s just get the fundamentals in terms of role clarity, understanding expectations associated with the role and how we cared to interact with each other, having that deeper sense of person knowledge that builds out the dossier with the top strengths and such.”

So, then now that we’ve established some of the fundamentals that almost no one establishes, let’s hear about some of these one-on-ones. What are some of the questions and content that we should be covering over and over again?

Shane Metcalf
So, again, it’s not only because it’s part of one of the main products in our platform but because I think it’s actually good practice and the science backs us up on this, is asynchronous check-ins that lead into your one-one-one. And so, what I mean by that is take a few minutes to write down the answers to some basic questions in advance of your one-on-one.

And those, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” there’s a great quote, “A problem well stated is half-solved.” Get your people to state their problems and articulate exactly where they’re stuck, and they’re already half-solved. They’ve already done part of the work.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, this reminds me of just, I don’t know, junior high, high school, maybe middle school, I know, learning ages. Some folks would ask a question of the teacher and it was just, “I don’t get it.” And you can even see the teacher is frustrated, like, “I guess I could repeat what I just said. I mean, I don’t know,” versus, I noticed that the good students would ask the more specific questions, like, “Okay, wait. So, what’s RNA polymerase’s role in this whole DNA process that’s going down here? Because I see what these things did but what’s the RNA polymerase?”

So, yeah, I think that that’s well-said in terms of we have a little bit of precision and clarity and specificity associated with, “This is where I need help. This software platform makes no sense to me and I’ve asked four different people, like, how the heck to do this thing and none of them seem to have a clue. So, I need to know how to do this function in this software platform,” which is way more specific than, like, I don’t know, “Expenses suck,”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, of course, but I also know that we have heard. Anyone who’ve been in business has heard ridiculous complaints that are only complaining and aren’t actually addressing the problem. Instead of saying…and so instead of like getting into your one-on-one, and then the person just bitching about expenses, you’ve already asked the question, “What are you struggling with? Where are you stuck?” and they say, “I’m really struggling with my expense report. I just don’t understand how to classify the lunches that I’m supposed to expense, and it just really confuses me and it just hurts my brain.”

The beautiful thing is that does not belong in a one-on-one. That is something that you can then go and answer ahead of the one-on-one, and say, “Oh, you categorize it as a benefit, a company benefit, category 12.” Boom. Done. Handled. Cleared. And then you can get into the deeper meatier issue of maybe like they also bring up that, and maybe they put this in private comment, “I’m really having a hard time with Sally, and we’re having a lot of conflict, and I’m pulling away on that team.” That’s the kind of meaty stuff that that one-on-one can be of use to coach this person on and to challenge them, and to actually challenge them through the values of the company, to challenge them to lean in and go direct with that person.

So, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” phenomenal question. “What’s going well? What are you proud of? What are you celebrating?” The power of small wins cannot be underestimated. There’s a great book, a woman Teresa Amabile wrote The Progress Principle, and it’s all this research they did on what actually makes the biggest difference in improving somebody’s inner work life. And so, they had a bunch of professionals keep these journals of tracking their inner work life, how actually they were feeling at work.

And the number one determinant they found was an experience of making progress on meaningful work. And one of the easiest hacks that create a sense of progress was they actually record the small wins. And so, those are kind of just preliminary basic questions that you’d be asking ahead of one-on-ones so that you can then go in and actually have that time to get into the heart of what this person really wants.

And sometimes that’s problem-solving with issues at work, and sometimes those are actually career conversations of “What do you really want?” Like, okay, like you’re pretty happy in this role, but you know that sales isn’t actually what you want long term, and you want to start thinking about maybe actually products is calling your name, or maybe customer success is that.

And so, that’s where we get to put on the coach hat and really start thinking about, “How do I help this person get clear about what they want? And then once they know what they want, how do I help them get it?” In my experience, it’s that even when that person…even when that conversation leads to helping that person get clear that they don’t want to work at my company, it’s a good thing because they’re obviously not going to be fully engaged if they don’t want to be there.

And if you help them pursue their career as a DJ and quit, we actually had somebody do that. They were like, “Yeah,” because we hold these annual in-person company retreat, and I had an aspiring DJ and he loved DJ’ing the retreat so much he was really inspired. And through a lot of support from us, actually went to pursue his career to produce electronic music.

And, for me, that’s just the coolest. As an entrepreneur, as a founder, those are the stories that fill me up because when people actually come into alignment with doing what they actually want to be doing in life, that’s how we’re awesome at our job. That’s when we’re not wasting our time doing something we don’t want for a paycheck. It’s like doing a job we don’t like to make money for a house that we don’t ever spend any time in, and that’s just a miserable cycle. And I think we can do better in the business world on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. Well, Shane, we hit some big ideas and I’d love it if maybe you could just give me a couple just like, hey, top do’s and don’ts. You’ve looked at a lot of research, seen a lot of correlations across a lot of things as people are checking in and have the exchanges and answering questions. Can we wrap it, before we hear some about your favorite things, just a couple top do’s and don’ts based on what you’ve learned on management from your unique vantage point?

Shane Metcalf
Do get personal. There’s obviously nuance to this. But care about the whole person. Care about what they really want. Get curious about what they want out of life, what they want to experience, how they want to grow, and what they want to contribute. Go back to those three questions and dig deep and really understand who this person is and what are their intrinsic motivations in life. That’s going to build a better relationship. It’s going to establish more trust. And it’s, ultimately, I think going to produce a more productive working relationship.

Don’t. Don’t neglect your people. Don’t skip your one-on-ones. Don’t always cancel them because something more urgent came up. That’s going to communicate that you don’t care, that that person is not really important, and that you aren’t invested in their growth and development.

Do study strengths. Go deep into StrengthsFinder. Understand your own strengths and be really honest with yourself whether you like managing and whether managing other people is something that you want to do and you’re intrinsically motivated by. Or, is it did you get into management because it was the only way up the career ladder but, really, you’d love to actually still be coding and doing IC work?

That’s a really interesting one because most companies have it setup as a trap. Why do we have so many crappy managers that shouldn’t be managers in the first place? Because it’s the only way to gain social status and make more money. So, as company builders, as HR professionals, we need to design career progression tracks that accommodate for other ways of progressing in the company other than just being a manager.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Shane Metcalf
This is a poem by this guy Jed McKenna that wrote books on spiritual awakening. It’s pretty short. It’s called Open Sky.

“If you are not amazed by how naïve you were yesterday, you are standing still. If you’re not terrified of the next step, your eyes are closed. If you’re standing still and your eyes are closed, then you are only dreaming that you are awake. A caged bird and an open sky.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Shane Metcalf
And so, stay on that own bleeding edge of your development, your own evolution. We need to be on a continual journey of examining our own beliefs, reexamining what we hold as true. Adam Grant just came out with a really cool new book called Think Again which is about questioning our underlying assumptions about things and rethinking how we approach the world. And we need to be doing that. The world is changing, our jobs are changing. If we don’t reexamine them, we will be left in the dust.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Shane Metcalf
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Phenomenal book about, “How do we actually create cultures that focus on developing all the humans inside of them rather than just our high potentials?” And that learning and development is something that needs to be baked into our daily process rather than to some retreat or an offsite.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that makes you awesome at your job?

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Shane Metcalf
Phenomenal habit. Can’t recommend it enough. Various ways of doing it, everything from an inversion table to like a yoga swing. And so, every morning I do my Morning Pages, I write out three pages, handwritten, of stream of consciousness, and then I hang upside down for five to ten minutes. And then the other one inside of that is Wim Hof breathwork to alkalize the body, oxygenate the whole system. That’s kind of like my trifecta right now is Wim Hof breathwork, Morning Pages, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that connects, resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Shane Metcalf
The journey of helping somebody become their best self is a long-term commitment. It’s not something that just happens once where you have a momentary commitment to somebody. It really is a long-term journey, and we need a long-term commitment.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, so you can sign up for our content at 15Five. You can just go to our blog. I think it’s at 15Five.com/blog. You can find me on LinkedIn, Shane Metcalf. You can also follow our podcast HR Superstars where we’re interviewing kind of the leading experts in HR, people operations, culture, management, leadership. And that is you can find that at HR Superstars if you just search in any of the major platforms.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. Really understand if that’s the job you want. If you fell into your life kind of by accident, and now are just in the habit of inertia, and feel like you can’t actually break out, and that’s a really dangerous place to be. Because if you’re just staying in your job because, “Well, what else would I do? Or, I don’t know how to do anything else,” it probably means you haven’t really examined the rest of the options.

And we’re always free. We can always make new choices even if it means some sacrifices and to kind of shake things up in a pretty radical way, but life is short. Let’s really actually live the life that we want to live and connect with our deeper sense of purpose and passions and be aligned with what we truly are meant to be doing here.

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you and 15Five all the best.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, thanks so much for having us.

642: How to Identify Your Career Season and Land Your Dream Job with Ramit Sethi

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Ramit Sethi shares how to find your career season and jobhunting insights for landing your dream job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes a job the dream job
  2. The question you should ask your career role model
  3. How the briefcase technique can get you the job or raise

About Ramit

Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a personal development expert to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. 

Ramit grew up in Sacramento, the son of Indian immigrant parents who taught him the art of negotiating. Ramit went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in technology and psychology from Stanford University and has used this understanding of human behavior to create innovative solutions in self development. Ramit and his team build premium digital products about careers, personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, and personal development for top performers. The IWT community includes over 1 million monthly readers, 300,000 newsletter subscribers, and 35,000 premium customers. Follow Ramit on Twitter and Instagram.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Ramit Sethi Interview Transcript

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

Ramit Sethi
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ramit, I’m excited to chat with you for several reasons. And one thing, you wouldn’t know it, but the very name of this podcast was inspired by you, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I was chatting with my roommate in the bath, not the bathroom, in the kitchen, and we were thinking about different options, and he said, “You know what, I really think How to be Awesome at Your Job is where it’s at. It’s like ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich.’” I was like, “Yes, exactly. It’s so clear this is what you’re going to get here. If some guys can teach you to be rich, I’m going to show you how to be awesome at your job. That’s what’s up.” So, thank you for that.

Ramit Sethi
Very straightforward. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Word. Well, straightforward is one of your specialties and you’ve got a whole lot of straightforward wisdom in your course Find Your Dream Job 2.0. Tell us, kind of what’s the big idea or thesis behind the whole thing here?

Ramit Sethi
When people talk about a rich life, it’s funny, you ask them, “What is your rich life?” and they almost always say one of three things. They say, “I want to do what I want when I want.” And I go, “Well, what do you want to do?” And then they just stare at me blank because they’ve never actually thought beyond that answer. So, that’s one.

The second one is they say, “I want to have a million bucks,” which is fine, but a million bucks, if you’re 60 versus 30 or if you live in Manhattan versus Topeka, Kansas is completely different. And the third and most haunting answer they give me is, “I just want to pay off my debt.” So, to them, their rich life is simply getting to zero.

Well, one of the things that’s been happening more recently, especially online, is people talking about freedom and looking down on jobs, basically saying, “If you have to work at a job, you’re a loser because only entrepreneurs are successful, etc., etc.” Now, first of all, I’m an entrepreneur but I’m personally offended when people say this because that’s just not true.

The majority of people make their wealth through a full-time job. There’s also lots of good reasons to work at a job. You can create something together that’s bigger than you can ever create alone. You can learn skills that you could never learn alone. You can have an impact, and on and on and on. And I happen to know this first hand because I have coworkers, employees who work with me to create an amazing business and help millions of readers.

So, I just want to first start off by saying let’s get rid of this misconception that a lot of people on Twitter are talking about, which is that if you have to get a job, you’re a loser. That’s BS. A job is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life, being an entrepreneur is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life. We choose.

So, with that said, I wanted to help people find a dream job, not just a normal job, not just a job where you’re like, “Oh, God, it’s Sunday evening. Ah, I have to take a deep sigh thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow.” But, really, the tactics that top performers use to find jobs that pay them well, that challenge them, so that was the origin behind the Dream Job program.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so finding dream jobs, sounds like a great thing to do. Tell us, there are a lot of career coaches and voices out there in the world, what’s kind of distinctive about your approach?

Ramit Sethi
Well, when I started out in college, I had an odd hobby which was I love to interview. And so, I got a small group of my friends together. This was our hobby, we love to interview, so we’d get together, we’d compare notes, “What did they ask you? What did you say?” And we started landing job after job. So, I received job offers at top-tier companies like Google, Intuit, a multi billion dollar hedge fund, and one of the key differences with many career options out there is there’s lots of people who can give you on a resume, you know, 1.25-inch for margins. Irrelevant when you’re looking at top-tier jobs.

So, I always have a philosophy which is study the best. And if I want to find a job, I want to find people who have gotten jobs at top companies because they understand the game at a completely different level than everybody else. So, after I graduated and I had these job offers, I wondered if it was just me. Sometimes you can just be very good at something, and I decided I wanted to help some of my friends to see if I could teach this to them.

So, I remember one of my early friends, she had dropped out of law school and she was feeling very despondent because her parents and family expected her to become a lawyer. She’s like, “What am I supposed to do? I have all this debt.” I said, “I’ll help you find a job but you have to do everything I tell you.” And she was like, “Okay.” And she didn’t think she had any transferable skills. Of course, we all do. We just don’t know how to position them. So, I helped her get a job at a top tier Wall Street company. And then two and a half, three years later, she came to me, and said, “Can you help me again?” She switched to technology and got another top-tier job there.

So, over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find their dream jobs, switch industries, get substantial raises from $10,000 to $80,000, and that’s really what separates the material that we teach from the average career coach out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one distinction you assured is, “Hey, we got some results. Shebam! That’s what it’s about.” That’s awesome. Well done. And so then, how was the approach towards those results different than maybe the mainstream?

Ramit Sethi
Let’s take the most common advice in the career space when you’re looking for a job. What do you it is? If people look for a job, what’s the most common advice that they run into?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know, follow your passion, see a bunch of things online.

Ramit Sethi
Yes. Oh, my God, both of them. It’s just drives everybody nuts, right? As if you’re supposed to go outside in the rain, open your mouth and lift it up towards the sky, and passion just rains down into your mouth. That’s not how it works, my friends. And then, “Oh, let me see. I don’t like my marketing manager job. Hmm, one day my boss finally says something disrespectful to me and I decide to leave, what am I going to do? I’m going to go to some random job search website. I’m going to type in ‘marketing manager’ the very job title that I don’t like and then I’m going to delegate my job search to an algorithm and upload my resume and wait.” What a passive approach to life. What a passive approach to the eight plus hours a day you spend in your job which turns into a career.

I want to propose a totally different approach. So, first off, if you are going for a $250,000 a year executive position, the way that you approach your job search, the companies, your informational interviews, is going to be completely different than if you are a lawyer transitioning to being a social worker. Completely different. So, I want to start by introducing this concept which you will not have heard anywhere else called career seasons.

Just like in life we have different seasons, we dress differently, we travel differently, we have the same in our own lives for our careers. So, let me give myself as an example. When I was in my 20s, I loved working hard, I was willing to work weekends, 60, 70 hours a week, no problem because why? I wanted to grow and more money, more responsibility, more skills. That was the growth season. And some of you listening right now, you’re in growth season. You’re like, “Yeah, pay me $15,000 more I’ll put in all the time you want.”

Okay, what happens as we get a little older in life? Some of us have families, elderly parents, hobbies, and we decide, “You know what, I think I want to focus on my lifestyle. Yes, I want to perform at work but I’m going to prioritize a job that lets me have a lifestyle outside of work, maybe pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m.” And then, for some of us, for example, the lawyer who decides they want to be a beekeeper, “I’m sick of being a lawyer. Okay, I’m out of here.” They want to completely reinvent themselves. They are in the reinvention season.

So, if you are going to a career coach or a random website, how can you expect to find your dream job if you’re getting the same advice as a lawyer reinventing themselves or a senior executive gunning for a half a million dollar a year job? You first start, as we teach in our dream job program, how to find your career season. And you can only choose one, not two. That’s the most common mistake. You choose one and then we show you exactly how to filter and find the right jobs for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that was a handy framework right there in terms of those are three very different flavors. And so, let’s talk about growth then. Yeah, I got to pick one. That’s what I want to go for as the best fit for most of us listening, although, personally, I think I’ve recently emerged from growth into lifestyle.

Ramit Sethi
Wait, wait, before we go on. Can you just tell us, how did you know you switched because there are always telltale clues? How did you know you switched to lifestyle?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s like, I guess, I think about it financially in terms of I don’t see any reason for me to work more to earn more. I could work less and earn less, but, fortunately, the way my business is working, I work less and earn about the same. So, it seems like I can do that and I’d like to do that and, you know, got two kids and a wife, and they’re toddlers. How did I know? I think it’s just more and more times bumping up against something, it’s like, “Why am I trading more hours of which are scarce for more dollars which are, hey, fortunately, these days, not as scarce? This doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.” And so, yeah, those kinds of things.

Ramit Sethi
Well, that’s awesome and I hope everyone listening really think about if that resonates with you because, for example, when I was 22, everything you just said would’ve made zero sense to me. I’d be like, “What are you talking about trading? I have infinite time. Get out of my way. I want to grow my career. I want to get promoted,” all that stuff.

But you’re completely right. When you have toddlers, when you’re married, when you have the financial stability to really think about, “What do I want with my limited time every day?” Then, suddenly, you may recalculate, or you may say, “You know what, I love growth. I’m going to double-down on this.” So, anyway, thanks for sharing that. It’s very insightful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. My pleasure. So, let’s say folks are in the growth season and they’re thinking, “Let’s do it up. Let’s find a new opportunity that’s going to mean more fun, more impact, more money, more responsibility, more learning, more, more, more,” how do they go about it?

Ramit Sethi
The typical way, as we know, is go update your resume and then put it on a website. That’s fine if you want to compete with five other million people who are doing the same thing. I prefer to narrow down my job search, and this is what we teach our dream job students, so that you can answer this question, “What is your dream job?” When I ask people that, they say things like, “I want to help people.” Okay, I do too. But what I really want you to be able to do is to answer that question with something like this, “I want to work at a B2C technology company in the Bay Area which has between 15 to 50 people, as a marketing manager or senior marketing manager.”

That is extremely focused. And when you have a crisp answer like that, suddenly, you can identify the 10 to 20 companies that match, and, like a shark, you can start circling it. And I’ll talk about what do you do when you circle those companies. But remember, you are a shark. You’re going after your target versus, “Let me throw my resume up in the wind and see where it lands.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And how does one arrive at that level of specificity?

Ramit Sethi
Well, you want to start off by saying, “What is my dream role? And what is my dream company?” So, dream role, a lot of people, again, they sort of just fell into the current job title they have. They graduated college, they became whatever title, and then maybe they got promoted or they just kind of got bumped along. And so, here they wake up, they blink their eyes, and they say, “Okay, I guess I’m a blank, blank, blank.” And then when they search, they search for the same title they have.

We want to start off by saying, “What skills do I have? And what do I want to be doing?” So, I’m a marketing coordinator, marketing manager, insurance salesperson, etc., and you can start by doing the research, which we show you how to find other people who have that title or had that title, and say, “Do I like what they do? Do I like their career trajectory?”

The best part about doing this research is you have a crystal ball into other people like you. So, if you are, I’m just using marketing manager, it could be any job title. If you are a marketing manager, you can look in the future and see what other people, who used to be a marketing, are three years from now. Senior marketing manager, maybe eventually CMO. Is that what you want? What does a CMO do? Okay, great. Now I’ve turned a job into a career and I’m looking forward. Awesome. That’s part one.

You walk out of there saying, “Great. I know my job title. Now, company.” Most of us sort of look around at the companies around us geographically and we go, “Okay, I’ll apply to a few companies and wait.” Again, that’s the approach that everybody takes. Nowadays, particularly if you want to work remotely, there are lots of opportunities and ways to do it. So, when we do our research and we show our dream jobs students, they start off with the companies they know I’ll just give you an example. We had a woman who worked at Guitar Center, you know, those places where you go and buy a guitar.

Ramit Sethi
She’s in some kind of marketing role. And then she got promoted, she ended up working at Disney, and then she went and got promoted and worked at some other entertainment company in L.A. And as I was following her career on LinkedIn, it occurred to me, “Wow! This lady, first of all, she’s a top performer. She’s gotten promoted every two to three years. Second, let me look at her trajectory.” For example, if I was starting out, I would’ve never thought of working at Guitar Center. It’s just not in my purview. But guess what? Someone who worked at Guitar Center then went to work at a world-class company like Disney.

And, suddenly, I’m saying, “Wait a minute. Can I work at Guitar Center? What other companies are similar to Guitar Center?” So, you can piece the puzzle together, as we show you how to do this research, and you end up with a spreadsheet of roughly five or so job titles and 20 or so companies, dream companies, and now you start putting them together and going out and circling your targets. That’s how you do it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now with Guitar Center, that turned up in LinkedIn sort of, I think about that Wayback Machine, you know, sort of like back in time at a previous phase. So, is the method by which we surface those Guitar Center opportunities thinking, “Well, what’s the super dream in terms of like long term?” and then say, “Well, who’s got it? And what did I do before?” Is that kind of the strategy?

Ramit Sethi
Yeah, that’s absolutely one part of the strategy. Yes, you want to look at where people are today. Everyone has got two or three dream companies in their head, and Disney tops the list for a lot of people. Great. Let’s look at what marketing managers or senior marketing managers at Disney do and what did they used to do. Now, we can start to trace it back. So, that becomes a very powerful reverse-engineering technique.

But there’s also more to it, right? We can sit at our computers and Google around LinkedIn. But what if we actually talked to this person who now works at Disney or the next company? We’ll say, “Hey, can you give me 15 minutes of your time? I’ve studied your career. It’s fascinating to me. I dreamed of one day working at Disney.” And this is a classic informational interview.

First of all, people are terrified of doing this. They get all in their head, “Oh, why would anyone talk to me? I don’t know what to say.” Well, guess what, we just decided to show you the exact script for when you have these calls. This is exactly what you say. It turns a lot of people will take your call, especially if you approach them in the right way.

And so, you get on the call with this person, him or her, and you can do it through Zoom, and you say, “You know what, I wonder if you could just tell me how did you go from here to here? What was the thought process? Why this company not that?” And, suddenly, you’ve looked at their LinkedIn but now you’re going so much deeper. They’re going to actually tell you why they made those decisions.

And, of course, if you impress them, which you can in not too difficult of a way, those people often say, “Hey, if you decide to apply, let me know. Send me your resume. I’ll make sure it gets to the right person.” So, suddenly, we’re completely side-stepping everyone applying through the front door and just waiting for the black hole doom to reject them, and you’ve got someone who either works or used to work at the company who’s recommending you for an interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s good. What I like about that informational interview approach is it’s a bit different in terms of we’re zooming into the thought process and decision-making of that person and modeling a potential career after them as oppose to merely gathering fundamentals about their current job, which I guess you could do at the same time, like, “What’s it like working there? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it?” It seems like there’s another level of richness there associated with, “How are you thinking about the career game in ways that can inform how I’m thinking about the career game?”

Ramit Sethi
Well, I love how you described those layers. You see, when people think about informational interviews, as I said, a lot of people are afraid to even pick up the phone. But when you really understand how to use all the layers of an informational interview, it’s almost a no-brainer that you need to be doing these in your job search.

I’ll give you an example. So, let’s say that I’m in the lifestyle season, okay? I need to pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m. every day. And so, I’ve narrowed it down to three dream companies and I call somebody who used to work at the company, I say, “You know what, I’ve followed your career. I’m thinking about applying to this company and I just wanted to understand what’s it like to work there?” And they say, “Well, first of all, nobody ever takes any vacation.” And I say, “Oh, really? Why is that?” He says, “Well, it’s a really hard-charging culture, and they bonus you heavily but nobody takes a vacation. And I would say I worked two Saturdays a month.”

Well, guess what. If I’m in lifestyle season, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate the feedback.” That’s an instant no on your spreadsheet. Think about it. So many of us never even get clear about what our career season is so we start off just arbitrarily applying to all these jobs and then our application doesn’t match up with the culture of the company. How could it, right? Because if this company is hard-charging, and you’re talking about, “Oh, I’m looking for work-life balance,” they’re just like, “Get out of here.” And, of course, you never hear back why you got rejected.

So, following the dream job approach lets you unpeel all these layers and, yes, you’re frontloading the work. You’re doing more work on the front-end and it’s going to take you a little bit longer. But I would rather spend two times the amount of time and get eight times the results, then arbitrarily send out my resume and just wait to get back a flood of rejections or arbitrary interviews.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Yeah, so that’s great stuff. Let’s just keep rolling through the process here. So, we’re getting some great clarity, and we’re doing the informational interviews, and in so doing, we’re zeroing in, getting a clearer and clearer picture of what’s up. And let’s just say our dreams have come true or partially true, and we’ve got an interview scheduled at a promising opportunity, what do we do?

Ramit Sethi
You need to have the perfect answers for the obvious questions you’re going to get. So, let’s start at the very beginning. Most people walk in with the mental model of, “I’m going in the interview to answer questions.” Wrong. If that is your mental model of walking in, you’ve already lost. Your job is to communicate your key messages in an interview. Now, yes, of course, you’re going to answer questions. Of course. But if you don’t communicate your key messages, then all you are is just a random person. You’re like a puppet answering questions.

Pete Mockaitis
That mindset shift is just like every political debate ever, “I don’t care what you’ve asked me. I’m going to convey my talking points.”

Ramit Sethi
That’s correct. And I have to say I hate using politicians as an example of effective communicators because sometimes I just want to strangle them. But they absolutely get their key messages across. And I’ll give you an example. So, this starts all the way back at your resume.

When you write your resume, again, people think that your resume, the job is designed to share your chronology. Nobody cares about your chronology. Your job is you’ve got 10 seconds of a hiring manager’s attention, “What is your narrative? What is the story that somebody gets after looking at your resume for 10 seconds and then they close their eyes?” For me, it was the technology and psychology guy who understands human behavior. Okay, so that started with my resume and it flowed from my cover letter. And then when I walked in the interview, that was one of my key messages on and on and on. It’s all consistent.

So, for everyone right now, if you’re listening, you’re like, “What the hell is this guy talking about?” Pull out your resume, close your eyes, and then open it for 10 seconds. Close your eyes again. What is the narrative or how would you describe this person whose resume you just looked at? If the answer is from 1986 to 1999, they worked at XYZ, you’re never going to get that job. So, you want to start off with your narrative. Then you walk in the interview. You have a narrative; you have your key messages.

Here are some questions that you’re going to get in your interview that you need to have the perfect answers for. “Why do you want to work here?” “Tell me about yourself.” “What did you do at your last job?” and “Do you have any questions for me?” Those are table stakes. You’re going to get them so you better have the perfect answer and you better be able to deliver in 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or 90-second-versions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so can you give us the framework then? How do we nail each of those four?

Ramit Sethi
Well, let’s start with “Tell me about yourself.” Well, let’s do a roleplay right now. All right. So, I’m going to ask you that question as if I’m interviewing you and then you just tell me about yourself. This is the best part. Okay, ready? Tell me about yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so not prepped, Ramit.

Ramit Sethi
You got 18 seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I know, like some of the right answers but I haven’t worked it in years because I haven’t interviewed.

Ramit Sethi
Ten seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Ramit. Well, I’m passionate about discovering, developing, and disseminating knowledge that transforms the experience of people, and through my podcast which reaches over 14 million people how to be awesome at your job, and become the first ever podcast to have courses adapted on LinkedIn Learning. I am thrilled at how I have transformed people’s experience of work away from drudgery into things that light them up, and hear about their victories. So, that’s what I’m into these days.

Ramit Sethi
That was pretty good. I mean, you got a slow start but that was very good. Okay, so, clearly, you’ve talked about yourself before, which I love. I think of interviews as the greatest gift we give ourselves. We get to dress up, we get to talk about ourselves for 45 minutes, and then we get to find out if we were effective communicators or not. It’s binary. Yes or no. I love it.

So, when somebody says, “Tell me about yourself,” most people are not prepared for that question, and they start off by saying something like this, “Well, I was born under a palm tree, and I really love peanut butter, but after I went to college, I was not sure what to do so I was listening to…” and it’s just like, “I don’t care. Nobody cares, okay?” These are questions where you know you’re going to get them so we want to prepare ahead of time and rehearse them so that we can actually be natural in the interview, and it’s a great opportunity for you to also build in your key messages.

So, you might say, “You know, there’s three real things that interest me. The first is technology, that’s why I studied STS when I went to college and that is why I’m really interested in building systems that scale from one-on-one to one-to-a-million. The second part is psychology. I’m really interested in human behavior. So, at my last job, I specifically took on a role of blank, blank, blank, and we focused on doing jobs to be done, research, and customer usability testing before we ever launched the product. And the third thing that I’m really interested in is XYZ.”

Al right, that’s just a very, very simple crisp approximately 20, 25-second answer. Notice that I didn’t go through the chronology because nobody cares. Notice that I focused on my key messages that I’ve already reinforced in my cover letter and resume. What’s the point there? The point is not to talk like me. You need to talk in your own style. But the point is, know what they are really asking. They’re not asking about a chronology. Please stop going through your resume point by point by point. They’ve already read it.

What they want to know are your key messages. What’s interesting? What drives you? Why are you here? So, we want to prepare for these questions ahead of time and have the perfect answers ready.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I really love about that approach there in terms of “There are three key things that interest me,” is you have complete control to hit what your talking points, your core message, and it’s flexible in terms of, surely, you can say something about how something you did in your career fit that interest.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s very easy to do.

Ramit Sethi
So, in the program, we brought in people, and you can actually see them interviewing with me, and you can watch people’s before-and-after transformation. It’s quite magical. There are some advanced techniques you can use too. You can use something called verbal values. So, you can do things like this, you can say, “You know, in my last role, we focused on customer usability, did testing, and we were actually able to drive up conversions by 32%. Happy to talk about that if you’d like to. But moving forward, we then moved on to XYZ.”

Okay, notice what I just did. That thing called the verbal value where you dropped down and you say, “Oh, I’m happy to go into that in detail if you’d like,” but you keep moving forward. That gives the interviewer a sense of control and, if they are interested, they go say, “Hey, tell me about that.” And you’re like, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. First, we start it off by doing ABC, and this produces massive insight.”

In the program, I did another thing which I really love. I brought in hiring managers. And when was the last time you actually had real hiring managers with a hiring budget who sat around a table and told you how they hire people and what they are looking for? Never, because they don’t do this, but we brought them in because I know these hiring managers.

So, they came in, and one of the managers said, “My favorite interviews and the people who always get an offer are the ones who teach me something.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, we brought in somebody who was a performance marketer and they basically said, ‘Let me show you how I ran this campaign last time,’ they pulled up their laptop, and they started walking this person through.’” The interviewer was completely…like her questions were out the door. This interviewee started driving the interview, and that’s exactly what she wanted.

So, what’s the key takeaway there? It’s not, throw the interviewer’s questions out and pull up your laptop. That’s not the point. The point is you have control over your answers, and your hiring manager wants to learn something. They want to see someone who is assertive in the interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And, frankly, it can be kind of boring to have a full day of interviews.

Ramit Sethi
Who are saying the same things, “Oh, I’m really passionate; I love the synergy.” Oh, God, what makes you different than anyone else?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you learn something new, it’s like, well, one, you’re just sort of stimulated, they’re memorable, and that’s killer. And so, actually, I wanted to specifically ask you about the briefcase technique. And so, we’ve kind of hit that a smidge here. What is the briefcase technique?

Ramit Sethi
The briefcase technique is this powerful concept that we pioneered which is used to get substantial raises, land jobs, or lock in freelance contracts. So, I’ve used this many times and so have my own employees used this with me, and I hired them. So, it works like this.

You walk in whether it’s to get a raise or to land a job, and you say, “You know, from my understanding of speaking to several former coworkers and people who currently work here, I understand that the key strategy right now is to improve customer conversion. And based on that, I’ve actually laid out a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan of what I would do if I began this role on February 1. And would you like me to show it to you?”

What percentage of hiring managers do you think say yes to that question?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, all of them.

Ramit Sethi
One hundred percent, okay, they go, “Yes.” And this is where I made it a little fun. You theatrically pull out your presentation, you can pull it out of a briefcase, or you can turn your laptop around, it doesn’t really matter. But it’s kind of fun to pull it out of a briefcase and just let the silence fill the air, and you say, “Here you go. Here, I made a copy for you.”

You literally walk them through, whether it’s a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan, or a proposal for a strategic how you would drive some strategy that they’re working on, or whatever that your plan is, and you watch the hiring manager’s jaw drop. Why? Number one, no one has ever done this to them. Number two, you’ve actually done the research and come in with a plan.

Now, your plan doesn’t have to be completely right. How could it, especially if you’re working outside the company? But you’ve clearly done your research by using those informational interviews, by listening to what the CEO has said in the press and on recent podcasts, and you’ve put together, generally, a pretty thoughtful proposal. Maybe even you’ve included some metrics that you’ve driven before. When they look at this and they compare you to every other candidate who goes in there talking about passion and just living under a palm tree, the difference is clear.

Now, we’ve actually included briefcase technique examples in the program. One of them, for example, is a student of ours, Jesse, who used it to get an $80,000 raise, and you can see the actual document that he presented so you can see how it works. We’re showing you not just telling you, and it is very powerful when you go in there for your next raise or you’re switching jobs. You use the briefcase technique with great results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued, when it comes to the raise, that’s a bit of a different context. Is it just sort of like, “Hey, I have a plan and a vision that’s going to create extraordinary value, here it is. Let me go run this.” Is that kind of like the vibe associated with how the raise happens?

Ramit Sethi
A little bit but people pay for performance not necessarily for potential. So, let me flip that and let me walk backwards a little bit. A lot of people have this thing to ask for raises, and one of my charters, one of the things I’ve been talking about for over 15 years is how to negotiate your salary. It’s all over the internet.

And I think one of the big fears, first of all, our culture doesn’t encourage negotiation. We’re absolutely petrified of it. I love negotiating. It’s fun. We get to have a game. Let’s talk about it. And the other thing is a lot of us envision negotiating as, “I’m going to kick down my boss’ door, spin his or her chair around, and then put my hand on and say, “Give me some money.” Well, of course, you’re going to get a no if that’s your approach. Let’s take a slightly different approach.

Here’s what you do. Let’s say you know that your performance review is coming up in six months. You go in your boss’ office, first you set up a time, and you say, “You know what, I really like to make sure that I’m a top performer. Am I hitting all the metrics of my role to be a top performer? So, I’d really like clarity on what that takes.” And you work through this process and you come out with, let’s say, three KPIs, and you say, “Great. I’m going to send you an email just to remind you and I will update you every other Friday.” Great.

So, now, that’s part one. Part two is you got to do the work. You got to hit those numbers. You got to deliver on what you both committed to. And, of course, you say, “If I am able to achieve these goals, I’d love to discuss a compensation adjustment.” “Okay, whatever. We’ll talk about that later.” So, you hit the numbers, you’re documenting this every other Friday, sending an update, no surprises. And then, step three, when your review comes up, that is where you initiate the briefcase technique.

You walk in, you say, “Six months ago, we discussed becoming a top performer. These were the key metrics we laid out. As you know, I’ve been updating you every other Friday. I’d like to show you the final numbers. We hit it. I’d now like to discuss something else. I pulled research.” And we show you how to find out what you are actually worth. Many people are underpaid by $10,000 to $15,000. We find this routinely. “Here’s what I’m worth on the market. I’d like to discuss a compensation adjustment and here’s what I see in the marketplace.”

What have you done now? You’ve done a ton of work, you got micro commitments from your boss all along the way, you’ve, most importantly, delivered and you can also pull out what you plan to do for the next six to 12 months. At that point, you’ve given yourself an irresistible shot at a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you deliver the goods and you show them what’s coming up next, and you show them the market compensation figures.

Ramit Sethi
That’s the most important part. Look, you can show them what’s coming up next. That’s optional and that’s nice to have, but you already committed to what it takes to be a top performer. Now you are a top performer, you should be compensated as a top performer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Well, we talked about Bob Cialdini a moment ago. Like, the reciprocity is just power is just so huge there. Like, if I were that hiring manager, I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk, if I was that boss, if I said anything but “Yes, of course. Thank you.” I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk. Now, you might still get some bureaucratic hierarchical corporate whatever, like, “Well, unfortunately, Ramit, the budget doesn’t really allow for…” If you get one of those meritocracy busters, hey, how do you respond?

Ramit Sethi
Well, we have counter arguments for all those. Here are the common ones you get, “We have a standard compensation policy,” “Times are tough right now,” “Maybe next year,” “The budget doesn’t allow it.” So, look, sometimes that is true and it is critical…we have a framework we suggest about how to know whether it’s an employee’s market or an employer’s market.

So, for example, if you’re going through a deep recession, and you walk in and say, “Give me $10,000 more,” that’s unlikely to happen. Your power is diminished at that point. However, just like seasons, things change and it can be an employee’s market. You need to know that because if you don’t, you walk in blind and you just don’t look very intelligent when you ask for something that just doesn’t fit the marketplace.

But let’s say you do and they give you the sort of standard thing. There are responses which we show you in our negotiating section. And here’s what I want you to know. I want you to know that your boss or your hiring manager has a budget, and their job is to try to get you to work, and they want to save as much as they can so they can deliver all the extra money to the top performer on their team. So, you will often find this is that the top performer on the team gets the lion’s share of the budget and everyone else fights over those 1% cost of living increases.

If you have demonstrated you are a top performer, if you have extracted micro commitments and you’ve delivered, then you need to make it really clear that you’re worth it. If not, you need to ask them what’s it going to take to change this. And if they have no clear answer, then you may need to start considering switching to find your dream job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, Ramit, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Ramit Sethi
Just a dream job is something that you can do once, twice, three times. It shifts over the course of your lifetime. So, I asked somebody on Twitter, I ask a lot of people on Twitter, “What is a dream job to you?” And one of the most common responses I got back was, “It doesn’t exist.” So, I reached out to a few of these people, I said, “Do you know anyone around you who has a dream job?” And they said, “No.”

Well, of course, if you and your friends all hate your jobs then, of course, you think a dream job doesn’t exist. The fact that they’re listening to this podcast means, of course, they do know that a dream job does exist. But I want to emphasize it because it’s so uncommon in our culture. You ask people, “How is work going?” And some of their common responses are, “Work is work,” or, “Just waiting until Friday,” I hate that. I want us to go to a place where we’re excited, where we’re challenged, where we’re compensated, where we can work remotely. So, that is why I’m so fired up about a dream job as a core part of your rich life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. A favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I love the Asch experiments in conformity. I love so many of Elliot Aronson’s studies as described in his book The Social Animal, and Lee Ross on the Fundamental Attribution Error, who I studied under in college. It just blew my mind in social psychology.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ramit Sethi
I got to say The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool that you use to be awesome at your job?

Ramit Sethi
A favorite tool. My calendar. It’s simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Ramit Sethi
My favorite habit is having a leisurely morning. That’s my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s dig in. What’s going down in this leisurely morning?

Ramit Sethi
Well, I think the best mornings are decided the night before, the week before, the year before. So, when I wake up, everything, I know exactly what I’m going to do.

And, by the time I get to start working, this is my favorite part, I double-click into my calendar and I have all the links are perfectly placed in the same place every time so I can click it. The link takes me to the perfect place in the document to just begin typing. Now, I know I sound like a psycho to everyone listening, you’re like, “This guy is crazy. Why is he talking about this?” But I want everything to be in its perfect place. And so, it gives me a lot of joy to know that all these things have been properly arranged so I can just click one link and everything is just right in front of me.

Pete Mockaitis
It is a beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s crazy at all.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, really? Oh, my God, I found a kindred spirit here. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share, a Ramit quote that you’re known for, and people cite over and over again?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I believe in spending extravagantly on the things you love as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.

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

Ramit Sethi
You can go to iwt.com/podcastdj or you can find me on Instagram @ramit.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for those looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Ramit Sethi
Okay. Thank you for asking. I would love it for anyone listening, find me on Twitter, Instagram, my newsletter, and send me a note telling me you listened to this podcast, and tell me what your dream job is. That’s what I want to know. I’m going to leave it as broad as that but I want to hear your specifics. Get down to the details. What is your dream job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ramit, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks. This is just best.

Ramit Sethi
Thanks. This was a blast.

641: How to Inspire Sustained Change with Richard Boyatzis

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Richard Boyatzis shares compelling research on how to open others up to change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why goals don’t motivate us to change—and what does
  2. The biological key that opens people up to change
  3. Four principles for making change stick

About Richard

Richard E. Boyatzis is Distinguished University Professor of Case Western Reserve University, Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science, and HR Horvitz Professor of Family Business. He has a BS in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, a MS and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University. Using his Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he studies sustained, desired change of individuals, teams, organizations, communities and countries since 1967. 

He is the author of more than 200 articles and 9 books on leadership, competencies, emotional intelligence, competency development, coaching, neuroscience and management education, including the international best-seller, Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee and the recent Helping People Change with Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten. His Coursera MOOCs, including Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence has over a million enrolled from 215 countries. He is Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science, the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the American Psychological Association.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Boyatzis Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Richard, thanks for joining us on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Richard Boyatzis
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear what you’ve got to say. You’ve got your doctorate on social psychology from Harvard and, in my personal opinion, social psychology experiments are among the most fascinating of them all. Could you share with us a particularly intriguing experiment that either you’ve run or just ran across?

Richard Boyatzis
Well, it’s worth it to know that I’m basically a scientist. My first career was designing control systems in interplanetary vehicles. It was after I did that for six and a half months, I found it boring so I left and turned to psychology. But I don’t mostly do experiments. Mostly what I do is help people change. So, I started out, when I turned to the light side of the force of psychology, I started working on how graduate students at MIT helped each other or didn’t, and then I expanded that to working with alcoholics and drug addicts, and training therapists. And then shifted back to something a little less depressing which was how to help people develop as leaders and managers.

And since ’87, most of my work has really focused on “How do you help 25- to 75-year-olds grow and develop?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love doing just that here and most of us are in that age zone. So, tell us, what’s perhaps the most surprising discovery you’ve made along the way about how people change and can help others change?

Richard Boyatzis
Well, for the longest time, I thought that the real motivator for people was the discrepancy between where they wanted to be and where they were. And, in my theory, it’s called the real ideal self, and other people had started to write about it years afterwards. But what I discovered in the last 20 years, and part of that came about through a series of fMRI studies I did, you know, imaging studies and some hormonal studies, is that the real motivator for learning and change is not the discrepancy; it’s your dream. That, in fact, when you dream, not goals, but when you dream, when you think about, “What’s my deep purpose? What do I would love my life to be in 15 years?” and you start to let yourself go, you actually activate neural circuits that allow you to be open to new ideas and other people.

When you focus on goals at the beginning of a process like this, you actually close down that circuitry, that network, because you activate a different network, an analytic network, that suppresses your openness to new ideas and other people. So, I would say the power of a person’s dream, and a lot of people have talked about that, and, hell, Tony Robbins gets 20 million a day for talking about, but what happened to me was, as a scientist, I’m skeptical about all this stuff and I’m plotting away doing all my longitude and the research in the ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and then, all of a sudden, I started to look at the psycho-physiological interactions.

We did some fMRI studies and found out that when you talk to people about their dreams, they light up, like I said, this network that allows you to be open. And when you talk to them about solving problems, they close that down. And that’s counterintuitive because a lot of people think, “Oh, give me another goal. Give me another metric. Add another thing to my dashboard,” and it turns out all of that stuff works the opposite way. It doesn’t motivate people to be open to change or adapt or innovate.

And now we have dozens and dozens of actual behavioral studies in organizations, public sector, private sector, nonprofit, showing that when you engage this, what I call a positive emotional attractor, it’s a certain neural network, a certain hormonal system, and feeling positive about things, you actually increase leadership effectiveness, professional effectiveness, engineering effectiveness, innovation, engagement, and organizational citizenship which is a variable that measures how much you do beyond your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Whew! Richard, this is exciting and that’s a big idea.

Richard Boyatzis
It’s huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that changes everything.

Richard Boyatzis
Well, look, how many people listening right now are kind of doing their job but kind of looking for the next thing? Which means that they’re not doing their job well. So, what happens is we have engagement numbers pre-COVID, it’s at 76% of the people in the United States with full-time jobs, pre-COVID, were not engaged in their work, 83% in Europe, 81% in Japan. That is a worldwide motivational crisis. That means four out of five people aren’t bringing their stuff to work and they’re not using their discretionary time to create new ways to serve their customers or create new ideas.

I ran into this decades ago when I’d be couch coaching as a part of leadership programs. The CFO of a Fortune 500 company, and I discovered that his eyes would light up when he talked about the body shop that he and a friend started that now has five outlets. I mean, he was the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, you’d think he’d be somewhat excited about that, and it turns out he wasn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

Richard Boyatzis
So, the question that we all face is not just as a leader, as a manager, as a parent, as a teacher, “How do I motivate other people to be interested in learning and change?” but, “How do I keep myself motivated?”

Because we know from the neuroscience studies about this that our brains are hardwired to pick up on the emotions of others, literally. This is not kind of Betazoid empaths. This is real human adult brains. We actually pick up from the emotions of others around us in 8 to 40 thousandths of a second, milliseconds, deeply unconscious. And even if people are masking what they are feeling, we’re picking up the real feelings.

So, if you are kind of a bit bored or a bit humdrum, you might not say it at work because you got to show the bravado of performance and this and that, but if you’re really feeling that inside, guess what, everybody around you is getting infected with this thing.

So, one of the dilemmas is, boy, if you aren’t inspired about your life and work, there’s no way you’re going to be inspiring other people, and that’s what we have to do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. Well, so let’s really drill into this distinction between a dream and a goal. Like, lay it out for us. Like, what are the fundamental differences between a dream and a goal?

Richard Boyatzis
Sure, here’s the question. The single question that we ask that we now know, if we spent 20 or 30 minutes talking about it, you’re lighting up. If your life were fantastic 10 to 15 years from now, if it was absolutely perfect, what would it be like? So, first, we say life not just work because work is a subset of life. Secondly, we go out 10 to 15 years because we don’t want to do three years because people forecast, and when they forecast, they put blinders on and say, “Well, I can’t get there.” And we have to emphasize absolutely perfect. So, you actually want people to break with reality.

And, very often, some people have trouble, especially if they come from economies or political entities or nations that are under a lot of repression, they can’t dream.

So, the dilemma is, “How do we break out of that?” And that’s where what we need to do is to not let ourselves have these blinders on that other people have imposed. It does not mean that it automatically can come true but it may be the pursuit of it that’s the most important because the one thing we know, neurologically and psychologically, is that when you dream, you actually feel hopeful about the future. It’s one of the reasons why I tell people, “Do not watch the news on TV today, these days. If you want to get news, read something. It’s less emotionally affective. The news is bound to make you either angry or throw you on an emotional rollercoaster.”

So, the key, I think, ends up, “How do you feel hope? How do you feel hopeful about the future?” And part of that is you start to dream. And, for many people, once you start to dream, things open up. And, literally, it seems like ideas come to people and they start to notice things. Goals are very useful when you want to focus and you want to get something very specific done.

I published a research study in 1970 showing that if you set specific goals, you’ll achieve your behavior changes two-thirds, three times more likely than if you don’t. The problem is, today if we set a goal, we actually stimulate a part of our psyche that says, “We should be working toward it.” I mean, why do you think most people can’t lose weight? Most people can’t lose weight because it’s a negatively framed goal and almost everybody who seeks to lose weight will lose and then will gain it back. Treatment adherence, that’s doing what your physician or nurse says you should do after surgery or a diagnosis. It’s about 50% in most cases. People do about half of what they’re supposed to do. And if it’s really serious, like coronary bypass surgery, it’s about 20%.

Pete Mockaitis
They do it less when it’s more serious, huh. Okay.

Richard Boyatzis
Yes. And the same thing, we could say, most of us, with regard to what we eat or what we drink. So, one of the things that you start to realize is that there’s something insidious about the way we get our messages about how we should change, not how we want to change but how we should change. And, in fact, that’s what a lot of my research has been focusing on, and mine and others, you know, other professors.

Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, who co-authored a recent book with me, at Harvard Business Review Press, published a lot of other academic articles and things, so it’s not just me alone. But one of the things that’s very clear is most of the time when we want to help someone, we try to fix them, we give them a tip, “Okay, here’s what you should do. You want to stick to it. You want to get more drive. Do you want to make your podcast be listened to by millions not just a few hundred thousand? Here’s what you should do.” And as soon as people do that, even if it’s well-intended, even if it might be a good idea, you feel like you’re being bullied and you close down. And that’s the thing that goals do.

Now, there is a time in the change process when you want to focus and you want to close down, you want to eliminate extraneous noise because you want to keep your eyes really focused. And, quite literally, there was one study done in England where they used endocrines that are a part of stress, like epinephrine, and there are endocrines that are a part of renewal, which is where the body rebuilds itself, like oxytocin, and they sprayed, either epinephrine or oxytocin, in a person’s nostrils.

And what they were able to show was that peripheral vision, which for most of us is about 180 degrees.  If you’re not a pilot you wouldn’t know this. But if you want to measure your peripheral vision, look straight ahead at a dot on the wall and move your hands, start moving them about a hand’s length away from your shoulders, and keep moving them back until you just lose sight of them, while you’re just focusing forward. Mine is about there, a little less than yours, Pete, but you’re younger, so I’m like 175, 170 degrees. You’re closer to 180, you’re 200. Under epinephrine spray, which is the stress, mild stress, not acute, it goes down to 30 degrees.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Richard Boyatzis
No kidding. So, what happens is, when you set a goal, you focus. The benefit of setting a goal is to focus. And when you focus, you’re not paying attention to all that. You don’t know that your dog wants to go out, you don’t know that your spouse or partner wants you to go to the grocery store, you forget all that. But that’s also what allows you to get something done. So, goals are useful around the change process later on. Unfortunately, too many people today think by being specific early on or giving people negative feedback, you can get them motivated to change, and all you do is just make people feel like you’re a helping bully.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s talk about the helping side of this. So, individually, got it, dreaming activates hope, activates new possibilities, it gets things moving in some really cool directions, and it gets engagement and juice and energy flowing. And then later on, a goal will focus in our efforts. Whereas, if we jump the gun and get a goal too early, oops, we’re running into trouble, we feel some should, we feel some bullying, and we don’t get that motivation engaged.

Richard Boyatzis
You’ve got it. You should teach an MBA course.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, so then tell us, if we’re in a role where we’re trying to help somebody, be it a friend or a peer or a colleague or a direct report that we manage, what are some of the tops do’s and don’ts using this knowledge?

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. Yeah, here’s one that’s counterintuitive. Constructive criticism is criticism. The receiver doesn’t really necessarily differentiate your intent. Ask any teenager about stuff their parents are saying. Ask any older mother or father when their in-laws are giving them tips on how to dress their kids.

So, the challenge that we have is that when we see how somebody else could do something better, we want to help them, and in helping them, we often do it by telling them what to do. And we now have the evidence that says, that tell us, that this closes people down, and it’s too early. So, if you see something that somebody is doing wrong, keep it to yourself because telling them that they’re doing wrong will not be better than nothing. In fact, it’s worse than nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Worse than nothing. Speaking up, right?

Richard Boyatzis
Now, if you ask somebody how it’s going, and they start to critique it, and they get to a point where they say, “You know, this part of my interaction with these customers didn’t go the way I wanted to,” and you nod your head. And if they turn to you and say, “Can you see something that I might’ve done differently?” Now, at that point, the person is open. So, the key is actually it has a lot to do with listening to others. It sounds silly, it’s so simple but it isn’t simple. It’s hard to listen to others. We’re too busy pushing our own thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you keep your mouth shut until they ask for it.

Richard Boyatzis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
And, like I said, it’s counterintuitive. Everybody thinks you can push people to change. You can’t. Now, look, just to be careful, with children or with people who suffer from various cognitive disorders or emotional disorders, they may need more structure so you don’t want to wait till a child burns themselves in a fire to try to get them to realize that they shouldn’t put their hands on a fire.

So, I’m not saying this for every situation. But as soon as we become sentient adults, now we have a built-in defensive reaction to somebody telling us what we should do. That’s why performance improvement plans are a waste of time. Performance reviews might be useful but usually they have to be done in a certain way if they’re going to be useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in our daily interactions, if we’re not, or even in the performance review, within our daily interactions, if we’re, most of the time, not being asked about how we can improve, which, by the way, there’s probably one tip right there is to, if professionally want to grow, dream, be open, and ask and you’ll get the goods and be open to actually working with the goods. So, there’s one implication.

Richard Boyatzis
That’s right. Well, that’s two. Two implications. Dream and then ask.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, if we’re not the asker but rather the influencer, what are we doing? So, we’re listening. What else are we doing when we’re not asking and we’re trying to steer things in a direction?

Richard Boyatzis
One of the things you want to do is try to move people into this zone, this physiological psychological zone that I call the positive emotional attractor. And the question is, “How do you get people into that?” Because any degree of even mild stress, like your cellphone drops a call, or somebody cuts you off in traffic, impairs you cognitively. The data is very clear on this. Cognitively impairs you, perceptionally, emotionally.

So, how do you get into some of these positive spaces? Well, one idea is to periodically feel hopeful. This is one of the reasons why playing around with ideas, when the Powerball, what was it last week, hit a billion or something, it’s fun to say, okay, you’d get 736 million and you kiss off 300 million of that to taxes, but you’re left with $400 million, which, if you invest in a diversified portfolio is going to kick off 20, 30 million a year. I mean, you could buy a plane a year kind of with that if you wanted to. You could eliminate hunger in entire communities if you wanted to. So, the question ends up being fanciful about something like that is not the devil’s playground. It’s actually you being open.

Here’s another tip or another way to do it, I should say. Hope is one these core emotions that is very, very strong and helps us open up. Another one is compassion, gratitude. And one of the questions we often do, it’s an exercise. Let’s do it right now with your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
What I’d like you to do, and the audience, is I’d like you to think of the people in your life who have helped you the most, become who you are, or get to where you are. In your whole life, who would you say, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for X. I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for Y.” Just pause a minute, jot down a few names.

Now, go back to the first name you put down and remember a moment with them in which you learned something important, and just think about or write down a word or phrase that captures what they said or did in that moment. In other words, you’re replaying the YouTube video of that moment. I do this in all my speeches and lectures and courses. I usually give people more time. We’re a little time constrained so I’ll rush it.

Now, what I’m asking you now is how did it feel when you remembered these people and you remembered that moment? I’ve done this exercise in all seven continents, something like 50 countries, and people usually say, “Huh, I felt really grateful. I felt loved. I felt appreciated. I was really moved. I felt energized. I felt excited. I felt serene.” All of these, excuse me, each of these emotions are indicators, are biomarkers, of activating the parasympathetic nervous system which is the body’s only antidote to stress, mild or extreme.

And that is the physiological, hormonal thing that gets you into this more positive state. So, what ends up happening is feeling gratitude and caring for others is one of those things. So, being in a loving relationship is really good for you in this way. Spending time laughing with your children or close friends is really good. Helping people who are less fortunate is really good having a dog or cat, or in some places, a horse or a monkey, something you can stroke because when you pet them…I have two Golden Retrievers. When one of them comes out to me, I stop what I’m doing, I pet her for a while, she goes into a parasympathetic response. Because of the emotional contagion, I pick it up, I’m going into this good zone. She picks it up back. We’re having a moment here. But we’re both allowing our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, quite literally, to rebuild themselves.

So, what happens is moments of hope, moments of caring and compassion, moments of mindfulness or centeredness, all really help. So, I know folks who are coaching others during this COVID crisis so they’re doing it on Zoom or video, and they start, because of all the stress in our lives, they start their session, not talking about, “How are you feeling?” They start by doing about five minutes of deep breathing exercises, and it’s not woo-woo land. This is helping your body reset itself. It’s amazing how powerful it is.

Now, if somebody is a practiced, experienced, meditator, they meditate a lot, or do yoga or martial arts or prayer, these are things that allow somebody to learn the skill of how to reset your body’s internal processes, and that’s what you want do for yourself. But you asked me the question, “How do you help somebody else?” That’s how. You help them get into that zone.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we get them into that zone. And I guess, Richard, one of the implications of this is that we’re not necessarily going to steer someone else’s behavior in the direction that we want them to if it’s not in conformity with their dreams and it ain’t just going to happen.

Richard Boyatzis
Right. I used to have top executives ask me in the ‘90s, you know, “Well, wait a minute. If I start focusing on all these dreams and vision, what if the people’s dream isn’t to work in my company anymore?” And my response was, “Then they don’t now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Richard Boyatzis
So, yes, I think part of it is you’re being more trusting, and it involves risk, but that’s where people bring their juice, that’s where they bring their talent. Now, look, I’m not talking about rainbows, kittens, and unicorns here. I have a study, it’s coming out, I think, this month in an academic journal. Dan Goleman and I developed a new measure of personal sustainability about five years ago. And then Udi Andar and John O’Seery helped us to run a whole series of studies about it.

And one of the things that we finally have data on, which I’ve been saying since the ‘70s but I was saying it more clinically, but now we got the data, it’s really important for you to enter this positive emotional attractor zone, this renewal zone, in short bursts. Brief is better than long. Doing a number of 10- to 15-minute moments throughout the day is much better for you than to take a whole hour or an hour and a half. Why? Because you’re interrupting all the negative stuff, neural activations, hormones, etc., and, quite literally, you’re letting your body reset itself.

So, briefer moments help. That’s why when somebody started talking about a year, two years ago, about eliminating coffee breaks and eliminating lunch and letting people work three days and then be home four would be deadly, absolutely deadly, because we need the coffee breaks, we need the lunch, we need the chats, we need the going out for drinks or coffee with colleagues. We need them to help our bodies and minds reset themselves so we can perform.

So, more briefer moments during each day are key. And then, here’s the thing we also just proved, is that the variety of things you do to get yourself into that zone also is highly predictive of more engagement, more sense of wellbeing, more career satisfaction, more empathy, less tension and distress, all the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. And it works the same way when you help somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love it. Well, so let’s hear, you’ve got five key components to an Intentional Change Theory model and we’ve gotten some of the goods already. But could you maybe just walk us through briefly that process from beginning to end?

Richard Boyatzis
I’ve been studying since 1967 how people change. And although I have been studying it, not just for individuals and dyads, pairs, couples, but also teams, organizations, communities, and countries, let me focus right now on individuals and pairs, dyadic interaction. First of all, sustained desired change is almost never continuous. It happens in fits and starts.

If you tried to stop smoking, you just don’t stop cold. Few people do and stay off it. Some days you don’t smoke anything, and some days you smoke two cigarettes. If you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t lose a pound a day. Some days you lose two pounds, some days you gain a pound. So, it’s discontinuous and it’s nonlinear. And if we accept that, we’re a little more patient with ourselves and other people, and this becomes important. Because if you feel tense about it, you’re sending out all this stuff, people are picking it up in their brains and it’s making them crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
This reminds me, BJ Fogg says, “People change better by feeling good not by feeling bad.” And it rings true, yeah.

Richard Boyatzis
Yup, that’s right. We have the data to prove that now. So, with that notion, what I started discovering decades ago, and, as I told you, it surprised me 20, 25 years ago when we really zeroed in on it is that the real motivator of this is the dream, is the personal vision, or sense of purpose, or sometimes people call it their calling.

If you have that, you’re eligible for the second discovery which is, “How do you come across to others?” And that’s where, if you don’t have part of the dream, it turns out you’re not open enough to notice. So, there’s like a 5% chance you’ll actually change in some sustained way. But if you are open to it, you start to pick up and you start to identify things that you do that are strengths and things that you do that are weaknesses.

You’re doing it like if the end result of the first discovery is a personal vision, and the end result of the second is a personal balance sheet, then you decide, “How do I get closer to my dream using my strengths and maybe work on a weakness? Nothing more, just one.” That’s where you identify an agenda or a plan. This is where the goals come in that’s helpful. Because, at this stage, you’re making choices as to how you’ll spend your time and you’re going to explore something, but it has to be joyful. If you do it because you should, it’s exhausting and you’ll atrophy.

Then you go into a thing where you experiment with some new thoughts or feelings or behavior and then pick the ones that work and practice it. And all of that happens in the context of trusting, caring relationships. And if any of those ingredients aren’t there, your process stops short. The majority, and this is really sad, but when I and others have done a lot of research on how much do people change in their abilities, their emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence after four years of college. And when we were doing these studies for various federal agencies in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we found that, on the whole, people statistically significantly changed on one, which means you could babysit for four years and you might learn more than going to college.

Now, not every college has such bad results and not every person has them because a lot of it has to do with intentionality. But then we started to realize that certain programs, certain schools, taught you in a way that upped that a lot, and those desired outcomes were powerful. But I remember reading a study in the ‘90s in an MBA program, 28-year-olds, and the question was, “How long did they remember what they had ‘learned’ put on the final exam in their required intro accounting course?” Six and a half weeks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
That was the half-life of knowledge. Now, there are things we can do that help us retain our learning, and that’s why I talk about the sustainability a lot. And part of it is this idea of helping people go into this positive more open state on a regular basis. It’s why when people think they’re going to do a lot and maybe even learn a lot by really knuckling down and working 80-hour weeks, what they’re doing, on the whole, is inelastic damage and they, literally, compromise their innovation and ability to see things in the environment for the sake of getting a task done. Most of us have to balance those things. And a lot of this is around the issue of balance of being able to go back and forth with a lot of these different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Richard, I’m kind of curious, what approaches to learning delivered the goods? Apparently, they were pretty rare.

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. It turns out that one issue is where you somehow want to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. And some people would say, “Well, I don’t know what I don’t know.” Of course, but the question is, “Why are you taking it?” And if you go back to any of your own courses, Pete, that you took in high school or college or graduate school, when you had to take Spanish, you might’ve taken two semesters, you might’ve taken four, and do you still remember any Spanish? Probably not. But if you did a semester in a Spanish country, Spanish-speaking country, if you started spending time going to South America regularly, like every few months, you actually might decide you want to learn Spanish and you might hold onto it. So, a lot of it has to do with desire.

Then the issue is, “How does the learning fit into your whole life experience?” There’s so much that we can just memorize but cognitive psychology has proven that we hold things in our mind when we attach them to a context or a structure. And the question is, “What’s that structure?” Well, when you involve people pedagogically in terms of the learning methods, in more projects, teamwork, field work, people hang onto stuff.

In medical school, they used to have people go through courses for several years before they saw a patient. And somebody started noticing that if they started working with patients, obviously, they’re not going to just prescribe them drugs or do anything that they don’t understand. But if they started seeing human beings in the first month, they hang onto things, they increase their learning durability or sustainability a lot because it’s an emotional experience.

So, we’re holistic beings, and if you learn something just with your head, it’s going to have a shorter half-life. If you learn it just with your feelings, it’s going to have a shorter half-life. You need both. And so, learning things with others. I was just on a call trying to help a group in Buenos Aires that has hundreds of thousands of 18- to 23-year-olds learn skills on how to get jobs. These are mostly unemployed people. And one of the things we talked about was if they don’t learn to develop peer coaching relationships, relationships where they help each other, they have a lot of recidivism.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Richard Boyatzis
These are a few of my favorite things. But, anyway, okay. No, that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite quote?

Richard Boyatzis
Maya Angelou, “I have observed that in the future, they will not remember what you did, they will not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Richard Boyatzis
Kind of splits into different genres. One of the books that absolutely blew me away early in my studying of about psychology was Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther, and then later he wrote Gandhi’s Truth about their kind of psycho-analytic history. And then there was David McClelland’s The Achieving Society and Power: The inner experience because he took things from different things, from social psychology and experiments, to anthropology, to sociology, and even history, and blended it all together to come up with insights about how humans are motivated. Those, to me, are just absolutely phenomenal books.

Now, on the fiction side, I love some of the classics, you know, Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby. But these days, if I want to relax, there’s nothing like a Grisham book.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Richard Boyatzis
Listening. Listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
Which means asking people questions. Now, my wife would say I don’t do that as much as I should.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Richard Boyatzis
I would say, even today, a couple faculty at different universities around the world who I was on meetings with were quoting back some of the stuff that I used to say, and still say, about the fact that the most powerful thing we can do is to help people liberate their energy, their sense of freedom. Because, when we do that, when we help people open up, there is no limit to what people can do in helping others, in creating new products and ideas, and solving some of these seemingly intractable social problems that we have.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Well, let’s see. We have a set of books that are more practitioner-oriented, so, i.e., normal people can read them and enjoy them. The recent one is Helping People Change with Professors Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, Harvard Business Review Press did it. An earlier one was Primal Leadership with Dan Goleman and then Resonant Leadership. So, those are a couple books and there are some Harvard Business Review articles that went along with each of the books.

Then there are several MOOCs, massive open online courses, I’ve done on Coursera. One I did on Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence has, two weeks ago I checked, I think, 1.25 million people have taken this course from over 215 countries.

And then there are all sorts of programs, whether it’s listening to podcasts and people interviewing me, or actually coming to Case Western Reserve where that’s my main job, my full-time job, and coming in to some of our programs, like our master’s in positive organization development that’s all of these were done as residencies even before COVID. So, people would fly in once every few months, the rest is online, executive MBA. We have an executive doctorate program that’s great for people who have a master’s and want to do something more.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks looking to be awesome at their jobs?

Richard Boyatzis
Focus on others. Your job isn’t to manage a strategic plan or to manage money or to create a product. If you’re in a leadership or management role, your job is to inspire others who will inspire others, who will inspire others, who will actually do the work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your dreams.

Richard Boyatzis
Thanks, Pete.