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799: The Unspoken Rules of High Performers and High Potentials with Gorick Ng

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Gorick Ng lays out the unspoken rules and expectations of managers that explain why top performers get ahead.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three questions everyone is asking about you 
  2. The A+ way to ask for help
  3. The mentality that keeps professionals from progressing 

About Gorick

Gorick Ng is the Wall Street Journal Bestselling Author of The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, a book published by Harvard Business Review Press. It is a guide to help professionals, especially those from underrepresented backgrounds, take control of their careers, based on 500+ interviews with professionals across geographies, industries, and job types. Gorick is a career adviser at Harvard College, specializing in coaching first-generation, low-income students. He has worked in management consulting at Boston Consulting Group (BCG), investment banking at Credit Suisse, and research with the Managing the Future of Work project at Harvard Business School. He has been featured in The Today ShowThe New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalBuzzFeedNew York PostFast Company, and CNBC. He was named by Thinkers50 as one of 30 thinkers to watch in 2022. Gorick, a first-generation college student, is a graduate of Harvard College and Harvard Business School.

 Resources Mentioned

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Gorick Ng Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Gorick, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Gorick Ng
Thanks so much for having me, Pete. Excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to chat with you and hear some insights from your book The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right, but I think we also need to hear a little about your other career as a magician.

Gorick Ng
Well, I have the perfect storm of being awkward, shy, and introverted. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but when I was in elementary and middle school, I picked up magic tricks after seeing David Copperfield levitate on stage on TV.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I watched that too and was sad that I couldn’t fly. My mom had to break the news to me, like, “No, it’s just an illusion. It’s not actually flying.”

Gorick Ng
I had to temper my expectations after realizing that magic tricks start off with playing cards and coins, not necessarily levitating in front of a big audience. So, it took some getting used to but I ended up spending summers upon summers at the local magic shop where I ended up interacting with strangers and often folks who were double my age, triple my age sometimes, and, in retrospect, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to me because I got out of my shell.

I forced myself in a way that I actually wanted to force myself, to put myself out there, talk to strangers, and be vulnerable. I was deathly afraid of having folks see behind the tricks and know the secret. So, if you’re talking about putting yourself out there in front of an audience and having the imposter syndrome, I guess magicians face it all the time. I certainly did.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, you’re quite literally an imposter because you’re not actually doing the things that…

Gorick Ng
Exactly right.

Pete Mockaitis
…you’re purporting to do. Well, tell me, was there a particular crowd favorite trick or illusion? I’m thinking of Gob from “Arrested Development” now. Was there a particular crowd-pleasing bit that you did frequently?

Gorick Ng
I would take a dollar bill and turn it into a 10-dollar bill.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

Gorick Ng
And it’s actually one that my mom still tells people about when she pulls aside family members. She’ll say, “Well, what about that trick you showed us ten years ago?” and I thought to myself, “Oh, no, mom, let’s talk about this some other time.”

Pete Mockaitis
Are you still able to pull it off?

Gorick Ng
I’m a little rusty, I have to say. It’s been a while since I’ve picked it up but I still actually have a big cabinet full of equipment at home that I just haven’t been able to get myself to sell.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear that. Okay. Well, now let’s talk about increasing the value you can offer an employer or a business or nonprofit, etc. You have written a book, The Unspoken Rules: Secrets to Starting Your Career Off Right and so I’m excited to get into some of those rules which I imagine will not be applicable only to people fresh in their careers but these rules probably apply, is it fair to say, to most professionals?

Gorick Ng
Definitely. Actually, it was a big, not debate, not argument, more of just a longstanding discussion between me and my publisher Harvard Business Review around what the subtitle of the book should even be. We had a Google Doc going, containing 20, 30, maybe 40, 50 different potential subtitles, one of which is “How to be a High Performer and High Potential at Work.” It’s a bit of a mouthful but we decided to hone in on the early-career audience.

But what I’ve realized since engaging with companies large and small, and becoming a consultant speaker at companies like GE, IBM, etc. is that what is a must for some is good for all. So, my audience now, yes, it consists of early-career professionals, but those who find my message to resonate most are actually in their mid-careers and above.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Perfect. Well, lay it on us, to start, is there a particularly surprising, fascinating, counterintuitive discovery you made while doing all these interviews to put together this book?

Gorick Ng
The biggest takeaway for me is actually a framework that I call the 3Cs, which stand for competence, commitment, and compatibility. And the idea is the minute you show up, whether it’s at a coffee chat, a client meeting, a one-on-one with your manager, etc., the people around you are sizing you up, and they’re asking themselves three questions.

Question one is, “Can you do this job well?” which is the question of, “Are you competent?” Question two is, “Are you excited to be here and to grow with us?” and that’s the question of “Are you committed?” And the third question, the final one, is, “Do we get along?” which is the question of “Are we compatible?” So, “Are you competent?” “Are you committed?” and “Are we compatible?” the 3Cs.

Your job, and frankly all of our jobs, and this includes the CEO, is to convince the people around us to answer yes to all three questions all the time. Demonstrate these 3Cs and you’ll build trust, you’ll unlock opportunity, and you’ll get closer to reaching your career goals.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, that makes sense in terms of segmenting that into three handy categories. So, how do we go about demonstrating these things?

Gorick Ng
Well, the first thing is to look left, look right, and to understand the unspoken expectations around how people demonstrate these 3Cs, and it depends on the workplace. So, I’ll give you a few examples here. When it comes to demonstrating competence, for example, what I realized is there’s actually a certain song and dance that you’re expected to do in many workplaces when you have a question.

So, the C+ plus way of approaching an ambiguous situation is to, well, do what I did, which is to put my head down, put some extra effort into it, and just hope it’ll work itself out and not ask questions because I’m worried about coming across as incompetent or lazy. The B+ approach is to go to your manager or a coworker and to say, “I’m stuck. What do I do next?” which is an open-ended question.

An A+ approach is to say, “Pete, I’m struggling with this. I tried looking here and here. I couldn’t quite find the answer, so I approached my colleague Sally, and we couldn’t quite sort it out either. Shall I be taking approach A, approach B, or approach C? I’m leaning towards approach B but let me know if I’m not thinking about this the right way.”

So, what are you doing? You’re actually demonstrating a few unspoken rules, one of which is to bundle and escalate, so to do your own homework before approaching others. The next is to give others something to react to. So, instead of opening the conversation with a big broad question, you’re giving people options.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that a lot. And I remember, geez, I might’ve been in like fifth grade when I was a really judgmental fifth-grader. You’re bringing me back to my youth, Gorick, this conversation. And I remember, sometimes when they would ask the teacher for help, they just say, “I don’t get it,” and I can tell the teachers were frustrated by that too, even though teachers are often paragons of patience and they’re accustomed to having to go through something multiple times.

And I remember thinking, “You know, it just doesn’t seem like the best way to ask for help.” It feels a little bit like, I don’t know if I would use these words at the time, but almost like an abdication of responsibility. Like, “You, you fix this because it’s not working for me,” as opposed to getting a little bit more specific. It’s like, “I understand that…” I don’t even know what we’re learning in fifth grade. Igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks maybe, that’s what comes to mind.

“But what really is the difference between sedimentary and igneous?” the geologists are appalled right now, and I’m saying, “Because it would seem that they’re almost the same in that A, B, and C,” and say, ahh, that gives you a whole lot more direction, like, “Oh, yes, I can see where you’re coming from there, and I’m better able to help you given that context. And here’s the precise prescription for what your knowledge needs to be augmented with,” as opposed to, “Well, I guess I’ll just maybe say everything I said before again.”

Gorick Ng
Hundred percent. And it brings me back to a conversation that my manager had with me early on in my career. This was after I did exactly the C+ approach, which was put my head down and hide away for weeks and not show my face at all, only to come back and do the wrong work. My manager said, and I mean for those listening who…well, everyone has had that experience of going from school to work, and realizing that what we learned in school doesn’t exactly align with what we’re expected to know in the workplace.

And so, it’s part of this right of passage, my manager pulled me aside, actually slammed the conference room door behind him…

Pete Mockaitis
Dramatic.

Gorick Ng
…and said, “Look, we hired you to think. If we just hired you to blindly follow a set of instructions, your job could’ve been automated by now. There’s a reason why we hired a human being, a living breathing human being with a brain. It’s because you can solve problems. It’s because you can think critically, so think.”

It was a scary conversation. I’m chuckling at that in retrospect but it really did make a lot of sense, and it reminded me of this side of our brain that just gets turned off by school because, in school, we just have been conditioned to think that textbook has all the answers, there’s a right or wrong to everything, that professor knows best, and that just isn’t the case in the workplace where there’s very rarely a right or wrong answer. More often, there’s just a difference in values and perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Cool. All right. Well, that’s a great approach right there from the get-go in terms of the A+ way of asking for help, bundle and escalate, make it clear. You tried some things, you have some options in mind, as opposed to, “I don’t get it. Fix this,” or toil away and hope that it hits the right thing. That’s high risk because it may very well not be the right thing. So, lay it on us some more unspoken rules and best practices for following them well.

Gorick Ng
A big one is to understand what matters to those who matter. So, put yourself in the shoes of the higher-ups in your team, in your department, in your organization, and ask yourself, “What goals are they trying to reach? And what pains are they trying to alleviate? What’s causing them stress? What’s wasting them time?” And look left, look right, find a swim lane. So, find something that hasn’t been done before, and occupy that swim lane because the more you understand what matters to those who matter, the more you’ll do work that matters. And the more that you do work that matters, the more you will matter.

And I have a story here, if I may, of someone who unexpectedly did this. And this is actually an individual who’s hired into a staffing company as an administrative assistant. So, the staffing company has a business model where they would place nurses into hospital jobs, and this individual was hired on a six-month contract, and her job was to simply process paperwork. And just like the dozens of people who had come before her, she would work for six months and she’d be off to something else.

She took a very different approach, and just approached her job with a different mindset, which was, “Wait a second. I didn’t just get hired to process paperwork. I got hired to help this company achieve its goals.” So, one day, after doing her work fully, accurately, and promptly, which is really the basis of competence and to show that you’re reliable, she found herself overhearing a conversation between some higher-ups, and they were complaining about how they couldn’t find enough nurses to place into these hospital jobs, at which point she thought, “Well, duh.”

This is a story from the Philippines, by the way, “The company I’m working at is relying on the telephone, on antiquated websites to hire people, when all of my friends are relying on social media to find their next jobs.” And so, she opened up her smartphone, went on to a few of these Facebook pages, and she discovered that actually many of her company’s competitors were quietly lurking in these groups, posting job opportunities, getting the word out.

And she then approached her managers and said, “Hey, maybe this is something you’ve already thought about, but I couldn’t help but notice that, actually, a lot of my friends who were coming out of nursing school are actually finding about job opportunities on social media, something that it doesn’t seem like we’re trying right now. Is this something we’ve considered?”

At which point, her manager thought, “No, this didn’t even occur to us at all. Well, why don’t you go ahead and lurk a little bit.” Fast-forward several months, and she ended up creating a social media presence for her company, ended up providing market intelligence to senior leaders, multiple layers up in the organization.

And so, one day, her manager’s manager came up to her, and said, “I know your contract is due to end. I hope you’re not going anywhere because we want you to lead marketing for our company.” And, just like that, she ended up becoming the youngest manager in her company, leading a division that hadn’t even existed before. And that was all from just seeing her job as more than just a set of tasks but rather as a set of goals to be achieved for the broader team.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. And it’s so easy to let those opportunities just float away. Like, you overhear a conversation, and you’re like, “Not my problem.” You just move along, or you just say, “Duh,” and you don’t say anything, or you feel kind of nervous, it’s like, “You know, I got an idea here but I don’t know if it’s my place to say. I’m just an administrative assistant. This is a temporary contract. I’m sure they probably thought of it before.” And you can just talk yourself out of it in seconds instead of pursuing an opportunity which can be game-changing.

Gorick Ng
Oh, yeah. It’s like we’re all walking down an art gallery on a daily basis in our lives, and we’re looking at the same painting but coming to different conclusions around what this painting depicts. So, someone else in this very same situation might look at the scenario that this individual was in, and think, “Yeah, this is someone else’s problem. I’m just an administrative assistant,” to your point. But even the slightest tweak in how we see ourselves and how we fit into the big picture can make a big difference.

So, one of the things that I observe a lot, and I’m guilty of this, is I still have to remind myself to not use the word just, “So, I’m just a planning analyst” which is one way of looking at your job. But another way is to think, “Yeah, sure, I’m a planning analyst but my job is really to get stuff to the right place at the right time. And as a result of my broader mandate, I understand market demand at my company better than anybody.”

Or, if you’re working in manufacturing, for example, “I’m just a machine operator,” versus, “I create the product that makes my company’s products the best. And as a result of having this broader mandate, I know what it takes to be more lean, to be less wasteful, and to be more efficient better than anybody, including the CEO because I’m operating this machine on a daily basis.”

Or, finally, “I’m just a quality manager,” versus, “I ensure that our company’s world-class standards are upheld. And as a result of this broader mandate, I know how to identify when something is wrong and how to fix these problems better than anybody, and this, again, includes the CEO because they’re not looking at these problems on a day-to-day basis. They’re not in these spreadsheets day in, day out. I know more about this topic than anybody, and there is something that is trapped inside of my head that deserves the light of day. I’m just not giving myself credit for what I know and what could be useful.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s really powerful, that notion of “I know this better than anybody” is true of perhaps the majority of workers. Like, there is a domain of knowledge that, because you’ve spent more time on it than anybody else, you’re closer to it, day after day, have thought about it than anybody else. And that creates power and opportunity which is really cool.

Gorick Ng
And it creates something that leaders want, which is an ownership mindset. I’ve spoken to over 500 professionals across geographies, industries, and job types to write this book, and the one word that I hear time and time again from leaders is, “I wish that my employees could be owners, could think like an owner, to have this ownership mindset.”

And everyone is capable of doing this. Of course, it’s a matter of self-help so it’s a matter of reframing the way that we exist in the world, but it’s also about all of us needing to help. So, we need leaders and managers to create spaces where people are rewarded for going above and beyond but it can be super simple.

So, one example that I had heard about but that, unfortunately, didn’t make it into the book because I was 40,000 words over the word limit, is of a customer service representative who worked at a quick service restaurant. So, this person was equivalent to the person who scoops up the guacamole in that assembly line.

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, tasty.

Gorick Ng
Indeed. And this individual looked around the store and noticed that it was total mayhem outside because customers didn’t know where to line up. And so, he approached his manager and said, “Hey, maybe you’ve already thought about this but I couldn’t just help but notice that when people walk into the store, they don’t know if they’re supposed to be lining up on the left-hand side or the right-hand side, and so people are bumping into each other and getting confused and frustrated that they can’t seem to find the beginning of the line.”

“Have we thought about maybe hanging up a sign that says, ‘Start here. Pay here,’ and maybe just drawing some lines on the floor so that people know where to go?” And, just like that, the entire operations of this store ended up being improved, and, of course, this person ended up being rewarded as a result as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And you’ve used this phrase a couple times, and it’s really growing on me “Maybe you’ve already thought about this,” which says…it gives you sort of blanket absolution for any potential perception of presumption. That’s a lot of words. But you cover yourself. It’s not like, “I’m not saying you’re an idiot. I noticed this and you may have thought about it, too, and I’m just kind of curious what your thoughts here.” So, I like that.

Gorick Ng
I appreciate you picking that up because it comes back to the 3Cs framework, where it’s not a binary. It’s not a matter of “Are you competent?” versus “Are you not?” It’s actually a spectrum where it’s possible to overshoot and it’s possible to undershoot. So, overshoot this zone of competence and you come across, potentially, as a know-it-all.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “I’ve taken the liberty of getting an architectural blueprint set right up for precisely the most optimized flow.” Yeah, you’re right. In a way, it’s like, “Okay, that’s super proactive and ambitious but I’m a little weirded out and think you probably should’ve consulted me before, I don’t know, spending company money on an architect,” for example.

Gorick Ng
That’s exactly right. And one of the phrases I use a lot in my sessions is the importance of stepping up without overstepping. And that really speaks to just how delicate this balance is between showing just the right dose of competence, commitment, and compatibility without overshooting the mark and coming across as threatening or wanting to make others look bad.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, while we’re talking about specific words, and phrases, and verbiage, any other gems you’d like to share?

Gorick Ng
Well, this one will be likely familiar to those especially in the management position or in an HR function, which is the nine-box matrix. And it’s nine boxes, along the bottom are the labels low performance, medium performance, high performance. And along the edge is low potential, medium potential, high potential.

Now, folks are thinking, “Well, that’s not an unspoken rule. That’s a performance-management framework.” What I didn’t appreciate until I started doing these interviews is that it’s actually not common sense that doing your job is only part of your job. The rest is about showing that you can be trusted with more important responsibilities.

So, what does it mean to show high performance? Well, you’re reliable, you’re doing what you say you will do, you are being responsive, you are showing detail orientation, all of these basics. But what people don’t appreciate is that it’s not enough to simply put your head down, do the hard work, and hope that someone will give you credit for your hard work. You also need to show that you have potential.

So, you need to show that you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, you have to have an answer and a point of view, you have to address issues ideally before they come up, you have to offer ways to make things better, and you have to be seen and heard by leadership. And so, these are the unspoken rules of getting promoted. It’s just that how we’re evaluating employees and how employees think they’re being evaluated are often night and day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. Well, let’s dig into committed, how you show it. And, first, I just want to…we’re talking about commitment, and I’ve just recently been reading a number of articles about quiet quitting, as it’s called, and I guess there’s multiple interpretations or definitions of this. It’s sort of like you haven’t quit but you’re sort of coasting and you’re going to do the bare minimum, and you’ve sort of quit in your heart, if you will.

And so, that’s creating a buzz in some conversations. But I’d love it if we could address the mindset or the attitude in terms of, “Well, okay, yeah, an ownership mindset would be great but I’m not an owner. I don’t have equity or stock options or performance compensation of any kind. So, yeah, I bet you’d like it if I had an ownership mindset but I don’t because I’m, in fact, not an owner, and that even seems potentially unfair for me to go above and beyond when the rewards are not in play.” I just want to let you respond to that kind of attitude or mindset.

Gorick Ng
Well, this is a good example of where leaders and employees are really talking past each other. And, actually, if I may return to the 3Cs framework because the way that we often, at least when I approach the workplace, I thought that it was all about just doing my job. And, actually, I have a quote from someone, an accountant who was new to corporate America and who thought that, “Well, is it my job just a simple matter of showing up, doing my work, and then going home? That’s what a job is, right?”

And I thought to myself, “Well, yeah.” If I think about my single mother who worked in a sewing machine factory, that was her job. You show up, you do your work, you put your head down, and you leave.” But in this increasingly knowledge-based economy in which we live, it’s hard to evaluate your outputs on a daily basis. So, you can’t just walk up to someone and see how many garments they sewed and the quality of the zipper they sewed onto that garment.

So, in the absence of, clearly, discernible outputs, we start relying on inputs. We rely on, “Well, how responsive are you in emails? How confident are you coming across in conversations? How much are you coming to the table with solutions rather than just problems? How much are you showing excitement?” I have a story of someone who worked in a cinema who thought that his job was simply to, well, collect change and give tickets to people. But he was labeled as “not a team player” because, during his breaks, he wasn’t socializing with his colleagues, and that was, in retrospect, dinging this individual’s commitment and compatibility.

And so, while he wanted to make it to be a general manager, folks didn’t see his leadership material. So, I want to come back to this idea of competence and commitment because when I speak to leaders, they care about competence and commitment. Whereas, when I speak to employees, the misnomer is that, “Well, it’s all just about competence. If I’m just doing my work, why am I not getting rewarded?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, there’s a mismatch, folks talking past each other. Understood. So, in a way, there’s simply a misunderstanding on the part of the employee, that commitment is necessary. Whereas, leadership says, “Well, of course, that’s a given to us. We recognize it.” I’m thinking about more about the employees’ attitude or perspective or mindset that, “That’s just not fair or just or right or appropriate.”

Gorick Ng
Yeah, that’s a big one, and this is where we move from self-help to all of us needing to help. So, it’s one thing to lay bare these unspoken rules. It’s another to make sure that you have the structures and incentives in place to make sure that people are actually motivated to perform at this higher level. And so, when it comes to compensation, yeah, it’s hard to ask your employees to go above and beyond if you’re paying below market rates.

It’s hard to ask your sales and marketing team to make more money if all that money is going to the folks high up and they don’t see a penny of it. So, the fairness thing, I think we need to be talking more about because it’s one thing, it’s necessary but not sufficient to have expectations. You also need to make sure that folks feel excited, folks feel supported, and folks feel valued. Those are really the three essential ingredients to motivating your team versus just having a conversation with them.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, attitude point addressed. Now, share with us, how do we demonstrate that we’re committed?

Gorick Ng
Well, I spoke to the importance, for example, of being responsive. And, here, we rub up against also an area where folks may talk past each other, which is some organizations have this always-on culture, or this hidden expectation that if someone higher-up emails you, no matter what time of day it is, that you’d be jumping at that email and responding right away.

And if you speak to leaders, they’ll say, “Well, yeah, of course. If I asked for something, I expect you to be there.” And then if you talked to employees, they’ll say, “Well, I’m not getting paid at this hour. And just because you want to empty your inbox at 11:00 p.m. doesn’t mean that I want to be up at 11:00 p.m. answering your emails.”

So, here, there is the self-help piece and there’s also the all-of-us-need-to-help piece. So, I interviewed, for example, a superintendent at a school district who had this habit of emptying her inbox on Saturday evenings. And from her perspective, it was, “Well, I’m just trying to empty my inbox, trying to get ahead of the following week,” but in doing so, she had established the unspoken rule in her team that everyone needs to be up at that hour.

So, my message to leaders is to be mindful of your intent which I assume is positive, but, moreover, to be mindful of your impact because you know that your intent is positive but how your actions may be perceived on the other side may not be so positive, in the case of the superintendent.

When it comes to employees, it’s important, and here we come back to this idea of quiet quitting, for example, which is drawing boundaries, to use a synonym here. Often, when I speak to leaders, and why they have these requests and why they tend to micromanage, it’s not because anyone wakes up in the morning, thinking, “How can I be the worst micromanager that has walked the face of the earth?” It’s that they’re nervous. It’s that they’re anxious.

And so, as an employee, you can get ahead of this commitment C if you apply the unspoken rule of why, what, how, by when; where, whenever you’re delegated a task, it’s important to be in alignment with your manager about, “Why is this being asked of me? What’s the broader purpose behind this work? What do I need to do? What’s the deliverable exactly? Is this an email? Is this a presentation? Is this a phone call? How am I supposed to do this? So, am I supposed to find it with my friends? Am I supposed to go on Google? Am I supposed to look at our internal knowledge management system?’

And, moreover, and this is the real one, is by when. So, if my manager asks me to do something by, let’s say…well, actually, let me be clear. Most managers will just say, “Can you please look into this?” So, they won’t even give you a deadline, even though in the back of their heads, they have a deadline of, “Well, I want you to get this done by Friday.”

So, if you don’t ask and your manager doesn’t tell you, you’re going to be on completely different pages about this deadline. So, the first step is to ask, “Hey, when do you need this?” But there’s also a further unspoken rule here, which is that whenever there’s a deadline in the workplace, there’s also an unspoken earlier deadline.

So, even though this is due on Friday, maybe before I hand this deliverable to you, Pete, I need to talk to Jenny, and maybe Jenny is out on Thursday, so I actually have to talk to her on Wednesday. And before I can speak to her, I need to speak to three other people who I can only talk to on Monday. So, the deadline isn’t actually next Friday, it’s this afternoon.

And so, aligning on this ahead of time when you’re delegated an assignment can go a long way in demonstrating that you’re committed and, at the same time, draw those boundaries because you’ve already had this conversation with your manager about, “Hey, I promised to get back to you by this time. It’s not yet that time,” of course you’re not saying this but you’ve gone on to the same page that, “Hey, I will get back to you, so don’t be so nervous, don’t be so anxious about what’s really going on right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
And I think those conversations are so necessary. When you mentioned unspoken rule or expectation of the superintendent doing the Saturday night email, I think that’s one of the most powerful conversations that managers and teams can have, is, “What are our expectations associated with email or Slack messaging, etc.?” because I’ve facilitated workshops where there are just incredible lightbulbs going off, like, “Oh, my gosh, so you don’t need this right away? Like, generally, I can reply within 24 hours, and that’s fine? Wow!”

And then there’s another ball of wax associated with multitasking, switch-tasking, and the horrors it does to our attention and deep work and focus zone, flow stuff. So, that’s a whole another ball of wax. But it can be so transformational when you clear those up, and say, “Oh,” or made you learn, “Actually, yes, I do expect that,” like, “Oh, glad that I know that. I can tell you what I can and cannot do with regard to that.” When you said boundaries, how do you recommend you have those conversations?

Gorick Ng
Well, it’s to approach this as, “How can we best work together?” versus “These are all the things that I demand from you.” And this is a two-way street, this is a conversation that managers can have with their teams, and that team members can have with their managers. So, when you’re meeting your manager for the first time, my advice is to ask, “Hey, what are your biggest goals and priorities over the next week, month, quarter, year? What are the things that you’d like me to be focusing on? What are the top priorities, the have-to-dos versus the nice-to-dos?”

“And how would you like to communicate, day to day, week to week? Would you like me to send you a summary email at the end of every week? Or, would you like me to try and tack on maybe a two-minute conversation after our weekly standups?” To your point, so much of this is about making the unspoken spoken. It’s about reminding ourselves that we can’t read the other person’s mind, and so just because we don’t talk about expectations, doesn’t mean that there aren’t expectations.

And we have a choice of either guessing and probably guessing incorrectly, and having that conversation upfront. The style by which you ask is really important. It’s a matter of, “Hey, how can we best work together? How can I save you time and stress?” versus “These are all the things that I expect of you.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right, or that I don’t do.

Gorick Ng
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
“I don’t do dishes. I don’t do toilet.” Okay. And so, how about compatibility. How do we demonstrate that?

Gorick Ng
This is the toughest one because bias and discrimination are real. And so, whether we’re talking about age, gender, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, vocal pitch, introversion, extroversion, access to transportation if we’re going to a social event after work, internet connectivity, accent.

So, it’s not a level playing field when it comes to the sea of compatibility where some of us, just by who we are and the backgrounds we come from, might show up in an organization and be able to speak like and have the same conversations as those of our coworkers. Versus, someone else who might feel like an outsider and who has to work a lot harder to demonstrate that compatibility.

Let me give you an example of just how tricky and sometimes uncomfortable this sea of compatibility can be with a story that I included in the book of this individual who joined a team that had this ritual of going on pedal bar outings.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gorick Ng
Now, I don’t know if you’re familiar with pedal bars.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Well, I live near Nashville now. There’s always the Bachelorettes on the strip. They’re going to the bars and they’re pedal…how do I say the word again? Pedal?

Gorick Ng
I think it’s a pedal bar. I have never done it myself.

Pete Mockaitis
P-E-D-A-L. Pedal bar, yes. So, they’re all pedaling on this thing. It’s just like “That cannot be safe.” That’s what I think whenever I see them, it’s like, “You all must have great insurance because I don’t know about this.”

Gorick Ng
Right. Yes. So, this individual found himself in a team where everyone liked going on pedal bar outings while wearing tie dye, actually. So, it’s a tie dye T-shirt pedal bar outing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gorick Ng
And this individual thought, “I don’t like drinking. This whole pedal bar tie dye business, I don’t want to have anything to do with it.” And so, he didn’t end up showing up at these outings. So, he politely declined every occasion, and then got to a point where he stopped getting invited altogether because his coworkers thought, “Ah, maybe you’re just not interested in hanging out with us.”

Fast-forward to the performance evaluation process, and he, like the individual I interviewed who was seen as not a team player at the cinema, well, this person also got the same feedback, which is that “You’re doing great in your job but you’re just not a team player.” At which point, he thought, “Okay, what you’re really asking me to do is to join you on these outings,” and that’s what he ended up doing.

I’m not saying conform, and we’ll come back to this, but he ended up going on these outings. And, fast-forward to the next review cycle, and his review shot up, and he ended up continuing to put himself out there, get to know his team members, and he ended up getting promoted actually in record time, multiple times, actually, in this company.

Now, we can hear this story and come to multiple conclusions. The first conclusion is, well, conform if you want to “fit in” which is one interpretation. The other interpretation is to do some self-reflection around what you hold sacred, what you’re willing to negotiate, and what you’re indifferent about. And this is a big thing that I uncovered in my research, which is different people are going to have different zones of tolerance when it comes to what they’re willing to give up for their jobs and, specifically, for the purposes of demonstrating compatibility.

So, some people will have, for example, a nontraditional name, at least within a particular context. And some people in that situation will say, “Yeah, give me a nickname. Go ahead.” Others will say, “No, I prefer that you call me by my real name, and I would prefer that you learn how to pronounce it as well.” Others will say, “You know, I’m willing to let go of my entire wardrobe and wear the slacks that you all wear and the blue and white dress shorts from a certain brand that you all wear and the loafers that you all wear.”

Others will say, “You know, I’m willing to conform to a certain degree, so to mesh with maybe your level of business casual but I’m going to show my own flare. I might show off my usual hair or I might show off jewelry that I would like to.” And no one can tell you what is the right answer. It’s really about who you are and what you value, and whether this is even an organization that you want to bend to.

And this also speaks to something else about these so-called unspoken rules, which is when you’re faced with an unspoken rule, you have three options as well. You can either follow the rules, you can either reject the rules, or you can bend the rules. So, in this case, in this particular individual’s situation, he ended up conforming to start getting promoted to management but, in the end, ended up using his managerial and leadership platform to make sure that folks coming into the organization after him didn’t have to conform in the way that he did.

So, he ended up leading diversity and inclusion initiatives, he ended up creating managerial training programs that would instill a different style of leadership in the organization, and that’s what this individual did. Not to say that we should all do it in this way, but this is one example of many of just how tricky this compatibility topic can be.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that notion of the three choices, and I actually got this question just yesterday. I was speaking at the IMF, and someone said, “What do you do if you feel like you can’t bring your full self to work because there’s a homogenous culture?” I don’t know if this person was referring to the International Monetary Fund workplace in particular or asking for a friend or whatever. So, not to put that on anyone.

And I thought that that’s a fine question, and it really made me think about, “Well, how are you defining what constitutes bringing your full self to work?” And I think you laid that up nicely in terms of, “Do you care about the loafers or the blue and white dress shirts or the pedal bar, or do you not?” And so, you might have a strong view, you might not, and you got your three options associated with reject the rules, conform to the rules, bend the rules.

And I think maybe a pre-step, if you will, the prequel to that three-part choice, is just confirming that’s really a rule because I think, for example, if it’s like we all happen to wear…I’m wearing jeans and a polo right now as we’re chatting. And so, if I was in a workplace where there are four other people wearing jeans and polos, and then a new person shows up, they might get the memo, “Oh, I’m supposed to wear jeans and polo. Like, that’s what we do here.”

And, yet, if you are engaging in those conversations openly, honestly, directly, proactively, you can mention, “Hey, you’re actually totally free to wear whatever you want. If you want to wear a death metal band T-shirt, that is completely fine here. We just all happen to coincidentally like jeans and polos, yeah.”

Gorick Ng
This is so important a conversation to have, and it has to start from the managerial leadership side. Because if we put ourselves in the shoes of, for example, the individual I interviewed, this is the typical experience of a new hire, which is you get hired, you get radio silence, you have no idea what’s expected of you on your first day, sometimes you don’t even know who your manager is, let alone where you’re supposed to show up and what you’re supposed to know.

You show up, you don’t know a soul. You go to a meeting, everyone’s talking over you or not even acknowledging that you’re the newcomer. You have questions but no one is there to help you out. You try to speak up but you have that imposter syndrome. You try again and folks don’t even acknowledge that you exist. You receive an assignment but you don’t know what to do. You have questions and don’t have anyone to go to. And then, all of a sudden, fast-forward to your performance evaluation, and you’re called an underperformer, not a team player, apathetic, not leadership material.

Now, if we just put ourselves in the shoes of the typical experience of an employee, there are just a lot of really basic things that leaders and managers can do to create a more welcoming environment. And it begins with what you just said, which is “What are the things that really matter in this job? And what are the things that we actually don’t really care about?”

But someone from the outside, if an alien from outer space were to swoop into our organization, this alien might interpret our organization as one where everyone has to be up at all hours, everyone has to wear jeans and polos, everyone has to talk a certain way, everyone has to talk about a certain set of sports and a certain set of teams in that sport, and that may not necessarily be the case.

So, being proactive about this conversation is important because that new hire, who is already feeling uncomfortable, is probably not in a position to spark this conversation themselves. You have to be the one to bring it up.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s great stuff, Gorick. Thank you. Any final thoughts before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Gorick Ng
As I take a step back from my research, my biggest aha moment is twofold. One, it’s that high performers and high potentials are developed, not born. And the second is that, when it comes to onboarding your employees, developing your employees, engaging your employees, and promoting your employees, all of that begins with speaking the unspoken rules.

These unspoken ways that we do things in this organization, that we might assume to be common sense but that’s often not common sense. And this is often a function of privilege, of where we grew up, of our work experience, of the communities in which we live. And deconstructing what those unspoken rules are for all can level the playing field for all of your employees.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Gorick Ng
I wish this were my quote. It’s, unfortunately, not mine but it’s still my favorite, and it’s, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second-best time is now.”

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

Gorick Ng
I’m a big fan of Erin Meyer’s work on The Culture Map. So, she maps out different working cultures across countries around the world, and then maps them out across eight scales. It helped me gain a better appreciation for this notion of cultural differences and how what may be common sense in one culture, may actually be at odds with how another culture does its work.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Gorick Ng
My favorite book is Hope for the Flowers by Trina Paulus. It’s actually a picture book on a caterpillar who discovers his true purpose in life. And it turns out that it’s not what everyone else is pursuing.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

Gorick Ng
I love Instapaper. It’s a tool that allows me to save articles for offline reading, and I actually have Siri read those articles to me when I’m on runs.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Gorick Ng
I can’t say this is a habit yet but I’m definitely trying harder to block off time for the important work so that the mindset of just one more email doesn’t turn into an entire day of emails.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Gorick Ng
The takeaway that folks repeat back to me most often is the idea that it’s not enough to simply put your head down, do the hard work, and let your hard work speak for itself. You need to be seen, you need to be heard in order to be remembered. And you need to be remembered in order for you to be promoted.

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

Gorick Ng
Best place to contact me is at my website, which is Gorick.com, that’s G-O-R-I-C-K.com. I’m also on the various social media networks, so feel free to connect with me.

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

Gorick Ng
My call to action is to leaders, and it’s to identify one person on your team who may come across as a low-performer, someone who may appear to be apathetic or just not get it, and ask yourself, “What might they not get that I consider to be common sense?” and then reach out to them, and ask, “Hey, how are you doing?” and listen. You might be surprised by what they tell you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Gorick, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and success in sharing and following well the unspoken rules. Keep on rocking.

Gorick Ng
Thanks so much, Pete. Appreciate your time.

796: How to Make Progress on Your Most Audacious Goals, Every Day with Grace Lordan

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Grace Lordan offers actionable solutions and tips to help bring you closer to your goals, one step at a time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to free yourself from the fear of making mistakes 
  2. How to break free from impostor syndrome
  3. How to stop stress from hijacking your day 

About Grace

Dr Grace Lordan is the Founding Director of The Inclusion Initiative and an Associate Professor at the London School of Economics and Political Science.   

Grace is an economist and her research is focused on quantifying the benefits of inclusion within and across firms, as well as designing interventions that level the playing field for under-represented talent within firms.  Grace served as an expert advisor to the UK government sitting on their skills and productivity board, is currently a member of the UK government’s BEIS social mobility taskforce and is currently on the Women in Finance Charter’s advisory board. 

Her academic writings have been published in top international journals and she has written for the Financial Times and Harvard Business Review. Grace is a regular speaker and advisor to blue chip finance and technology firms. Think Big, Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want is her first book. 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

Grace Lordan Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Grace, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Grace Lordan
Hi, Pete. I’m delighted to be here, and I hope that I am awesome at my job.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, we’ll see.

Grace Lordan
We’ll find out.

Pete Mockaitis
Just kidding. Just kidding. No pressure. I’m excited to hear about your book Think Big: Take Small Steps and Build the Future You Want. But, first, I want to hear about your dog-kissing practices.

Grace Lordan
My dog-kissing practices, yes, I mean, that continues. And for my partner, it’s the most embarrassing thing, I think, ever because it’s not even just in private. It’s also in public. She will give me now kisses when she wants a treat. She gives me a kiss before she goes to bed at night. And, actually, when I want to laugh, I do say to her, “Casey, can I have a kiss?” and she does give me a kiss. So, for people who don’t like dog-kissing, it’s probably a really bad start to this podcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I think that’s adorable. My kids, lately, have been asking it at bedtime, “I want 10 kisses,” and I just love it, so. So, dog kisses, yeah, I’ll take those, too, if we had a dog. As long as the dog, I think if it’s a dog you know, that’s cool. I might be a little uncomfortable if it’s like a total stranger dog that looks kind of, you know, ill. I don’t know if I want him kissing me. But if it’s your dog, it’s all good.

Grace Lordan
I think cuteness is a factor as well. You’ve chosen your dog, so you obviously think it’s really cute, but I think some dogs do look quite intimidating. So, yeah, I think stick to kissing your own dog, for anybody listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re already getting actionable wisdom. Thank you, Grace. Well, let’s hear a little bit about inside your book. Were there any particularly surprising and fascinating discoveries you’ve made while you’re putting together Think Big?

Grace Lordan
There were lots simply because, when I was writing it, I treated myself as an experiment. So, if you read the book, there’s lots of tips that come from scientific research, and I actually tried them out. Some worked for me, and some didn’t work for me, which I think really kind of shows that you should, when you take advice, really figure out if it’s actually working for you.

I think some of the more interesting ones were thinking, for example, about the spotlight effect, how, for me, I have a tendency towards perfectionism, which it sounds wonderful, but actually it isn’t. It’s quite crippling. And learning about the spotlight effect, that people who are paying attention to you in the moment probably aren’t paying attention to you to the degree that you actually think has been quite freeing for me, and I’ve managed to verify that as true.

So, you can take that as depressing or not, Pete, but most of the things that I do, whether I do them well or do them badly, it feels like nobody’s watching, which is very freeing for me, but it could be quite depressing if you thought about it in another way.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m intrigued. How did you confirm? Did you say, “Hey, you, were you watching me earlier when I was doing this?” Or, how did you put that to the test that you were not really being spotlighted?

Grace Lordan
I think you wait for the legacy. So, if you do things like public speaking, or if you are the person who convenes round tables, sometimes you will have blunders and you won’t say things exactly the way that you wanted to say them. For example, you might not be as clear as you would want. And I used to ruminate on that, and I would ask you, if you were my colleague, who is in the round table, and procrastinate over, “What did you think?” because I’m drawing your attention, so you would probably have a few comments.

But I found out that, actually, not necessarily drawing people’s attention to it, verified for me the people weren’t paying attention to it to begin with. Then, actually, even just leaving a lag to get feedback of one week meant that people have kind of forgotten my blunders and really saw the performance as an average rather than these very small minute things that I was picking up.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, zooming out a bit, can you share what’s sort of the big idea or main thesis behind the book Think Big?

Grace Lordan
So, I wanted to write a book that was for people who weren’t able to just upheave their lives to create huge change, because I think, here in the UK, and also in the US, we hear these stories of people who have great success, and it feels like they do it overnight. So, I wanted to write a really, really realistic book but I still wanted to write something where people ended up achieving really, really big things.

So, the starting point is getting people to think big, which really is getting somebody to imagine what their life would be in the medium term, so think years rather than months, if everything worked out and you had no constraints. So, Pete, you mentioned that you have two young kids, you would basically not say, “Okay, I have two kids I have to really factor in their care in this think big.” Instead, you would just imagine, “What if it all worked out?”

And then the second step in that is saying, “Okay, now that I have this vision of myself, what does that person actually do on a day-to-day basis?” So, I think one of the places where we fall down when we’re thinking about our future is that we visualize ourselves doing these kinds of huge big things, so declaring that we have huge earnings in our company if we’re entrepreneurs; imagining ourselves giving a statement if we were a CEO; imagining ourselves doing something else as equally impressive if we’ve gone into another kind of career aspect. But we don’t think about the tasks that actually get you there and the grit on the day-to-day basis.

So, I get people to visualize those, and, assuming that they’re happy with the tasks that they visualize, I ask them to put small steps in place that gets them doing those tasks now. Or, if they’re not able to do those tasks because of a skill deficit, to put steps in place to get those skills. If they visualize those tasks, and say, “Actually, this sounds really horrible. I like the idea of running my own company, but the day-to-day sounds terrible,” then they reiterate the process again. And, fundamentally, it’s about figuring out what you love doing, but also figuring out what you love doing that leads you to something probably bigger than you’re imagining at the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, so that sounds pretty quick and zippy, Grace. Is that the case? Or, how long are we talking till we land upon a vision and a plan that feels awesome for people?

Grace Lordan
So, I think it is zippy. I have exercises in the book to get people thinking about the activities they like doing on a day-to-day basis if they don’t know what they want to do so they can map back to a big dream. I have kind of guidance on the type of skills that you need to do particular careers. So, I think the think big part is actually quite…it happens really, really quick. I love the word zippy, by the way. It is actually quite zippy.

But I think the hard part is putting the small steps in place and sticking to those small steps. So, once you get over chapter two and you have this kind of big vision in mind, the rest of the book is devoted to thinking about, “How can you stick to your small steps? How can you find time to do the small steps? How can you overcome your own biases? How can you overcome the biases of others?” And that part of the journey does take time.

And I think most of us as human beings are really…find really easy dreaming of something that we might never achieve, and those small steps are the bridge to actually making it a reality.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And in the book, you’ve got six key areas: time, goal-planning, self-narratives, other people, environment, and resilience. Can you share with us a couple of your favorite tips inside each of these areas that can help us to think big and realize those big thoughts?

Grace Lordan
So, I’ve said this so many times since the book has been written, so it feels like a cliché, but it is something that’s fundamentally true, is that time is the one thing that we can’t get back. It is our most precious resource. And one of the things that I love doing, when I feel that I’m not making progress, is time audits, and I’d encourage anyone listening to do one as well, and really divide…so, firstly, auditing what they’ve on a day-to-day basis, ideally, in 15-minute increments. And then going back and asking yourself, “Which bucket do those increments fall into?”

So, firstly, “Are these things that actually allows me to be happy in the moment or allow somebody else to be happy in the moment, or give some value?” The second are the things that, actually, are investing in your future self. So, this idea of me plus, or the person who you visualize when you think big. And the last are what I call time sinkers, and these are things that absolutely waste your time.

And when I wrote the book, my biggest time sinker is sitting in meetings. I work in the university and the meetings tend to be very, very long. I don’t know about the US, but in the UK, they tend to be very, very long, very, very boring, and no decision ever gets made. A lot of small-stake stuff gets debated. So, for me, that was my time sinker to really focus in on, “Do I need to be at these meetings if nobody is actually making a decision, nobody is listening to me?”

Another time sinker for me was spending too much time on email. For other people, it could be social media, it could be online shopping, but really figuring out what those time sinkers are and re-allocating that time to invest in your future long-term self.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, Grace, I’m curious, if you determine these emails are taking too much time, these meetings are taking too much time, in practice, how does one just ditch them, it’s like, “You know what, not doing anymore. Hey, Dean, or whomever, not going to those meetings anymore”? How do you pull that off?

Grace Lordan
It’s a really great question. So, I think, for me, it’s going to be easier than for a lot of people because one of the benefits of working in the university is they have this thing called tenure, where it’s kind of hard to fire you. So, if no one is listening to you in a meeting, it’s quite valid for you to say to the chair, “No one’s paying attention to me so I’m just not going to show up for this.” And if they don’t change the meeting, I think that’s okay.

I think it’s harder if you have a job where you do have to show up, but, nonetheless, I think it’s possible. So, for people who I know who work in finance and technology companies in extraordinary competitive environments, one of the solutions that they have for the emails is to check emails at particular times during the day.

So, they’re not firefighters and they’re not heart surgeons, so if it takes them 90 minutes to respond to something, it’s not going to be the end of the world. And that batching has been extraordinarily effective for them. On meetings, and we might get into this in a while, in a lot of companies where I’ve kind of been working and kind of doing work about redesigning how leadership should look, is fundamentally is about redesigning meetings to give time back to your team.

So, again, moving away from these forums where we over-deliberate on small-stake stuff to an environment where we have trust, and bringing people together when the big things are at stake, or when you’re creating and when you’re innovating. And in the book, I talk a bit about how you can redesign meetings if you’re in charge of them, but also if you’re somebody who’s low-power, how you can nudge the person in charge to get you there.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s a great turn of a phrase, deliberating on low-stake stuff. And I guess one would need to think through, “Are the low stakes just for me? Is there a low-stake for the company, for the team, or for everybody?” And I think, often, the answer is there’s little stakes for everybody. Maybe someone just doesn’t feel confident enough to make a decision on their own without gathering input. Or, they’re extroverted, they just like to chitchat.

So, I guess there’s any number of reasons why meetings appear that ought not to have appeared, but I think that’s a really great check-in question to work through there in terms of, “Is this, in fact, small stakes for everybody? And are we just talking because here we are and we’re intellectual creatures who have different ideas so we’re going to talk about them because that’s the topic placed in front of us?”

Grace Lordan
I think it comes from a really good place, so I think, as organizations grew, it was hard to build trust in organizations. Because, if we think back a hundred years as things were actually getting bigger, usually, you were just battling a growth cycle, so the idea of putting structure around meetings probably wasn’t something that dawned on anyone, particularly when people were working nine to five and time wasn’t as scarce as it is today.

I think, now, we fundamentally have an oversupply of meetings to discuss small-stakes stuff because we want to be transparent, so it comes from a really good place. So, if, for example, I’m interested in how many bike racks that I should put outside buildings, it’s nice for me to ask you, Pete, because I feel that I should be an inclusive person but, for you, that’s taking your time.

So, I think the battle for leaders and for companies now is to, firstly, figure out, “What are the things that are low stakes and what’s high stakes?” and put transparency around the low-stake stuff for the one person or the two people who might really want to see how that decision is made. They should be able to go online and look that up.

But I think for the rest of the people who are actually happy to trust and give autonomy to their teammates, then they should get on with it. And I think part of it is that leaders themselves shouldn’t be involved in the low-stakes decision-making. So, for example, if I’m in your team, Pete, and you’re the leader, you, like everyone else in the team, should accept me making decisions without you being there, and the mode of transparency that’s open to the team.

And I think I see in teams now, particularly in finance and tech where I do a lot of work, where people are moving towards that mode, and they’re getting just a lot of time back. And people are ending up being happier, safe in the knowledge that when the big decisions are being made, they’ll be called into the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And I like the bike rack example a lot because you can very politely say, “You know, I trust you and whatever you decide with regard to how many bike racks is fine.” And then that might be a good little test for yourself internally, like, “Do you have any input here?” It’s like, “Actually, I guess I wouldn’t want you to add hundreds of bike racks, such that the closets are…or the hallways are really crowded, but other than that, I mean, really, you could have five, you could have 50, and it’s just fine with me.”

Grace Lordan
And most people will make a really sensible decision in that domain. And there are these experiments that are fantastic in behavioral science, where they give people things to deliberate in meetings, and they look to see how much time they spend on items, like the bike rack, as composed to items like project choice, capital structure decisions, pensions, and people tend to spend more time talking about the bike racks because, fundamentally, in meetings, most people can give an opinion on a bike rack because it’s a very easy thing for us to conceptualize.

When the material gets hard, you get much fewer questions. And, actually, for the meetings to work, we need it to be the other way around. We need it to be people like me who don’t necessarily and fully understand the question on pensions, for example, to be asking the questions so that everyone in the room gets to understand that really big decision, and we should leave the bike racks to somebody else to decide.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a really good perspective, and I’m amused by podcasters. I’ve been in some podcast forums where folks have a question about, I don’t know, cover art, which kind of matters. It’s not the number one thing but it sort of matters. But that’s very easy for anyone to opine on, like, “I like the yellow one. I like the one with the bigger face,” a piece of art or design anyone can comment upon but, really, what’s most critical is, “Okay, do I have a show that serves a real audience and a real need that’s somewhat distinctive and/or superior from the alternatives available?”

But that’s a lot harder to…like, you’d actually have to do some research to be able to tell you, to opine on that as opposed to, “I like the yellow one.” And yet, yeah, that’s great. So, in a way, the primary driver of deliberation time is not so much importance or value but just, I guess, ease of folks having opinions on, opine-ability. I don’t know what we’d call that.

Grace Lordan
So, in behavioral science, there’s a whole area of research that talks about shared information versus hidden information. So, the shared information are the things that we have in common this evening when we’re talking. And for a podcast, it probably makes sense for us to focus on things that are shared, otherwise it would sound really weird for the audience.

But if we’re working together, the value of us as colleagues is actually in our hidden information, so you’ll have insights that I don’t have, and we should take time to learn those for the big stuff. But we should hire somebody who we can delegate the small stuff to so we actually have that time. So, some of the kind of work that I do is really getting people to, firstly, understand what we’re talking about to be true, but, secondly, to get comfortable talking about that hidden information.

Because one of the first things we do when we have new colleagues in companies is that we kind of condition them, if they’re going to stay with us, to conform to the type of information that we like sharing in meetings, which really gets rid of the comparative advantage we get when that person comes through the door. And it all comes down to our ego.

As humans, we just like to be comfortable in conversations where we fully understand what’s going on. But, obviously, to learn something new, there has to be lots of moments in our life where we’re sitting in rooms where we fundamentally don’t understand something. We grapple with that so we get on the same page as somebody who has a different perspective or unique information compared to us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, so we had some thoughts on time. How about self-narratives?

Grace Lordan
Yeah. So, one of the interesting things for me, because my background is in computer science, so one of the biggest learning curves for me has been that people prefer storytelling over data. One of the most interesting things to me in the psychology literature is that the biggest storytellers we are, are the stories that we essentially tell ourselves.

So, if I’m ever going to do something new, what actually goes on in my mind just before I do that particular thing is going to govern how well I actually do it in the moment, how I feel coming out of it, and whether or not I’ll engage in it again. And in Think Big, I kind of explore the idea of self-narratives that might be holding people back, like, “I’m not good enough,” “This doesn’t necessarily suit me,” “I don’t have time for this,” and really getting people to challenge those narratives so that they get to move forward in a way that feels much freer.

And I think, again, kind of in writing this and in talking to different people on their perspectives, what are the things that really stood out for me is, fundamentally, people often don’t see that. It’s themselves that are the majority of what’s holding them back as compared to other people. We usually see it really clearly if somebody else puts an obstacle in our way, but those obstacles that we have through the image we have of ourselves, which is probably not true, by the way, is something fundamentally that, I think, people need to address in order to achieve and, given the topic of this podcast, be awesome at their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Very good. And so, if we’re exploring the stories that we’re telling to ourselves or about ourselves, do you have any pro tips on identifying what stories may not be serving us so well, and how to reframe them?

Grace Lordan
Absolutely. So, I think that there’s kind of two different ways in which you can go about this. So, the first is that you can start listening to yourself, essentially. So, when you have these big moments, recognizing whether or not you’re going into imposter syndrome; recognizing whether or not your self-chatter is saying that you don’t necessarily have enough time, which is my one, by the way; recognizing what that actual narrative is; and challenging that narrative in the moment by giving disconfirming evidence.

And I think that there’s some good evidence in psychology that this can work for people, I’m quite skeptical because I can’t imagine myself being in a situation where I’m about to do an action that’s making me nervous, and I find myself having the strength to have that argument with myself internally. So, I prefer the other approach, which is really to, once you’ve identified that narrative, to think about actions that disconfirm that particular narrative and engage in those regularly.

So, really, for example, if you think about somebody whose self-narrative says that they’re a smoker, so they now start saying, “Actually, I’m not a smoker. I’m somebody who does something different.” So, every time that they might think of a cigarette, instead of going and smoking, they bring that narrative to the fore so that they’re swapping out one behavior for another behavior in themselves.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And then when it comes to resilience, how do we get a boost there?

Grace Lordan
So, the chapter on resilience, I actually wrote before COVID, and I think it’s been the most popular chapter in the book because, during the COVID pandemic, a lot of people really wanted to figure out how they could become more resilient when they’re at home. Again, in the same flavor as the book, I really lean on what are small things that you can do on a day-to-day basis that will preserve your resilience reserves or also enhance them.

So, I’ll give you two, which are two of my favorites. So, the first is to really reflect what you do when something negative happens to you. So, whether or not it’s a colleague insulting you, not getting a promotion, to something even bigger than that. What are the typical types of reactions that you have? So, really kind of engage in that self-awareness.

And for behavioral scientists, we call that period affect. So, basically, you’re reacting with emotion and you’re in this hot stage which probably isn’t the best for you to make decisions about your way forward, figuring out what you’re actually going to do in that period. So, for me, in the book, I give the readers a list of things that I do that range from a walk around the block when it’s something small, to taking bigger timeouts to have to spend some time with friends and get the healthy jolts of confirmation bias when things are a bit worse.

And then the second stage is dealing with the problem. And I ask people to do this ahead of time, so really think about, “When negative things happen, what are you actually going to reach with?” so that they’re not reacting with their emotions. And this is particularly useful, I think, for people who do become very emotional when things don’t actually go their way.

Within companies, you can also do this within teams so if you’re trying to build psychological safety, you could think about saying to your team, “Look, there’s going to be moments where things don’t go our way. And when things don’t go our way, we’re going to take a timeout, and this is what the timeouts can actually look like.” And that does something for the team in giving them certainty about what would happen in an uncertain situation. And with respect to the individual, you’re essentially giving yourself certainty about what you’re going to do when things don’t necessarily go wrong. So, it seems to be very effective.

The second then is to really go into a battle with loss aversion. So, if you can imagine yourself, Pete, and you’re walking down the street today, this won’t happen in London, by the way, because the weather is extraordinarily hot today, but if you’re walking down the street and it’s a rainy day, and somebody splashes you with a puddle, so they go through, you’re soak from head to toe, and you’re meant to go somewhere important. How would you react in that situation?

Pete Mockaitis
I would probably say, “Aargh!”

Grace Lordan
Would you shake a fist? Would you be annoyed at the driver?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I’d be annoyed, angry, confused, startled, yeah.

Grace Lordan
Would you tell the story later to other people?

Pete Mockaitis
It really could go either way. I suppose if I was entering a room and everyone says, “Whoa, why are you covered in mud?” I would absolutely tell them.

Grace Lordan
You might do it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d probably tell my wife but, yeah, I’d probably lead with that.

Grace Lordan
But it would stick with you even for that moment where you have that angry burst, you have a negative reaction. That seems to be what most people would have, then some people would carry it with them for their day, and then some people would just find it really hard to get over. So, you have these kinds of three types of people, if you like.

You get the same when you have somebody who insults you. So, if you can imagine yourself being in the workplace and somebody says, “Pete, you’ve done an extraordinarily bad job today. I don’t know why you came to work,” usually people inside will feel quite negatively towards that person. They might tell their spouse or they might tell a friend, but it really weighs on their mind.

Or, if a colleague ignores them, the same thing. So, if a colleague ignores them, they do feel negatively towards the person, “What’s going on? Why is Jim ignoring me today? I don’t necessarily know what’s going on.” And on the other side, we don’t celebrate when we don’t get splashed by a puddle. We don’t celebrate when people are incredibly kind to us and give us compliments in work. We’re very unlikely to celebrate when somebody kind of gives us that greeting in the hall with a big smile on their face.

And it’s actually been shown kind of time and time again that people who focus on those moments, the driver who slowed down without actually splashing them and ruining their day, the person who is incredibly kind to them, the person who gives the good greeting, if you concentrate on those at a certain point in the day, which is known as gratitude in the literature, or celebrating small wins, if you’re a behavioral scientist, it really allows you to not just kind of preserve your resilience stores because it moves the focus away from bad things that have happened to positive, but also allows you to become more resilient because you recognize that you have these good things going on in your life.

And that is something that I really kind of encourage people to try and see if it works for them. For me, I’m not a great journaler so I usually do this at the end of my day, like 7:00, it would be later tonight, and I write down that I’m really grateful for a good conversation with Pete. And having those moments where I actually kind of look at my day, and say, “Yes, everything didn’t go my way but there were these things that actually stand out that life is going in the right direction,” is extraordinarily resilience-preserving and incredibly easy to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Grace, you’re also an authority on issues associated with bias. Can you speak to some of the takeaways there that can help us be more awesome at our jobs?

Grace Lordan
Yes. So, I wrote a whole chapter on bias in the book and one of the things that I ask people to recognize in the beginning is to think about what is the proportion of their journey that belongs to them, and what is the proportion of the journey where they rely on other people.

And then we go deep-diving into the biases that traditionally hold people back. And one of my favorites is confirmation bias. So, it’s my favorite because confirmation bias is both a good thing and a bad thing. So, when you’re having a really crummy day and things haven’t gone your way, you absolutely want somebody who’s going to take your side, who’s going to tell you that you’re right, and who isn’t going to put up a fight against you when you say to them it was all somebody else’s fault. You absolutely want that.

However, if we bring confirmation bias into the workplace on our regular days when we’re trying to do our job, when we’re trying to get critical feedback, it really, really will hold us back. And confirmation bias is a tendency for me to hold a belief and then go looking for evidence that actually confirms that belief.

So, for example, if I’m somebody who believes that we should go with a particular project at work, or, to use our example, that there should be ten bike racks outside the building, I will look for evidence that confirms that particular belief. But, of course, there’s lots of other perspectives that I should be taking into account when I’m making big decisions, like, the project to actually take on, a colleague to hire, or who to actually promote.

And, fundamentally, I think some of the battles that we have at the moment is getting within teams and individuals to really look outside themselves, for perspectives that aren’t their own, and to battle their own self-beliefs. And if you think about whether or not you’re growing as a person, it can be really helpful to ask yourself when was the last time that you changed your mind on something that was a fundamental belief to you.

So, you come into this world, we were brought up in a certain way, we go about our journey, and we kind of create particular beliefs. When did you actually change your mind? And in the absence of being able to identify when you changed your mind, being honest with yourself, and saying, “When did I sit down with somebody who held a different belief to me and had a conversation with them?”

And, for me, most of my work is in companies when it comes to investment choices, colleagues to hire, colleagues to promote, but you can also link this to what’s kind of going on in society and different perspectives with respect to governments and ideologies, and people just aren’t talking to each other. And what it really comes down to is, as human beings, again, our ego lends us to hanging around with people who have the same viewpoints of us and always wanting to be right.

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

Grace Lordan
No, I’m good.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Grace Lordan
I think I’m going to go with Madeleine Albright, who has passed away very recently, who said, “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.”

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

Grace Lordan
So, I have a number of them, but one that I refer to a lot is one that was done in the ‘60s on the Pygmalion Effect that really demonstrated that when researchers went into schools and they picked out the kids that had the highest ability, and then when they went away, and they came back and they looked at the kids’ test scores, well, they actually were kids who had done incredibly well.

But what was really unique about this study was that the kids had been randomly selected on the first day. So, they weren’t the highest ability at all, and it really demonstrated two things. So, firstly, self-belief of the kids mattered because they have been given the label that they were high ability but also the belief in the teachers towards these students.

So, if you are somebody who is struggling or who isn’t doing incredibly well at work, it might just be that you don’t have a manager who’s giving you opportunities to thrive. And why I picked that one this evening is it has been replicated many times in companies to demonstrate that somebody who isn’t doing particularly well in one team under a particular manager, when they move and the manager actually believes in them and inputs into them and gives them opportunities, they do tend to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And now could you share a favorite book?

Grace Lordan
I love a lot by Ryan Holiday. So, at the moment I’m reading Courage is Calling, which is an absolutely amazing book, and I’m really looking forward to the second part, which is coming out in September on discipline. I think the work he does that really links to stoicism and some other concepts that have been long forgotten, and bringing them into the modern day is just so unique. I would really recommend people reading him.

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

Grace Lordan
iPad. So, my iPad is used to check my emails. So, on every other device, I don’t have my emails come in and ping and distract me. I use my iPad as the accessory where I check my emails, and it’s been the one thing that has really allowed me to increase my productivity in the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you don’t view or reply to any emails on your computer?

Grace Lordan
No, or phone. And, at the moment, it’s in a different room, so the cost of me checking it is actually really high. So, if you said, “I want to go and just make a coffee, I’ll be back in two minutes,” previously I would be checking on my phone, answering some emails, getting distracted, and not being in the moment. Now, I have to physically walk out, get it. Sometimes I do do it on autopilot, I won’t lie, but the majority of time, it has become conscious. So, it’s not the tool itself, but it’s what it enables me to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Grace Lordan
Favorite habit is I was going to say the email checker, but I’m going to pick something different. It’s walking my dog. So, I walk her morning, afternoon, and evening, very short in the afternoon, and it’s really just a chance to get mindful.

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

Grace Lordan
So, I say a lot that time is your most precious resource, and people do, on Instagram, let me know what they’re using their precious resource for. And so, we can’t get it back. So, really bringing people’s focus to time.

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

Grace Lordan
www.GraceLordan.com.

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

Grace Lordan
Yes, I’d like people to make a pledge to have one small change in their life that will make them be awesome at their jobs. If they’re not sure what to do, it can be doing a time audit. So, figuring out what they did in the last week, breaking that time into 15-minute chunks, and dividing it into things that are time sinkers, things that give you happiness in the moment, and things that are going to make you move more towards your future self.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Grace, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck as you think big.

Grace Lordan
Thank you, Pete. You’re absolutely awesome.

790: How to Stop Being Overlooked, Underpaid, and Undervalued with Arika Pierce

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Arika Pierce reveals the simple steps to improving your visibility and value in the workplace.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The critical assumption that keeps professionals from advancing 
  2. How to properly negotiate for a raise or promotion
  3. Three rules for more visibility when working remotely  

About Arika

Arika Pierce, President and Founder of Piercing Strategies, is a leadership development coach and expert with a passion for creating forward-thinking leaders. After 15 years of corporate leadership experience, her 360 view of leadership has empowered her to help individuals hone their goals and reach their full potential.  

 

Resources Mentioned

Thank you, sponsors!

Arika Pierce Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Arika, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Arika Pierce
Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to be chatting, and I dig your book title I CAN. I WILL. WATCH ME.: How to Not Be Overlooked, Underpaid or Undervalued.

Arika Pierce
Yes, i.e., “How to be awesome at your job.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. Nice healthy overlap there. Well, tell us, can you kick us off right from the bat, is there a particularly surprising discovery you’ve made about folks being overlooked from your work with clients and putting together the book?

Arika Pierce
One of the things that I hear all the time, especially with clients that I work with, is, “I want to be promoted,” or, “I want to advance in my organization. I feel stuck.” And one of the first things I’ll ask them is, “Have you had that conversation about your next steps or your interests or your desire to advance? Are you sharing your impact, your results, all of those things?” And there’s an assumption that, “No, my manager knows all of that.” I’m like, “Maybe they don’t.”

And so, sometimes people need a really clear roadmap on just how to really articulate and do the things to showcase yourself and to get to that next level. And that’s really what the book is about, it’s that roadmap because I think we assume, “Oh, I’m working really hard. Everyone knows my results, or they know that I want to work the cool projects or initiatives or lead the team,” but unless you really lay that out, especially in todays’ world, it might not be known.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I’m curious, what’s your sense for, if you had to…maybe you’ve got some hot research or a rough sense, what proportion of professionals do you think are, in fact, overlooked, underpaid, undervalued?

Arika Pierce
I would say my informal research is probably somewhere around, I would say, 75%, and I do think that there are some groups that tend to get overlooked more than others. I work a lot with women and I think sometimes we, as women, are not as vocal or we are scared to be bragging or doing things like that. And so, as a result, we’re overlooked for opportunities or we’re not as visible.

So, I think it really comes down to sometimes some personal factors but I do think that there’s only a small segment in most organizations, in my experience, that is always making sure they’re staying at the forefront of the key stakeholders’, who are making decisions about their careers, minds.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, how do we know if we’re in that 75% or the fortunate 25%?

Arika Pierce
So, the first thing I say, I do a lot of work also around personal branding, is you should start to talk to the people who are making decisions about your career. The first thing to know is that it’s not just your boss, there are other stakeholders who have influence on whether or not you advance, whether or not you get, again, those visible assignments or projects or client work.

And so, you need to know who those people are and start to ask them questions, “Is my name coming up when there’s discussion about advancement opportunities? What are the words that you would use to describe me? How much do you think the work that I’m doing is connected to the overall direction of the organization?” Start to ask those questions. And if you’re getting a response where someone’s just kind of looking at you with, “I don’t ever think about you when I think about going far,” then you’ve got some work to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, ask the questions and we get that vibe. And I guess I’m curious, are there also, on the underpaid side of things, there’s a number of places we can go online to research, “Hey, what is competitive salary for my role, etc.?” Any favorite places you like to go there?

Arika Pierce
So, you know what, my favorite place to go is to ask other people that are in your industry, perhaps that may not work at your same organization, and to start having more transparent conversations about what they’re being paid, even if it’s just a range if you’re not comfortable necessarily always sharing exact numbers. But I think that that’s kind of the best research. There are other places online you can look but sometimes just having those conversations with those like-minded peers can be the most transparent in terms of research and data that you’ll ever get.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Now, if that feels awkward, uncomfortable, do you have any suggested verbiage or scripts instead of just saying, “Yo, how much money you make?”

Arika Pierce
Well, again, I think that’s why it’s important to have a strong network. And so, I think if you have, especially mentors or other peers or colleagues, it’s to say, “Do you know at your organization about the range that someone would be making?” that’s either the position you’re in or the position that you’re seeking.

Or, you could say, “I was looking online and I saw that this job, this position, typically pays around X amount. I’m just trying to bounce that around with some people who might have a sense. Does that sound right to you about what you think this position should be making or would you say it’s 20% higher, 20% less? I’m just getting that type of feedback.”

And so, that again, we get really uncomfortable talking about sometimes, money and salaries, but that’s sometimes the best way to really get a sense on what the market is paying for certain roles.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you bring it together with an inspiring story perhaps of someone who was, in fact, overlooked, underpaid, undervalued, and what specific steps they did to reverse that and what became of them?

Arika Pierce
Sure. So, I actually have a client that I’ve been coaching for about two years, and she came into her organization, she was new to her organization, I should say, when she came into the role that she’s in. And what happens a lot, the job she thought she was coming in, and the job that it actually was, there was definitely a delta. And so, she started doing some of that informal research where she both looked online at different places but also started having some conversations with other colleagues or peers and just, again, getting that range.

And so, when she brought the information to her boss, she really approached it as more a negotiation versus asking for a raise, and said, “Look, I really want to align the work that I’m doing because it’s not exactly the scope that I was hired for. It’s much larger. I don’t have a team. I’m doing everything myself. And based upon my market research, this range is more closely aligned with the level of work that I’m doing.”

And he appreciated, actually, the way she presented it, and she also could show her impact, her results, all the things that she had brought to the organization in just a very short timeframe, and he said, “You know what, you’ve made a great case. And I can’t do anything right now but let’s put together a package that we could present.”

And so, one of the things I always tell people is just get a commitment to the next step. It’s very rare where your boss is going to say, “Absolutely. Let me put the paperwork in right now.” But she did get a commitment that they would revisit it in 90 days, and she did eventually get a very substantial raise.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. And so, I think in terms of the starting point here, I think many of us might have some butterflies in the stomach, some jitters, not the confidence to boldly have such conversations. How do you recommend we start?

Arika Pierce
Practice. She and I practiced that conversation probably about three or four times before she actually had it with her boss. So, I recognize it’s not easy to go in and to even start the conversation but you need to practice. Have a friend, or if you have a coach, or a partner, another colleague, someone that you can actually have a good roleplaying conversation with, and practice it going a number of ways.

Practice them shutting you down immediately. Practice them pressing you for more information. Practice them saying, “You’re absolutely right.” And you knowing how to then, what are those next steps. So, you just need to definitely make sure that you’re prepared for the conversation. I also think it’s good to lay the groundwork.

So, I wouldn’t just go in and immediately ask my boss or manager on Friday at 3:00 o’clock if I could talk to him about making more money, but you want to start laying that groundwork early. Make sure that they know what you want to discuss before so they come into the conversation with the right mindset as well. And then, again, really look at it as a negotiation.

I think when we go into it, like we’re asking for something, it feels that we’re shut down immediately, that we failed, but go in and really negotiate. And some of it may be salary, some of it may be other parts of what you’re seeking. Maybe it’s more visibility to work on projects that are at a higher level. Maybe it’s a title change. Maybe it’s just better understanding, “If I’m making this, what do I need to do to get to making X?”

So, there’s a wide range of things that that initial conversation could be about but, more than anything, you want to make sure that you’re prepared. And the best old-fashioned way to prepare is just practice, practice, practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Beautiful. All right, Arika, well, backing it up a little bit, can you share with us what is your general approach and first steps if we want to be in the groove of not being overlookable, underpay-able, under-valuable?

Arika Pierce
So, it really gets down to having a strategy. I talk a lot about, in the book and also just with a lot of my coaching clients, is that being ambitious is not enough. You must also be strategic. So, for example, when it comes to being more visible, you should sit down and spend some time thinking about what is important to your boss or your manager, what is important to your organization, and you need to make sure that the work that you’re doing can be connected to that.

Oftentimes, I see people who are so busy, they’re spinning their wheels, they’re completely worn out, and they can’t figure out why they’re working so hard, yet people around them who appear to not be working maybe as hard as they are, they seem to be always getting that promotion, or getting that visible project, or doing things that, in some ways, feel a little bit unfair compared to how “hard” you might be working.

And so, oftentimes, that’s because they are doing things that are important to their boss and manager.

So, that’s one of the first things you need to do, is connect the work that you’re doing to what’s important to your boss, what’s important to your organization. And if you can’t make a connection, then you have a problem.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about making the connection, it’s funny, I’m very good at rationalizing things in my brain, and so I’m imagining that it’s more about ensuring that the stuff you’re actually doing is that which is valued as opposed to telling a good story about it. Is that fair to say or is there some value in the storytelling, too?

Arika Pierce
So, I think there’s value in the storytelling, too, but you just have to make sure you’re telling the right story. So, for example, we know a lot of times higher-level management, they manage by soundbites so you want to make sure that you’re giving those soundbites when you do have their ear. So, if you know, for example, that there’s a client that’s the client that matters the most to your boss, then think about, when you have those conversations with your boss, how can you show that you’re overdelivering or you’re doing the things that are keeping that client happy or that are retaining the client.

Or, are you spending your time talking about things that relate to another project that you know is a much lower priority to your boss? So, think about those types of things. Again, that’s where it comes to being strategic. It’s being focused and knowing what those high-visibility areas are and making sure the work that you’re doing is connected to them, but it also is about the story that you’re telling, about how you are helping to deliver whatever it is the end goal is for that particular initiative or project or opportunity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, can you share with us some particular tactics in terms of figuring it out, like what is strategically valuable, and then shifting ourselves over to doing it?

Arika Pierce
Sure. So, the number one thing is, if you don’t know what’s important to your boss or your manager in terms of that they’re working on, that they’re doing, then you need to have a conversation and ask. Oftentimes, when we have, for example, one-on-ones with bosses or managers, those people use that time to go down, “This is the task that I’m working on. This is how I’ve been keeping busy.” And sometimes that might be appropriate, but other times you really want to be having a deeper-level conversation.

You could always send a list of what you’re working on in advance of that one-on-one time, but actually spend that one-on-one time getting more information about, again, what are the strategic opportunities that are happening, or initiatives that are going on in your organization, what’s keeping your boss up at night, what are the things that they’re working on that they feel are critical. Spend time getting more information about that, and then, again, finding ways where you can insert yourself into those projects, into those initiatives.

But, again, sometimes it’s just as easy as having a conversation. When it comes to your organization’s overall growth and strategy, most of the time that information can be found in strategic plans or just, again, having those higher-level conversations, asking boss, your manager, your peers, your colleagues, “Where do you think we’re trying to go in the next three to five years? And how do you think our team fits into that plan?”

And those are the types of people who really advance and go to that next level. So, ask those types of questions. Especially right now, it could as easy as asking if you could sit in on maybe a meeting or something that’s happening at a higher level so you can get that greater level of visibility. And then really look at your calendar, look at your meetings, look at your to-do list and the things that you’re working on. Are they all tactical things or are they things that also can be connected to those initiatives that you know really matter?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s say we’re doing all these things, and somehow, it seems like we’re still getting overlooked. Maybe we’re in meetings and we say stuff, and people seem to just not acknowledge it, or someone else says almost the same thing we said, and then it’s like, “Well, I just said that. Why are you getting all the head nods and I’m not getting the head nods?” or maybe folks are stealing credit. Can you walk us through some of the other tricky realities that pop up even when you’re doing the right work?

Arika Pierce
Well, everything that you just said, and I’ll be honest, I have personally experienced many of those when I was in my corporate career. And, again, that’s why it’s really important to make sure that you are clear on your own accomplishments, you are clear on your impact and your results, and you really are finding opportunities to insert them and re-insert them into conversations.

I think, oftentimes, especially when it comes to having conversations about our work, our results, our impact, those happen once a year. When? During performance reviews. We have to change that. We can’t expect everyone in the organization or the people who matter for our growth in the organization to know and remember everything we’ve done over the course of 12 months. And so, making sure that you’re finding opportunities to strategically share those accomplishments, those wins, is really important.

And it goes back to what I said previously about the soundbites. One of my favorite tips that I actually learned from a woman named Sahara Downing, who does a lot of work around personal branding, is every call that you have with perhaps your team, your stakeholder, your boss, instead of when you get on, especially in Zoom, and you’re talking about the weather, like, “Oh, is it raining there? What’s the temperature?” use that as an opportunity to share a win.

When someone says, “Hey, how’s it going?” Instead of saying, “Oh, it’s fine.” Say, “Oh, it’s going really well. I just got off the phone with a client that we’ve been having a lot of trouble with, but we had a great conversation and they really gave a compliment about how committed they felt that our team has been doing to help working through a difficult time.” So, find those opportunities to really make sure that you’re sharing what you’re doing, the results and the impact. Don’t wait to be asked or don’t wait for that performance review time.

And then, also, if you feel as though you’re still not getting accountability and visibility, then those are the hard conversations that you both need to have with yourself as well as with perhaps a boss, a manager, or a mentor because those could be indicative of, “Am I in the right organization? Am I in an organization that’s going to recognize me, and that’s going to allow me to thrive, not just survive?” And, to be honest, it might not be an organization for you that you’ll thrive if you’re working really hard and still not getting visibility.

So, that’s why it’s good to do these check-ins but make sure that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing, not just waiting for someone to say, “How’s it going? How’s your work product?” You want to make sure that you’re leading those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. And sometimes, when folks are asking you, “How are you doing? How’s it going?” that’s exactly what they mean. It’s like, “Show me progress now.” But it feels rude and almost dehumanizing, like, “Show me progress now, work robot.” So, I think that’s great to be thinking in advance about how you’ll respond to, “How’s it going? What’s new? How are you doing?” because it’s very easy to forget about something, like, “Oh, yeah, that felt good but it was three days ago.”

Arika Pierce
Right. Right.

Pete Mockaitis
But if you have that in mind, you’re thinking about that and you’re ready to go and offer that right in the moment, and that’s really handy.

Arika Pierce
Exactly. Exactly. Because we suffer from recency syndrome. We only remember what just happened. And we also suffer from we remember the bad days. So, if you have that brag list, that accomplishment list, and you’re updating it on a regular basis, I think you should update it weekly, then you have those go-to things that you can share on-the-fly because you can always just look at them, and to say, “Okay, have I shared with someone that this happened, or there was an accolade?” Everything doesn’t have to be the Super Bowl. There are wins every single day. I guarantee they are happening in everyone’s professional career.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks are stealing credit, how do you navigate that?

Arika Pierce
Well, I think that’s also when you want to have those conversations. If you feel as though someone is taking accountability for your work, or for your ideas, or for your thoughts, I think there’s two ways to approach it. I think one way is directly going to that person, and say, “I saw that you received credit for this but I actually was the one that was leading that project. So, I want to make sure, can you explain how this is something that everyone is acknowledging you for and not me?”

But, also, again, I think this is why it’s important to be having these regular conversations with your manager and with your team so that there can be very little gray areas for people not knowing exactly what you’re accomplishing and what you’re doing. Oftentimes, it’s just the people who are more vocal. It might not even be that they’re stealing your credit but they might be just more vocal about what they’re doing, even if it’s minimal. And so, I think, at times, again, it can feel very uncomfortable but it’s good to do things that make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, and perhaps that is talking about your part and your piece of it.

The other thing I will say is that when you see this happening to someone else, I think it’s a really important exercise to always connect it back to the person who should have ownership of an idea, of a thought. It could be in a meeting where someone says something, and then someone else says the exact same thing. You should be the one to stand up and say, “Oh, that was a great idea, Pete. It was great that you added on to what Arika just said.”

And so, when you start to get into the practice of doing this yourself for other people, I do believe that others will start also to get into the practice of doing it for you, but you can also say that to someone. I’ve done that before where I’ve said something and they have said the exact same thing, and everyone is like, “Oh, great idea.” I’m like, “Oh, I appreciate the fact that you confirmed the idea that I just shared.”

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. All right. And I’m also wondering, when it comes to the remote work dynamic, if you’re remote, it seems like there’s a higher risk associated with being overlooked. Do you play the game any differently or any particular strategies you want to employ in this context?

Arika Pierce
Absolutely. So, I believe that remote work is here to stay. It’s been here for a while. I worked remote for the last five years of my corporate career, and that was before COVID or anything hit. And there’s a couple of, I think, rules of engagement for remote work and visibility. Number one, you have to be over-communicative. This is not the time to not answer emails or to not respond to instant messaging, all of those things.

I’m not saying that you have to stop everything you’re doing every time a message comes in but you have to recognize that when you are working remotely and people don’t hear from you or you’re not really responsive in a timely way, the default assumption is going to be that you’re not working, that you’re not engaged, that you’re not doing what you’re supposed to be doing.

And so, sometimes it can be a matter of acknowledging that you received the message and that you’re going to get back to someone in the next 24 hours or something of that nature, but it’s really important to be overly communicative. I also think this is the time, too, where you have to make sure that you are getting that time in with your boss or your manager to really talk about the impact that you’re doing.

So, again, going back to the one-on-one time, if you don’t have regular one-on-one time with your boss in a remote environment, then you should really be the one to drive scheduling it. Sometimes we feel like, “Oh, my boss doesn’t require it so we don’t do it.” I would flip that around, especially remote, I would ask my boss, “Can we set up time weekly or bi-weekly so that we can really catch up and focus on some of the work that I’m doing?”

So, don’t think just because you’re in meetings with your boss or manager on a regular basis that you don’t need that one-on-one time. It’s really important to get their focused attention. And then going back to also what I said earlier, make sure that you’re using that time effectively. It’s not the time to always go through what you’re working on.

It’s actually the time to really talk through about your impact, your results, other areas that you’d like to see yourself stretch and grow, to know what they’re working on, what they’re focused on, because, again, you may not be getting that time you would typically have in the office where you could sort of foster or nurture that relationships. So, at least having dedicated time with them on a one-one-one basis becomes much more incredibly important.

And then, lastly, I am a firm, firm, firm believer in turning the camera on. I know everyone has a love-hate relationship with Zoom and Teams and the video camera but I do believe that if we want to foster relationships and we want to make sure that we’re, again, having that visibility, being able to see someone’s face, their body language or facial expressions when they’re speaking, it makes a huge difference.

Also, when your camera is on, you are less apt to multitask, which is a huge problem right now. I struggle with it even when I’m teaching workshops and trainings, and people have their cameras off because I know that they’re doing work while we’re supposed to be focused on a particular workshop or building on a particular skill.

So, I think turning that camera on and being engaged and really participating in conversations and not checking out, I think that’s the biggest risk of remote work is that if you’re not seen, then it’s out of sight, out of mind. It’s very sort of basic premise of you have to really be seen in order to be visible. Being seen means actually being seen on that video camera.

Pete Mockaitis
And I would add to that that, ideally, not that you have to have some super fancy studio but having clear, appealing light and sound as opposed to a crispy distant sound just doesn’t have a great impression.

Arika Pierce
One hundred percent. I’m leading a communications workshop right now for a team, and I’ve shared with them, like, “If you work remotely, and this is where you’re going to be for the near future, invest in something like a microphone if your laptop doesn’t have great audio. It doesn’t matter that it’s your work laptop and that everybody else sounds horrible. Think about you.” Because that’s what I hear all the time, “Well, everybody’s audio sounds horrible. It’s the laptops they gave us.”

Same thing with your camera. You can buy an external HD camera on Amazon and plug it up and, instantly, your delivery will look different, your executive presence will look different. Thinking about things such as your background and all of those things, again, if you are someone that’s looking to go to the next level, then you have to do things that are going to set you apart.

There’s a great book I love called The 5AM Club by Robin Sharma. And in the book, he talks about the fact that 90% of people are happy being ordinary and 10% of people want to be extraordinary. And if you want to be extraordinary, it’s not as competitive because everybody is down there being ordinary but you are the one that is doing the things that everyone else isn’t doing. And so, stepping up your visual, your audio, for your Zoom or Teams meetings, if everyone else is not doing it, then you should be the one doing it if you want to be a part of that 10%.

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

Arika Pierce
No, the thing I would just add is that, again, remember how important it is to be strategic in your career. Ambition is not enough. You want to also marry that ambition with strategy. And that really means being aware of who you are. It means being aware of who people think you are because perception is the co-pilot to reality. That’s a quote by Carla Harris, and I really stand by that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now, Arika, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring? It sounds like one right there.

Arika Pierce
Well, that’s one my favorite quotes. Yeah, I would say that’s probably my favorite and the other one is by Ursula Burns, “Where you are is not who you are.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And could you share a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Arika Pierce
I love reading the studies and the research that are done by Harvard Business Review. There actually was a recent one done just around hybrid work and visibility, and who will get promoted, can you still get promoted at the same level if you are working in a hybrid workforce.

And I don’t have the exact percentage but it was a lot of people thought, no, it’ll be more difficult to get promoted in a hybrid workforce if you’re on the side that’s working remotely. So, I thought that was interesting, and that’s why I’m always thinking about what are the strategies to align people in a hybrid space with people who are also going to be in person.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

Arika Pierce
Probably my go-to, because it’s a quick read and I think so many lessons, is Who Moved My Cheese?

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

Arika Pierce
I’m going to go back to what I just said. I think a subscription to Harvard Business Review Ascend. I think it’s like $120 for a year, and you get something every single day that’s of value. So, that’s actually I think a great tool to be awesome at your job.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Arika Pierce
Probably morning meditation, just setting the tone for the day.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks; they quote it back to you often?

Arika Pierce
Probably about just stepping outside your comfort zones and how you think about fear. I had a client text me this morning that wasn’t going to apply for a job, and then we got down that she wasn’t applying about not getting it out of fear. And I text her back, “Fear is your homeboy,” which is also a book by Judi Holler. And so, I think just really understanding how growth starts outside your comfort zones.

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

Arika Pierce
ArikaPierce.com or also I’m on LinkedIn, I’m on Instagram but that’s the easiest place to find me.

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

Arika Pierce
I would say think of something professional that makes you feel a little scared and then do it scared.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Arika, this has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun in not being overlooked, underpaid, or undervalued.

Arika Pierce
Thanks so much. I really appreciate you having me.

774: How to Make Yourself Promotable with Amii Barnard-Bahn

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Amii Barnard-Bahn shows you how to assess your unique strengths and opportunities to advance your career with her Promotability Index.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five elements of the promotability index 
  2. The 4 steps to developing strategic thinking
  3. The one question to get the feedback that you need

About Amii

Amii is a former Fortune Global 50 executive and a current C-Suite consultant to global companies like Bank of the West, Adobe and The Gap. She’s been recognized by Forbes as one of the top coaches for legal and compliance executives. Amii also contributes to the Harvard Business Review, guest lectures at Stanford and UC Berkeley, and is a Fellow at the Harvard Institute of Coaching. She speaks regularly on workplace culture, leadership effectiveness and corporate governance. She is the creator of The Promotability Index® and author of the companion PI Guidebook. 

Amii earned her law degree from Georgetown University Law Center and her BA from Tufts. Amii is a lifelong diversity advocate who  testified for the successful passage of first laws in the U.S. requiring corporate boards to include women. 

Resources Mentioned

Amii Barnard-Bahn Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Amii, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thank you. Thanks for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about the promotability index but, first, I think we need to hear about your passion for opera.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, I love it and it’s been something I’ve missed quite a bit, as you can imagine, over the last two years, and I think it’s kind of like heavy metal for grownups. So, I describe it for people who haven’t maybe been exposed. It’s a little bit of symphony. It’s a little bit of ballet. There’s a lot of singing. It’s costumes. It’s crazy plots and drama. It’s got a little bit of everything, and it’s usually over the top and has remarkable history for some of the older pieces but there’s a lot of new works that are being done. I’m on a board that specifically does a lot of really challenging, interesting cool stuff in really unusual locations. So, it’s bringing opera to the masses, so that’s been fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. And I’ve always wondered, when it comes to opera, when they’re in other languages, you still love it? Or how does that work for you?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Two ways. One is supertitles has changed everything. They came in in the ‘80s. and so, I was just talking to a friend of mine who works at the San Francisco Opera, I stayed with him this weekend, and he reminded me that when supertitles, which were fought vociferously by all true artists, or in the early days, and then fought equally by people who said, “No, people don’t understand what they’re saying. This is impacting the performance. We need to make this accessible.”

Supertitles won out at least in the United States, and it changed everything for the performers. People started laughing at jokes. People started crying when people died. It was an entirely…the singers were just blown away because they’ve been used to performing and then polite clapping at the end. So, it was remarkable in that sense.

Some small houses may not always be able to afford them all over the world, so that’s where I keep the caveat. Sometimes I’ve gone to the opera, or some opera houses who are purists, they don’t believe in them. And, for me, that’s almost like going to a foreign film and kind of checking one part of my brain out for a little while, and watching visually and just enjoying and figuring out what’s happening without words, and understanding you don’t actually always need words to know what’s going on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, now let’s talk about the promotability index. You are the creator. Tell us, what is it, who should use it, and how does it make things better?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, one of the healthiest things I think anybody can do for their career is to work on what’s under your control. And so, I created the promotability index based on all of my work as a former Fortune Global 50 executive, chief human resources executive, and attorney, and personally just kind of worked my way up to the top, and saw how people got promoted or fired or stuck or let go, and reverse-engineered it into five key elements, which I’m happy to talk about.

And so, I created an assessment first, which anybody can take, and I made it free on my website. Accessibility to moving up the ladder is one of my values, and it’s an 82-question assessment that can let you know how you’re doing on the five key elements. And then the five key elements are things that decision-makers use when they look at promoting or elevating people to higher levels in the company, or who they’re going to invest in as potential leaders.

And so, in my experience, the five key elements are self-awareness, external awareness, strategic thinking, executive presence, and thought leadership.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m excited to dig into each of these five. Maybe to start though, could you share is there a particular finding in your work and putting this together that has been particularly surprising to folks in terms of, “Huh, so that’s a big deal, eh?”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I think people underestimate external awareness the most. I wrote a Harvard Business Review article on it, titled “Promotions Are Not Just About Your Credentials — They’re About Your Relationships,” because there comes a point in time in everyone’s career where their credentials, to a certain extent, become irrelevant, and I don’t think we’re told that very early on, certainly not when we’re paying grad student loans, potentially.

And it’s really a ticket to the game and it becomes about, “Can you work with people? Do they want to work with you?” You may ace your job but in terms of getting to the C suite, it’s going to depend on the mix of people, whether they trust and like and know you. And that can come as a real shock to some people around mid-career, and that’s often where people get stuck.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I want to hear about this. Okay. So, can you share with us an example of someone who worked through some of the pieces of the promotability index and saw some really cool results from doing so?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Sure. Well, we know that promotions aren’t always fair or rational. I’m sure you can think of a couple of examples in your own life and anyone on the call. And so, of course, you need to be good at what you do but it’s relationships and working with other people that are going to get you that promotion. So, one client that I had about a year ago was an absolute rock star in terms of their performance in sales, and they were the number one salesperson of the year, which is a pretty objective criteria, selling stuff. You can measure that. Some jobs are harder to measure in terms of what you accomplish and your goals but sales are pretty straightforward.

This person was not getting promoted and they had been there several years, and was getting very frustrated at this. And then after working together for about six months in coaching, part of what I found out was that, two levels up, my client was being blocked for promotion because of a perception that he was a lone wolf and that he needed to be the star.

And so, all of his hard work that he was always putting in every day, day after day just going out there getting the client, hitting the numbers, but that actually was getting to a point where it was working against him because he wasn’t demonstrating in terms of external awareness. People were not seeing the other side of him, that he was a good mentor, that he cared about people, that he could lead a team, that he could achieve through others.

So, once I found out that that was the perception of him, we started working on those things, and he showed up very, very differently. And it wasn’t easy for him because he’d worked really hard to get where he’d gotten. To quote Marshall here, “What got you here won’t get you there.” So, the same behaviors that made him fairly successful as an independent contributor were holding him back from moving forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m curious then, how does one get that gem of insight that, “Hey, a couple of levels above you, this is the perception of you”? I mean, did you just sort of go ask around? And what do you recommend for individuals who don’t have a coach to do that work for them?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That’s a great question because I think he would’ve left. He’s very close to leaving and he was a superstar so that would’ve been a loss for the company. Three-sixty reviews are what they’re commonly called and it is going and asking around, is the casual way to put it. It’s confidential and coaches, or your internal HR department, may do it, and you get perceptions and themes together, and that is how I found that out for him, or he would not have known.

People don’t, unfortunately, feel comfortable giving people the feedback they need to improve most of the time. It’s very easy to say, “Oh, you did a great job, Pete, on that. That was awesome,” but it’s harder if it’s like, “Well, Pete, can I talk to you for a minute about how that meeting went? Got some feedback for you. You may or may not be open to that.”

If they may not want an argument, they may not have the time, they may fear conflict, they may not be very talented at giving feedback in a way that others can hear it. They may be too blunt. You may not trust them even if it’s true. There are so many things that can go wrong with feedback. So, having a trained coach or HR person can be great.

But I’ll tell you my number one tip if you don’t have a coach that you can get feedback that can help you if you think you’re stuck or if you just want to get better at your job. My number one tip is to ask your boss and/or a couple of other colleagues that are close to you that you trust, that will be direct with you, especially people that will be direct. Ask them, “What’s one thing I can do to be more effective in my job?” and just wait. The trick is to stay silent and not to say anything.

And 99% of the time, people will say, “Well, thank you for asking. Let me think for a minute.” They’ll say, “Well, one thing could be this.” You’re being very specific and you’re not asking them for the moon. That’s where people get in trouble, is they say, “Hey, how can I be better?” It’s too vague. So, if you’re really, really specific, usually people will pick one thing.

It might be a little thing, like, “In that meeting, you could’ve talked louder. I couldn’t hear you sometimes,” or, “You seem to not like X person and it’s stressful for the rest of us in the meeting. we don’t even know if it’s true that you don’t, but I don’t know if you’re aware, but you act a certain way with this,” and that can be helpful feedback.

The trick is not to get defensive, to thank the person for the feedback so that you can get it again, and then to act on it and circle back ideally, and say, “Hey, thanks so much for that feedback. I’ve been working on it, and I’d love to know if you’ve noticed. So, if you could catch me doing good, that’s great. If you catch me slipping back, privately tell me. That could really help me. I’d appreciate it.” So, that’s a great example if you’re a leader for your direct reports.

When my leaders have started doing this, it’s opened up more of a speak-up atmosphere where people feel more comfortable being vulnerable and getting better together. It could be a real bonding experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. That brings back memories at Bain. I remember we all had our professional development plans, and I go, “Hey, here’s what I’m working on, dah, dah, dah,” and I shared that with them. And then the manager said, “Okay, cool. And here’s what I’m working on,” and it was like, “What? This is eye-opening. Okay, cool. Thank you.” And it really does, it sets that vibe in a real positive way.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Totally.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so then can you tell us the genesis of the promotability index? And when I hear the word index, I started thinking about research and validity. Do you have any of that stuff to share as well?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I wanted to engage the creative and the positive side of development. Having been forced to you, there’s many, many types of instruments as an HR person and an employee, I found that most of them sucked all the joy out of career development, which should be an exciting thing, “What do I want to create? Who do I want to be? What do I want to learn?”

Think of yourself as a five-year-old kid and getting excited about learning new skills, and, “Okay, I’m not so good at this but that’s okay. I’m not going to hang my entire ego on that. I’m going to work on this kind of thing.” So, I did not make it a psychometric Harvard-validated assessment because I think there are plenty out there and I use those in my practice.

I wanted something that was easy for anybody to use and that, simultaneously, simply by considering or contemplating the question, raise the consciousness of people reading it, that, “Oh, that’s something that should be on my radar.” That’s something that people grade you on even if they’re not telling you that.

A lot of promotions, and having been in the room where it happens, it’s not obvious always who and what, who gets promoted and why. And so, I wanted to create greater access. I wanted to create a language that managers who otherwise might have difficulty actually pinpointing what it is that’s holding the person back. Sometimes managers just don’t…they know it when they see it but they don’t know how to articulate it. And so, I wanted to help with that as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that’s often true when I’m looking at writing, it’s like, “This is good. This is bad. But why?” And I’d really have to think for a while, and say, “Oh, okay. Okay. Structure, elements of style. These sentences are just kind of too long. They don’t need to be like that. Just kind of clunky and less clear,” or, “We’re using some vague language. I’d like to make that a little bit more real in terms of…” or, “That’s not interesting or exciting. I don’t think anyone cares about that thing. We need to hook it into what people are really after, what they value.”

But you’re right, it takes a lot of time sometimes for me to articulate why is something good or bad, or why is someone promotable or not promotable. And I got a kick out of doing it, the five categories, and then up to 82-sort of yes or no responses. It’s like, “Oh, maybe I don’t actually read news associated with my industry all that regularly. Huh, how about that?”

I mean, I learn a lot of stuff from a lot of people but it’s somewhat rare that I pull out the Association of Talent Development’s report on such and such, and that’d probably be a good thing to do, and we’re free to be promoted. Although, I guess if I’m the owner, promotion more so looks like my listeners and customers say, “This guy is super awesome. We should pay him more or hire more, refer more,” or whatever.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
It’s written around Fortune 500 companies since that’s where I’ve cut my teeth, and I’ve heard in my pilot testing and thousands of people have taken it now, even independent contractors or people who don’t manage others, that’s another thing that’s assumed in there. Just ignore those questions. My whole point is don’t get caught up in the score, and that’s why I made it 82 and not 100.

I didn’t want our little weird brains from college to be like, “Is that an A? Is that a letter B?” Like, no, no, no. I did a little scoring just to hijack the part of ourselves that is competitive with ourselves, but the whole idea is to be competitive with yourself. And the guidebook, the companion guidebook to the assessment, which I only wrote after clients asked me to, they said, “This is great. Now what? What else do you have?”

And I said, “What do you mean? Just work on the stuff that you didn’t check, whatever. Move towards what brings you joy, like what’s exciting to you that you didn’t check, that you’re like, ‘Oh, maybe I should be doing others. Maybe I should speak at my professional association events. Maybe I have something to say or write about.’” And some people wanted a book, so I wrote the book and that’s been out now for exactly one year, and that’s been fun and that’s generated a number of conversations, and given a lot of companies and groups that have adopted it a common language for this.

The ideal way to do it, I think, because in the performance review process can be really painful because most of it is a backward look. Most of it is, “Do you get a raise? Am I getting a promotion? How much money are you giving me? And what did you think of the work that I did?” Well, that’s all backwards. This is all intended to be, again, the creative look forward around, “Who do I want to be? Where do I wish I was better? What jobs are exciting to me now?” I believe in a growth mindset and that we can continually be learning, and continually are changing in terms of what our priorities, desires, needs might be.

And so, this is designed to kind of be a choose your own adventure kind of a book with your managers as a powerful way to do it because you can sit down and say, “Hey, these are the five things I think I could work on.” They might say, “Actually, I think you’re really good at that.” That’s happened too. There’d been some amazing conversations I had.

A colleague who adapted her case study is on my website, for her credit union, and the young woman had taken it, and said, “I don’t want to get promoted.” And about a third of the people that have taken it so far don’t want to be promoted, which is another great thing to know because then you just need to say, “Okay, how do I give them lateral assignments? How do I keep them engaged?” As a manager, it’s really helpful to know that, as opposed to people who do want to get promoted and might leave if they don’t feel like they’re moving forward. Different needs, different people.

And this young woman came back a week later, and said, “You know, I thought about it and I decided, after taking the promotability index, that I never thought about it before. I’m the first one in my family to go to college, like I just already felt like I’ve made it. I’m so lucky to have this job. But if you think I can do better, I’d be interested.” And they got into this wonderful, beautiful conversation, and I said, “Yeah, we’d completely support you. You need to do this. You need to work on this. And let’s do it together. Let’s take off and bite off a chunk every year.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Beautiful. All right. Well, let’s cover a big more depth here, the five elements. And could you give us perhaps a definition and maybe a top tip for boosting it? So, let’s roll through them.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, okay. Well, so for self-awareness, it’s around knowing your why, knowing your how, knowing your what, really why you do what you do, how you show up, and what makes you special in terms of what you bring to the party in the organization. And so, it means knowing your values, motivators, and preferences would be a more technical way to describe it.

Usually, when a tip I would give you for self-awareness is if you’re unhappy or unsettled in your work, it’s often because your values are being challenged or are under stress. Now, big picture, that could mean a mismatch with the organization. Smaller picture, it could mean a conversation you had recently, a decision that’s been made by the company that you don’t agree with, but it’s helpful to know your values and think about it, in that way you can say, “Oh, okay, this is why I’m feeling the way I do,” and that’s just helpful because you may have the power to change it. You may realize it’s a really big deal, and it actually is a deal-breaker for you, and you might need to make some changes. So, that’s one on self-awareness, Pete, that I would share.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, any perspectives on the finest ways to zero in on what’s one’s core values are?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, I use deep assessments that get to it really quickly. If you don’t have that, I would think about what brings you joy, what brings you pain, how do you make your decisions. There are plenty of lists actually on the internet around these things, which is about 33. StrengthFinders is a very common one that’s used by some companies. It can be very helpful, and I believe they have a free version where you can get your top 10, and that can be a really good start.

Pete Mockaitis
And tell us, if we do have the access or the budget, what are the deep assessments you love?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The one that I like best is the Hogan assessment, and it’s work-related and it’s been around for a very, very long time, and we leverage it in coaching to, let’s say, there’s something we find that your boss is saying, “You need to work on this,” and it’s not something that you’re really that motivated to do, like public speaking. Let’s say, he says, “I want you to present the next board report,” and that’s just something you’d rather kill yourself than do that.

We would look at your motivators, and, for example, let’s say you had a motivator for great performance and you’re a high achiever, we’d say, “Okay, Pete, I know you don’t like this but this is something that you need to do to achieve high performance. Your boss just basically said that. Let’s leverage your value there, high performance, that you’re high performing, high achieving, and then we’ll figure out how we’re going to get there.” But that would be your motivator to get around “I don’t want to.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, how about executive presence?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Executive presence has been thrown around a lot and I love a definition by Coqual that they created based on a study actually that divides executive presence up into three elements. The first element is gravitas, which is grace under pressure is one way of defining that. The second is presentation skills and communication. And the third is appearance. And they found that 70% of executive presence could be attributed to gravitas, meaning that you have some backbone, you take a stand when you need to, you’re calm in an emergency, people come to you for guidance and advice.

For presentation and communication skills, that was about 20%. So, being able to present well, to speak well, and enunciate, good eye contact, all those good things, no quirks or tics when you’re presenting, that kind of thing, ideally getting rid of those depending on your abilities. And then the last being appearance.

Appearances surprises people at being only 10%, and I would say appearance has a dwindling impact. I think when you first meet someone, appearance can be very impactful. It can either make or break a first impression. But as we know, appearances can also be deceiving. And so, over time, it fades, and I think gravitas and presentation skills and communication come to the forefront much more so.

Pete Mockaitis
And do you have a favorite approach to improving one’s gravitas?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Well, we find out the triggers that are preventing people from staying calm and centered in the times that they need them to be. There’s usually a pattern, and so we keep an acknowledgement journal of what’s happened over the prior week or two weeks, what’s triggering it. Is it a person? Is it an issue?  There’s usually circumstances or things that are happening around that time that are making you stress that then trigger you to act a certain way, which could be withdrawal, could be aggression, could be a number of reactions, could be caving when you really need to be taking a stand, things that may not serve you in the long run as a leader, depending on what the situation is.

So, once we figure out what the triggers are and you’re aware of them, then you can start making an active choice to choose differently and to choose what you know is the right thing to do, and it just takes practice.

Pete Mockaitis
So, I’m thinking about gravitas. If someone, so caving or freaking out, could you maybe give us a demonstration of a high gravitas and low gravitas response to, let’s say, that I am requesting budget for an important initiative, and they told me no, and I want it bad and it’s genuinely important, and I’m going to take a stand for it? So, low gravitas, that sounds like you’re craving, like, “Oh, okay,” or flipping out, like, “This is ridiculous. What are you thinking?” So, what would be a high gravitas response?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
You have your facts together because you already have your business case to begin with to make the request but you would say, “I appreciate costs are at an all-time high. I appreciate that we’re looking at everything. I’d like to reiterate that the reason for this request is X, and the benefits to the organization are Y. And it’s very important, because if we don’t do this, then the costs will be Z, and we’ll be actually paying more next year for the same thing if we don’t make that choice now.”

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That would be an example. You stay in your rational brain. You’ve done your homework, I’m assuming that already, which wasn’t in this hypo, and you go back to your facts and, especially for a cost, an ask of a cost for money or raise. I have some videos on this. It’s very important how you ask, and you need to have your ducks in a row, and you need to have your data. You need to have thought it through and you need to have thought it through from the perspective of the person that you’re asking if you want the highest likelihood of getting a yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then the thinking then is, in terms of promotability, that sort of persistence is not an annoyance; that would be a knock on promotability, like, “Oh, Amii is just not a team player. She just won’t let it go,” but rather it is a pro in terms of, “Hmm, Amii has really got this gravitas.”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right. And you just don’t make it a no, but you just hit on exactly you want to be thinking about what feeling…I always tell people this. For critical conversation, start with, the meeting is over, you’re walking out of the room, what do people think of you, what perception are you leaving behind because that’s what’s critical as a leader and will determine your future success as much as anything. And there’s a perception as, “Ugh, what a hothead!” or, “Oh, they don’t understand how this business works. They have no idea how we are just losing money hand-over-fist right now. Have they heard of the war? Have they heard of COVID?”

There are so many things that can go on in the room after you leave. You want them to say, “Okay. Well, that was a well-measured request. They did their research. They understand the financial situation and the crunch that we’re in. I’ll give them some snaps because they still went for it even though we said no, and they handled it with grace, and I won’t mind having that conversation with them the next time.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, now let’s hear about the next area – strategic thinking.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Strategic thinking is an interesting one because I found, through my career, that it’s the hardest one to get without getting experience. It’s like when I first tried to get my first retail job, and they said, “Well, you’d have to have experience in retail,” and I was like, “But no one will give me that first job.” Strategic thinking is the same way. You need to have a certain amount of responsibility before an access to all the pieces of the puzzle in the business, to be able to think strategically, to understand how if you take this piece out, how that affects these other pieces, almost like a puzzle.

So, what I advise people for promotability is to, what’s really critical and what I’ve seen, is you need to be able to demonstrate to decision-makers that you are a strategic thinker. And the ways that you do that are visibly asking questions that are smart but not obnoxious questions. No one wants a show-off. But show that you’ve done your research.

There’s a way to ask a question, and there’s a way to ask a question that demonstrates that you’ve been thinking, that you’ve been reading up on your industry, that you have been maybe talking to others in your field, and that you know what is important and kind what’s hot now. That’s why I always advise people, as well as it gets into thought leadership, or some of the other ones, but thought leadership can help you with strategic thinking.

And I don’t know if you want to jump to that one, too, but strategic thinking, some people ask questions and they’re face-palm questions in a room. We used to all be in a room together, and they’d ask a question that, just by asking the question on its own, you could tell they’ve not done their research.

Pete Mockaitis
“Why don’t we just go viral?”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you give us some examples?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, that they haven’t been talking to their peers, that they only care about their little silo, that they’re asking for X, and it’s clear it’s going to affect IT or HR or supply chain, and they didn’t have the meeting before the meeting to say, “Hey, is this cool with you? I’m going to propose this. I know this impacts you guys. Do you have the resources to help us? Or, what are you seeing? Is this a good idea? This is what we’d like to do in marketing. We’d like to market this. Is this okay? Have you checked it with legal before bringing it to the board?” That’s a classic one for like a new drug or clinical trial stuff, that kind of thing in some of the bio firms that I worked with.

So, checking in and demonstrating that you have seen the whole system, you’ve talked to the system, or you’re aware of the system and anything that could go sideways or impact it or that needs to be considered before you make a proposal or make a comment, question a colleague. That can make or break also not only how you’re viewed as a strategic thinker but relationships, which overly everything that you and I have been talking about today.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, then I guess if you’re just getting started with strategic thinking, what do you recommend as some of the first steps? Like, “I don’t even know what I don’t know. Like, it would not have occurred to me…”

Amii Barnard-Bahn
And that is where everybody starts.

Pete Mockaitis
“It would not have occurred to me to ask about the legal stuff.” And so, I don’t know, is there like a book, like Strategy 101, or just sort of like a process, like, “Okay, here’s the org chart, let’s think about finance, let’s think about marketing, let’s think about legal”? Or, how do you recommend we get started?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
There are books. There are ten million books on every business topic out there. But in terms of just how to start in a grassroots way, number one, just know how you make your money, how your business makes you money. Number two, understand how your function fits into that greater whole so that you know what piece of that makes the engine run. Third, read up on your industry. Fourth, join professional associations, get involved, educate yourself, steep yourself in the issues of the day for your business, for your organization.

Be ahead of the curve in terms of what’s coming down. Many businesses are being impacted by AI. If yours is one of them, you should know that and you should know whether that’s a positive or negative, and what chain reaction that’s expected to have five, ten years from now. Talk to your boss, find out what they read, how do they stay up to date.

Reach your 10-K if you’re a publicly traded company. 10-Ks have amazing information in there. If you’re required to disclose to the SEC in terms of the litigation that is pending, in terms of any other disclosures that are required, super helpful. Before I joined a company, that was always proud of my due diligence and I’m amazed at employees and execs that don’t necessarily always do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Or listen to the earnings calls if they’re publicly traded.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Right. Oh, yeah, amazing.

Pete Mockaitis
Sometimes, even when I’m an investor, sometimes there is a unique level of boredom that I’d get from listening to earnings calls, and I think maybe it’s because that’s just the medium in terms of it’s not flashy TED Talks.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
They try. I think that they’re quite dry, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Nonetheless, dry but informative, like, “Okay, this is what’s really on the CEO’s mind and the CFO’s mind, and the stuff that they’re worried about, and that the investors are caring about, so now you know.” All right. And so, then we talked a bit about the external awareness. Anything else you want to add there?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Gosh, the question I gave earlier is a good one for external awareness, that “What one thing could I do that would make me more effective in my job?” Because when you’re asking someone else that, then you’re getting their perception of what would make you more effective at your job. You may not agree. You may think, “That’s a terrible idea,” but you don’t show it. There’s your opportunity to show gravitas and executive presence, and you say, “Thank you.”

And at least you know that that’s the perception they have of you. You may get some really great information from that, Pete. You might get information like, “Oh, my gosh, they think my job is this, but it’s really this. I need to step it up. And how am I going to do that? What data do I give to them? Where could they have gotten that impression? How often do I see them? Do I have enough time with them? Was it just one event? Did they hear it from someone else?”

The advantage to a lot of this is if you understand perceptions and, as one of my heroes, Carla Harris, says, “Perception is the co-pilot to reality.” If you know perception, you have an opportunity to change it. If you don’t know, it’s sitting out there as a potential blind spot, and those could be landmines that can kill your career over the long term if there are enough of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. Let’s hear about thought leadership now.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thought leadership is usually the last. If I had to put them in order, they’re overlapping and they’re each of the five key elements. But I would say that when people are the most senior in their careers is when they have, number one, the most to say, that’s particularly unique and interesting, and they have a little bit more time and more pressure to be unique, especially if they want to, say, go to a corporate board, do a lot of work with corporate boards and board governance. And often, after you finish an executive career, a great way to leverage your expertise is to serve on corporate boards after there’s no conflict of interests potentially for your industry.

So, thought leadership, you can start with baby steps. So, you can start again by being involved in your associations, your organizations. They always need content, Pete, so writing for a journal, I’ve got five of them back here that I write for on various legal and compliance and ethics and HR spheres. You can speak, they always need free content and speakers. You make great relationships that way, which are beneficial in terms of having a powerful network on so many levels. You can gain a mentor, you can gain a sponsor, you might find your next job, you might just find a great friend that loves what you do. So, thought leadership is around being known for your expertise both inside and outside your organization.

Some organizations are restrictive and conservative with how much they will let you share outside the organizations. If you’re in one of them, and those tend to be highly regulated organizations, like healthcare, pharma companies, things like that, then look for opportunities inside to lead a project that’s maybe outside your area, or to write for the intranet, or to be part of a white paper project on a potential initiative that’s being proposed. Those are ways.

But outside, if you don’t have a lot of restrictions, there are so much you can do. As you know, it’s never been easier to publish content. It costs nothing. You publish for free on the internet. And many, many people have become famous and known for that, and that increases your promotability because others know of you. You build an audience. You build a following. More information comes to you. It’s a generous terrarium, basically, that you’re creating of information. If you’re giving, inevitably you’re also getting. That’s what I found with contributing to organizations like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And we had a podcast guest, Kirstin Berndt, who, she was in a completely different industry but she had a passion for airline baggage, which is a unique passion. And she just started a blog and I don’t think there were very many on the subject. And so, sure enough, she’s like, “Hey, here’s the latest lost baggage statistics from the airlines. This airline has really made some improvements probably based on their initiatives with X, Y, Z, dah, dah, dah.”

And so, sure enough, that made her very distinctive when the opportunity finally arose for her to interview for such a role, they’re like, “Okay. Well, nobody has this. Okay, yeah, you got the job.” So, it’s powerful.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
That’s great. That’s a great story.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Just that I think everyone has the potential, if they’re willing to put in the work, to learn a new role, to get better at their existing role, to move ahead, and I hope that the promotability index has, in some small way, helped that, and there are a lot of other great resources out there as well. Not everyone has a mentor. Not everyone has a coach. Not everyone has a great boss or someone that’s helped them along the way.

And so, I would just encourage people to go for it regardless and to never assume that simply because you don’t have a strong start, that you can’t get there. We can think of many, many amazing entrepreneurs and successful people out there who have done it with nothing. And so, I would just want to be really positive and optimistic for all of your listeners out there.

Pete Mockaitis
And not to squash positivity and your optimism, but this does trigger something. If we’re in an environment where it seems like our manager is toxic or severely dislikes us, or the forces of meritocracy aren’t really operational, and that might be perception, that might be reality as their co-pilots, what do you recommend then? It’s like, “Hey, I’m doing the work. I’m making progress. No one seems to care or notice,” how do you think about when it’s time to exit versus persevere?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I think that’s a great question and I’ve talked about it on several shows as well recently with the Great Resignation, and I think that’s when you decide whether you have the talk. And the talk, to me, depends on how financially comfortable you are with either taking a big risk or what your savings looks like. But having the talk is going to your manager and saying, or your leader and saying, “Hey, I’d really like this promotion. What are the chances? Or, what do I need to do? This is what I’ve been doing. I feel like I’m in sync but I’m still not there yet. What would the timeline be?”

And if they can’t really give you a committed answer, then you have to decide whether it’s time to leave. Now, sometimes people may say, “Okay, I don’t have quite so much money in the bank so I’m going to eat crow for a year, and I’m going to job search while I’m doing this.” Right now, over the past year at least, I don’t know if the window is closing a bit with return to work, but there has been an unprecedented opportunity to have those conversations and to negotiate with the powers that be around what the timeline looks like, what the job looks like.

If you love half your job and you don’t love the other half, can you trade? Can you morph it? There’s been a lot of great conversations that have been going on over the past year, I would say.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Sure. My favorite quote would be from Peter Drucker, which is, “You should not change yourself but create yourself.” That means build around your strengths and remove your bad habits.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
One recently, I’m always getting caught up in stuff that I then enjoy writing about, and one that I’ve been focused on lately is a study that we don’t like people who deliver bad news. We all know it as just “Shoot the messenger” implicitly. But for someone like me who works in corporate governance, corporate ethics, healthy workplace cultures, the implications of that are pretty severe.

And so, I’m fascinated how to reverse-engineer delivering bad news so to equip people who frequently have to deliver it so that they can be heard, that better decisions can be made so that people aren’t afraid of speaking up because, unfortunately, the universe is rife with situations and huge costs when people don’t speak up when they need to, when they know something important. And so, I’d like to try to help change that dynamic.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The two that I’m sticking with right now are, one called BS Leadership by my friend and colleague and Stanford professor Jeffrey Pfeffer, which is just fascinating. I wished I had read it 20 years ago. And my fiction, I’m reading my favorite, one I think is by the greatest living author, Joyce Carol Oates, it’s The Accursed, based in Princeton at the turn of the 19th century.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
I dictate constantly both on my Mac and on my iPhone, and I have probably a thousand draft emails right now sitting in my computer. They’re snippets of ideas, ideas for articles, conversations, things I need to do, prep for you, for your podcast, prep for clients next week, or a really cool article I read that I want to share. I love that. And then in terms of literally a tool-tool, I use ClickUp with my assistant and my team to manage all the different projects and things that we have going on all the time in the cloud, so that’s been super helpful. That’s been a game changer.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say dictation, is there a software you’re using?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
No, it’s literally Apple. I’m just pushing the button on the Mac. It’s the control button. You hit it twice, it starts typing out everything you say.

Pete Mockaitis
And is that sufficiently accurate?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Enough. I go back and I have to watch sometimes. I can’t speak too fast. It’s forced me to slow down a little. I can talk really fast, so it’s punished me for that. So, I’ve had to slow down and be like, “Okay, I’m dictating now. I need to speak more slowly so it gets handled correctly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Let’s see. Work or life?

Pete Mockaitis
Work.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
For work, I would say, at the end of each day, writing down my intention for the following morning, and then closing my door and having the ritual of being finished with work.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
The one that we talked about already a little bit was that at a certain point your credentials are irrelevant, and that it’s all about your relationships. That’s been a gamechanger for a lot of people. And then the other one that I’ll tell people that I think is important to keep in mind is that every job is temporary. And that if you think about it that way, you’ll think about your career. It really opens up a different way of thinking, I think, about what you’re doing day to day and what you want to be doing and where you want to be getting better and where you want to be focusing your precious attention.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
They are welcome to find me on my website, which is BarnardBahn.com. And also, to connect with me on LinkedIn, and I’m on Twitter @amiibb.

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

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Yeah, I’d say get really good at receiving, giving, and acting on feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Amii, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck and fun.

Amii Barnard-Bahn
Thank you. You, too, Pete.

771: How to Own Your Career and Build Your Dream Job with Ann Hiatt

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Ann Hiatt shares valuable lessons learned on career development from her 15 years working alongside Silicon Valley’s top CEOs.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The top three things you can do to develop your career 
  2. How to deal with the pressures of big-impact opportunities
  3. How to carve out your path to promotion when there is none 

About Ann

Ann Hiatt is a best selling author, executive consultant, speaker, and investor. She is a Silicon Valley veteran with 15 years experience reporting directly to CEOs Jeff Bezos (Amazon) and Eric Schmidt (Google/Alphabet). 

She has published articles in publications such as Harvard Business Review, Fast Company and CNBC. She has also contributed to articles in The New York Times, Economic Times, The Financial Times and Forbes. Her first book, Bet On Yourself, was published by HarperCollins in 2021. 

Resources Mentioned

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Ann Hiatt Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Ann, welcome to How to be Awesome at Your Job.

Ann Hiatt
Thanks very much. I’m excited to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m excited to hear your wisdom. And I’d love it if you could kick us off by sharing a story or two that was particularly instructive for you and career and being awesome at your job working with Jeff Bezos, Eric Schmidt, Marissa Mayer. Give us something that’s inside scoop.

Ann Hiatt
Absolutely it’s been the greatest privilege of my life to have been able to work so intimately and closely with some of the greatest business minds of our generation. I would say that that story actually started a little bit before my very first job working for Jeff Bezos.

So, my very first job at 16 years old, when my friends were working at Burger King and the library, I worked at a five-person startup founded by two brothers who had just graduated from Harvard Business School. So, that was my first taste of entrepreneurism and gave me some of my instincts. I made all of my very novice mistakes with them. And, yeah, my very first job after university was working directly for Jeff Bezos.

And we could talk literally for days and days and I wouldn’t run out of stories of the stories of these entrepreneurs. But I think the foundation really was set there in the beginning. Each of these environments taught me to be a bold risk-taker. Even though my nature is not bold and fearless, I was nurtured into that very much by this entrepreneurial environment that I found myself in.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, yeah, I bet there’s many, many stories but I’m going to put you on the spot for one. Are there words that reverberate in your head frequently as you’re making decisions, navigating your career, wondering which way to go, and you hear Jeff or Marissa or Eric in your mind’s ear, and say, “You know what, okay, yeah, we’ll do this thing”?

Ann Hiatt
That happens constantly, actually. Even though I left Google, let’s see, almost four years ago and Amazon much longer than that, more than a decade ago, but I can still very much hear them in my head. I think from Jeff, if I had to pick a single word, it is relentless. He is relentless in the pursuit of his passions. He’s relentless in his enthusiasm for his vision of where he wants to take the company. And, in fact, this is a little-known fact, if you go to Relentless.com, it redirects to Amazon. That is how much of a core value that is for the way he approaches his work and what he is doing or was doing at Amazon.

From Marissa, I really learned to focus on the people. It’s much more about the who than the what and the how. You need to be laser focused on exactly who your clients or your customers or users are, and understand not only the needs under their feet today but really anticipate the needs of the future. And understanding those needs of the people you’re trying to serve is important, but, equally, if not more important, is the people you have on the team. I really learned to hire the best possible talented team that you can find.

And from Eric, I really learned the value of insatiable curiosity. He is somebody who will ask about a hundred more questions than a normal person would about any given topic. And so that relentless pursuit of curiosity in new information and expanding his knowledge, those are key attributes that I call upon now as an entrepreneur myself and trying to instill in my CEO clients as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s beautiful. And so then, I imagine there are times when something seems harder than it should be.

Ann Hiatt
So many.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I just get a real-time cortisol monitor? Apparently, there is but they’re not commercially available for the public, so I’m going to have to hunt down some people who wrote some papers. So be it. There’s some relentlessness and curiosity at work as opposed to, “Oh, I guess I’ll just wait three years. Maybe it’ll be around them. Okay.”

Well, then let’s hear about your book. What’s the big idea or main message here Bet on Yourself: Recognize, Own, and Implement Breakthrough Opportunities? What’s the core idea here?

Ann Hiatt
So, this book is my attempt at creating a playlist, taking the best practices of these seemingly super performers that I’ve worked for and translating it for us “normal people.” I have felt such a privilege of working with these incredible minds and not only learning their best practices but experiencing things, moments in time that probably will never happen again.

The dawn of the internet will never happen again, Jeff inventing the gold standard of e-commerce will never happen again, the constant innovation cycles of Google. I really saw some things that were very privileged to experience and I felt a responsibility to pay that forward. So, my book Bet on Yourself is my attempt to give you that playbook of best practices that I think are applicable regardless of your growth stage, whether you’re an intrapreneur or an entrepreneur, regardless of industry, these are some of those gold standard best practices that everyone can benefit from.

And I use my career as a case study in the book to show you that anyone with some ambition and clear goals in their mind can engineer serendipity and create opportunities for themselves. So, I kind of walked through some of these crazy moments in time and reverse-engineer a little bit of some of the luck and very, very hard work that went into those moments.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s cool. Well, I’m excited to dig into the particulars. But maybe to inspire the ordinary people like myself, is there a cool story you could share of maybe a client or a reader who took action on a particular principle and saw a pretty amazing breakthrough from it?

Ann Hiatt
I have a client now who’s working in the food tech space, he is incredibly talented. He was doing a PhD in chemistry and material sciences and discovered mycelium-based protein structure and learned to manipulate in a really unique way, so he’s creating this alternative meat product.

So, when I first met him and worked with him, it was a referral from a common friend of ours, and it was a very, very early growth-stage company of about 30 people. And now, today, he’s just close to Series C, and he’s got contracts literally all over the world for this incredible product that he’s invented. I think he is among my star examples of doing some big, bold risk-taking. He’s doing something that no one’s ever done before.

So, when you’re doing that, you don’t even have the dashboards or the metrics, you don’t even know what you should be measuring quite yet. He’d never produced a product like that before but he really has adopted these principles of insatiable curiosity, of humble leadership, of not only tolerating the demanding pushback and peer review from his employees, and he’s really been very focused on not only hiring the best talent he can find but hiring for passion and mission alignment above all else.

If you get really smart people in the door who are driven and determined to see your vision through, you can teach those people to do anything. And so, I think hiring for that value and mission alignment has been essential. I’m just incredibly proud of what he’s doing.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, I like that there. You can teach them to do anything. I think that resonates. And I guess, there’s just a little bit of what you said in terms of like aptitude and different…I would not be the guy you want to hire to be your contractor even if I’m super fired up about building your dream home, Ann. I was like, “I’ll just learn drywall and plumbing and electrical. No problem, I’ll just learn it.”

Ann Hiatt
I don’t know, I believe you know. I think you can figure it out.

Pete Mockaitis
I would need maybe four draft homes before I did the real one. But that said, people generally have strengths with, I don’t know, people or things or, what’s that world of work, or data or ideas. But within that, sure, that totally resonates. Okay. Well, let’s dig in then. So, us ordinary folks, can you lay it on us a few do’s and don’ts in terms of, as we’re kind of maybe in the middle of, say, medium to large organization, not at the top and not at the bottom, we’re just sort of making our way in terms of career, what are the top things you recommend people do and don’t do to really develop and move quickly?

Ann Hiatt
I love this question. I think three things come to mind. If you’re mid in your organization, there can be a really important mindset shift that you can make, and this is the way that you put yourself back in the driver seat of your career. A lot of us feel very disrupted coming out of the pandemic, opportunities might seem to have disappeared, everything got turned upside down, so these steps are particularly relevant for this moment in time.

And the first is to be very clear with yourself. What do you want out of this next stage in your career? What do you want to learn? What expertise do you want to become known for? What teams do you want to learn how to lead, or projects? What is your specialization? How are people going to recommend you for jobs in the future? And so, first, you have to have that conversation with yourself and be very clear on that.

And then, second is then share that with your mentors and sponsors within work. So, have that conversation with your manager, of, “This is where my skillset lies. My interests, my goals, my talents are here. I would love your idea of ways that I can utilize that or expand my influence on this team.” The way you get a yes to that is, one, expressing your interests and helping them know how you’re trying to evolve. And second is what I call creating a win-win-win.

The first part of that conversation you have with yourself of what you want in exchange for your very hard work every day. Two is look at your manager’s responsibilities and see what she or he has been tasked to do within the team on the big bet of the company. If you can allow her to delegate something to you, that frees her up to have bigger impact and look good in front of her boss, and that gives you an opportunity to grow into that area.

And the third element of that win-win-win is understanding “What are the primary goals and objectives of the company right now? And how can I align myself with where the company, the skillset, the reputation, the energy, the relentlessness that they might need? And how can I exemplify that?” When those three things are in place, you’re going to get yes every time. Even if the project you want to work on is outside your job description or your current seniority, that’s a great way to open the door for yourself.

So, that’s, I think, element number one for my fellow intrapreneurs out there. Number two, I think is seeking out leaders that you not only like but you want to become like. Now, not every manager is worthy of this. I can appreciate it, especially in your career, you might be working for someone whose leadership style you don’t want to emulate in the future. If that’s true, maybe look for an opportunity to have a cross-functional project or work on something outside your team.

Or, if that’s not even available to you within your organization, maybe volunteering in the community and seeking out a leader who is exemplifying the way you want to manage a team, or is really good under pressure, or is able to exemplify some of those habits that you hope to have in the future. So, surrounding yourself with the best people possible, especially among the leaders you’re working for.

And then I would say the third that comes to mind is proactively disrupting yourself. Now, this probably is not something that many people are seeking out right now because we feel like we’ve had enough disruption, and I can definitely sympathize with that feeling. But what I mean by this is create a checklist for yourself where you’re expanding your skills, your expertise, and you’re up-leveling very consistently before the market or your team or your manager can do it for you.

And that goes back to point number one, which is knowing exactly what you want out of this phase in your career, and finding a place where your team, your company’s goals are in aligned with that. If you think of those three things are in place, intrapreneurs can feel extremely empowered rather than passive and reactive to these items I’ve given, and that feels really, really good, especially in this moment in time when we’re all craving that feeling again.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’d love it if you could give us some example articulations of being precise with what you want because I’m imagining, “I want to kind of be better at Excel,” may not be quite what you’re imagining or suggesting when you say, “Be really clear on what you want.” Can we hear some sample articulations?

Ann Hiatt
So true. So, I actually did this exercise for myself when I left Google after 12 years, and decided to found my own company. I sat down to write my mission, vision, and value statements, as many do, as part of your business planning. And I found that exercise to be a little bit exhausting. In fact, I created a free download on my website, on the book’s website BetonYourselfBook.com, to download it because I found it so hard to do myself. I think it’s a 14-page download but I walk you through how to create meaningful value statements.

I learned this from Jeff Bezos, actually. I started working for Jeff in 2002 in the very early years of the company. He’d officially founded it in 1994 but he was just getting traction right about the time that I started. If you can imagine a time when Amazon was not yet profitable, they had had a single profitable quarter but not yet a profitable year, so that’s the moment in time I’m talking about. I know it feels like a wild money-printing machine right now.

But Jeff really doubled down on creating very clear leadership principles for his entire team because really important decisions were being made in rooms that he no longer could be in. He just had to replicate his thought process across the company as fast as possible. So, I saw him work with three of his SVPs to draft the now-famous Amazon leadership principles. At the time there were 10, then it became 14, and now there are 16 with Andy Jassy as the CEO.

And I encourage you to do that even as an intrapreneur. You don’t have to be in your garage starting something with your computer or going to Silicon Valley and looking for venture capital funds. I really encourage you to do this for your own life and career. And first, it starts with that mission statement, “What is the reputation or the living legacy I want to be leaving right now?” Now, whenever I propose that to a client, they feel a little overwhelmed, especially if they’re early in their career, thinking about legacy, but I think it’s a nice clarifying question, to be like, “What do I want in exchange for this?”

My career in tech has been intense. I’ve definitely worked really long days. There were periods of time I was working 18 hours a day and every weekend, and I didn’t burn out because one thing was true. I knew exactly what I wanted in exchange for my very hard work. I was willing to have that be a very high bar. I worked incredibly hard but I knew what I wanted in return. So, that’s what I wanted to learn, who I wanted to become, and the stages on which I wanted to stand in the future.

And so, I think, in writing your mission statement, think about that. Who do you want to be serving? Why is that you? What about your background, your talents, your desires, your drive makes you uniquely qualified to get there? And then surround yourself with the very best people who can supplement any weaknesses or lack of experience that you might have. Does that answer it?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I hear the importance, like, “Yeah, that makes sense.” If you got that kind of clarity there, then you can have that sense of purpose, that mojo, that motivation, that inspiration to persist in those intense times. So, that totally checks out. I guess, so the articulation then is not merely one sentence but rather pretty detailed in terms of we got a mission, we got a vision, we got some values. Can you give us some examples of what those could sound like?

Ann Hiatt
Sure. So, mine has taken me quite a while to put together, and I am allowing to be a living, breathing thing that will evolve with me and my work. So, at the moment, my mission statement is that I am here to discover and empower underrepresented entrepreneurs through actionable education and mentorship.

Now, the first word in that statement was the last one I added because, at first, it was just to empower underrepresented entrepreneurs through actionable education and mentorship. But I realized that a lot of people were not yet self-identifying as an entrepreneur. They’re like, “Well, I’m early in my career,” or, “I’m a mid-level manager,” and so I really wanted to wake that up in people and help them discover it. I wanted to seek them out where they were right now as someone trying to get that big first promotion or own the dream client. I wanted to wake that up in them.

Now, the reason that mission statement was important for me to evolve, it really took quite a lot of like heads-down work and testing it, but it’s important because it helps me know what projects to say yes to now. It helps me if I have a limited number of time. I know I’m going to prioritize an underrepresented entrepreneur over someone that I feel is already well served. If it’s an opportunity to help someone discover their inner entrepreneur, I’m going to say yes to that, for example. Maybe university that has a lower-speaking fee than somewhere else, I’m going to prioritize that over maybe people who are already in a privileged position as an entrepreneur, for example.

So, what you really want is your mission statement to be specific and time-bound, like, “What do I want to deliver right now?” And I think that’s really helped me show up in the right way. When I first started my company, I had to try on a bunch of things and learned the hard way of what I was and wasn’t good at, what excited me, who I was best suited to serve, what did that look like, what stage in their growth are they. So, it took a lot of experimentation.

So, don’t think that just sitting down for 30 minutes is going to be one and done with this mission statement. But you know you have an effective one when it allows you to make much clearer decisions and show up in the right way that is rewarding and exciting to you rather than draining and diminishing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s the mission piece. How about vision?

Ann Hiatt
So, my vision is more about “What am I putting into the world? Am I going to say yes to just the highest-paying project?” For me, I really want to be mission-aligned with you. I want to be working with, for me and my consulting business, I want to work for entrepreneurs who are making a change, I, too, want to see in the world. I’m very attracted to anything around climate change, anything about empowering new generations of entrepreneurs, or expanding education opportunities.

So, that gives me kind of a checklist in my head. There’s just a lot of places you can show up in the world, and I really am value-aligned with that, and I find it if I’m working on a project. For example, I have a friend who started an incredible SaaS company, software-as-a-service company, and I think he’s amazing, and I’ve done a little bit of like helpful advice and coffee chats with him, but it doesn’t wake me up. I’m much more excited to be working on mycelium-based protein alternatives because I think that’s important for the future world that I want to create.

So, it’s often the decisions choosing between good and good are, I think, a lot harder than the good and bad, and having a really clear purpose statement helps me show up in ways that are most meaningful to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And let’s hear some values.

Ann Hiatt
So, my values are who I want to be and who I want to surround myself with. So, for me, especially coming out of Silicon Valley, I really drank the Kool-Aid. I am excited by people who are big thinkers and big dreamers. My values are people who want to live up to what is now a cliché of Silicon Valley, of making the world a better place.

I value being around people who are insatiably curious and smart and collaborative and kind, who aren’t competitive in the negative sense but showing up in a very resilient passionate way. And so, my values really come around…circle around the types of people I want to surround myself with through my work and through my consulting.

Pete Mockaitis
You said the word resilient, and I did want to zoom in on this a little bit. I had a podcast guest, I love it, Liz Fosslien is her name. She had a few great posts about “Just be resilient.” It’s really a cop-out when organizations throw that your way. But I guess, as I’m imagining a world in which you are zeroing in on sort of big-impact opportunities and going after them, there’s a lot of fun and excitement associated with that but then there’s also going to be a lot of pressure and expectation that comes with that, and potentially long hours and some exhaustion.

So, tell us, is there anything in the realm of resilience or self-care or support systems that you recommend that can make all the difference when you’re playing a bigger game with bigger set of pressures on you?

Ann Hiatt
I’m going to answer that in two different ways but I promise they’re connected. So, in order for me, as a, by nature, a timid, cautious, perfectionist person, that is the nature with which I was born, I am a perfectionist, all the negative definitions of that. Like, I’m afraid of starting something without being 100% sure that I can do it perfectly. That would’ve led to a very small life had I not been nurtured out of that by this crazy environment I found myself in in tech.

One of the most pivotal moments in my life, a sliding door moment for me was discovering Carol Dweck’s book called Mindset, and even if you only read the introduction, I think it could change a lot of people’s lives. In the introduction, she introduces the premise that there are two different mindsets. There’s the learning mindset and there’s the performance mindset.

As a perfectionist, I was in the performance mindset. I was not consciously thinking this but I was assuming that I was born with a certain set of skills and abilities, and anything that went beyond that would just discover and out me for all my imperfections. That’s a performance mindset. You want to know you can get a 100% on everything you tried.

Now, if you’re in a learning mindset, you have the mindset that you, with extra effort and time and practice, can increase your abilities, that if you try something, the first time you get 80 out of a 100, then the next time you’ll be better informed and learned from your mistakes, you’ll get 85 and progressively can increase your skills.

I don’t know, that was such a lightbulb moment for me, to be like, “Oh, if I am uncovered…” this is where impostor syndrome comes from, and you hold yourself back if you’re aware that, “If they discovered that I can’t yet do this, that means I never can and they won’t trust me anymore.” So, being nurtured out of that, really helped me with that resilience of, because I failed now, I am equipped with tools that I did not have in my toolbelt before and I want to be able to show up smarter, stronger, and better for it after that.

And so, I think resilience is much more is first about your internal mindset. And then the second way I’m going to answer this is in seeking out those teams. I was very privileged to work in companies that not only rewarded that behavior; they demanded it. So, I want to acknowledge that not all families, not all communities, not all companies are embracing of this. But if you can seek out a community of like-minded people where you have that psychological safety to experiment and to try some things and learn to trust yourself, that’s when work gets really, really fun.

In fact, I’m training for a half marathon right now. I’ve ran a few before but that was pre-pandemic and I’m not the same person I was then. So, I’ve got this Peloton trainer I listen to while I’m running, and she just said on my run yesterday something that super resonates around this resilience. She said, “You can’t push yourself until you trust yourself.”

So, start with that internal work first and know, like, “I can do that one more step. I will be stronger tomorrow than I was today because I showed up in this way.” And so, I think those two elements need to be there. Trusting yourself and then being in an environment that rewards, supports, and encourages that.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then, it sounds like a lot of the work is kind of just foundational in establishing, okay, the mission, the vision, the values, what strengths, what am I good at, what am I going for, what specifically do I want in this role. And then, thinking about some of like the daily habits and practices, what do you recommend when we zoom in at that level to be some key do’s and don’ts for professionals?

Ann Hiatt
I think my first thought is around this element of curiosity. So, all of the incredible super performing CEOs I worked for displayed this in kind of Olympic levels of curiosity. For Jeff Bezos, he did a quarterly thinking retreat. Not all of us have the freedom to do what I’m about to describe but I will translate this for us normal people.

But what he did was, for one week every single quarter, he would lock himself into a hotel room away from his family, from work, from everything, and removed all external stimulus – no newspapers, no phone, no conversations, no nothing – and he would just starve himself of external influences. And then the second half of the week, the only thing he brought with him was a blank Moleskine notebook, and those notebooks are full of ideas. I literally see them launching today. That’s how forward-thinking he was in those moments.

Now, most of us don’t have the freedom to take an entire week off just to think and sit in a room and dream of the future. So, the way that I’ve tried to adapt that for myself is, in the middle of my career, when I was already working very, very long days, I realized that I needed to take good care of my mental and my physical health, to be able to not only survive. But thrive in those very intense environments, it was important to prioritize that.

So, I started having non-negotiables with my teams or with my boss. And so, for example, I started working out with a trainer for the first time in my whole life. It was so hard in the beginning but I had this protected hour from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. every single day, my phone was not with me. Now, I was working at Google at the time so my gym was literally in the first floor of the building that I worked in.

And so, I said, “Okay, if you actually need me, send my assistant down to get me.” And in the nine years that I kept that practice of taking care of my physical health first before I got to my desk, there were only three times when my assistant had to come down and ask me to come up. So, that really showed me that I can give myself permission to do this hour. The world is not going to fall apart if I take care of myself first.

And I think building in that type of resilience and prioritizing, and especially now, as an entrepreneur, I’m really trying to focus also on my mental health, of giving myself that space to think. And that’s another way I’ve translated what Jeff’s practice of this thinking retreats and being really curious, is now I have these protected hours every day where I’m just reading, reflecting, writing, consuming, because so much of consulting is give, give, giving and I need to replenish my expertise and my knowledge, and just give my brain that space to be creative and to be a connector. So, that’s one of many, many, like Olympic practices that I’ve tried to translate into my work and life.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, whether we are spending an hour or a week in this rampant ideation – this sounds like a blast to me, I like it – creative zone, well, one practice is blocking out stuff, although it sounds like, in your world, you are letting in particular things. So, maybe zoom in a little bit, like what are we doing? Are we just sort of sitting there, like, “Hmm” write, write, write? Are there any key question prompts or initial fodder or reading materials that get things going here?

Ann Hiatt
I think your instinct is right. This absolutely needs to be dialed in for each individual. So, the way in which you kind of fill yourself back up in order to give, give, and give, what’s required at home and like your family and at work, I think that’s unique to the individual. So, for me, because my work is in giving advice, and also having this international breadth of understanding of where tech is moving in the world right now, my clients really need me to have that kind of global perspective.

I can’t do that without having time to consume all the information. So, one for me is just, personally, I love to read, I love to listen to podcasts, I love hearing and being exposed to some of the greatest thinkers in the world. So, in and of itself, even if that wasn’t directly demanded of me for my job, I would be doing that anyway.

So, that’s something that fills me up. Even if I’m not reading something for work, I just know that makes me happy. The second thing is I know I need sunshine.

I grew up in Seattle. Most of my life, I did not have that daily dose of sunshine. The second I moved to California for grad school, and now I live in Spain, I know that it’s just like instant happiness for me. So, if I get outside in fresh air and get some sunshine on my face, that’s an instant mood boost for me. Each person is going to be a little bit different. I know I’ll have a good day if I’ve moved my body, if I filled my mind, and if I go outside in nature.

For each person, that’s different. Like, maybe it’s playing with your kids or your dog. Maybe it is in a creative pursuit. You need to paint or create something with your hands. So, ask yourself, “What, for me, even when I am working on it really, really hard and I remain far away from the finish line of whatever goal it is I’m working on, I finish the day feeling like I have been filled up rather than drained?”

So, I think those types of pursuits are always things you want to be seeking out. Like, even if you’re not perfect at it, maybe you’re training for a marathon like I am right now, and trust me, I’m horrible. I’m not doing this because I have any hope of winning anything. Hopefully, maybe hope you are. But just think about that, of what fills you up and fills you with joy regardless of the outcome, that you don’t want to be measuring those rejuvenation periods on the same scale as you are with your work or performance.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And then I’m curious, so let’s say you’re doing all these things and you’re just rocking and rolling, delivering value all over the place, and it seems like, unfortunately, the meritocratic forces in your organization are broken. It’s like, “Oh, you can’t be promoted until someone dies or moves to another role, and they’re probably not going to do that for six years.” How do you think about that when you’re there?

Ann Hiatt
Been there, done that. I absolutely know that struggle intimately. As I mentioned, I worked at Google for 12 years so it was really on me to have to reinvent myself, and I tended to do it in kind of three-year cycles. I would be challenged in the beginning and learning a lot, then I get into my zone of genius and start doing it really well, and then, after that, I would start to get the itch of like, “What’s next?”

And nobody, even at a company as innovative and driven as Google, nobody ever came to me once and said, “Oh, Ann, I’ve noticed you’ve had this untapped talent or interest, and I’ve been thinking about how to apply it.” That just doesn’t happen. That’s your job. So, I think it comes back to having that conversation with yourself and knowing exactly what you want to go for.

So, after about, let’s see, six years at Google, so halfway through my tenure there, I had this idea for a role that I think would really elevate not only my work but the work of my manager who, at the time, was Eric Schmidt, the CEO. And I had seen, we were doing a lot of policy work at the time, and I had seen this role of chief of staff in government, at the White House, in military, for example, and I thought, “That is what he needs.”

I had been this business partner for him, I’d been kind of a thought leader with him, I was kind of that safe space for him to debate ideas, and I thought, “If I could take my job to the next level, it would look like chief of staff.” Eric thought it was a good idea, had me brainstorm, write the job description. I took it to HR and it literally took me three years to fully realize what I wanted in that job.

And so, in the end, I was the very first chief of staff at Google ever, and now it’s pervasive throughout tech and now moving beyond that. But I can tell you right now, I had a conversation, in fact, with my HR rep the day I left for Christmas holidays and it made cry because she, basically, just squashed it and said, “If you want that type of thing, you might want to consider looking elsewhere,” and I wasn’t ready to do that yet but then, eventually, I moved on.

So, I’ve had those really hard conversations but I think it comes back to that knowing what you want, seeing how that solves a problem for your manager, and proving how that’s best for the company. In the end, either you’re going to get it, which I did after a couple of year’s fight, and then, eventually, I needed to move on in order to have the kind of growth that I wanted. So, you can feel both of that. Sometimes it’s wait and work really and prove yourself, and then eventually, sometimes, the answer is that growth opportunity might lay elsewhere.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And not to dig too much into the minutiae of your story, but I think it will be resonant for folks who encounter resistance. Okay, so the CEO wants it, you want it, what’s HR’s problem?

Ann Hiatt
Thank you. I literally said that to him after I got the “No, no, no,” and he kind of…he shrugged, and he’s like, “Gosh, we’re truly a big company now.” But what it was, the part that made sense to me, a lot of it did not, but the part that made sense to me was Google, by then, had had to operationalize, stream-wise, and make sure everything was done with ultimate efficiency. That means that everything was done now on a specific job ladder.

I was trying to create a brand-new job ladder. So, I was trying to kind of merge a lot of this support structure, this skillset in communications and policy and project management, and create this hybrid role, and HR did not want to create a whole new job ladder or this hybrid role that they thought would be really nebulous, hard to write job descriptions, how do you measure for that, how would I be evaluated, how would you be compensated for that.

And so, it took years, and, rightfully, probably in the first year, I didn’t have a clear enough understanding of what the delegated authority level of that job would be, what are the delegated tasks, how would we measure and quantify the success and impact of that work. It’s a very, very data-driven company I did need to dig into the hard work and really make the case. And, eventually, I did but much slower than I had anticipated.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s a nice perspective. It may take some time or it may be hopeless. Any tips on how we can tell the difference sooner rather than later?

Ann Hiatt
I think I pursued it for three years because I did see progress and I became more and more convinced of the value of it. What I ended up doing that sealed the deal in the end was I said, “How about we do an experiment? Let’s not make it official but of the job description that I’d outlined, with this delegated authority level, with this type of responsibilities, with this skillset, I’m going to act like I already have this title and this job,” which took a bit of buy-in from my peers because a big part of being chief of staff is acting as a surrogate, as a delegate of your executive.

And for me to represent Eric Schmidt in rooms he wasn’t in is a big deal and I needed his senior reports to kind of treat me accordingly even without formal title authority. Luckily, I had worked with all of them for more than a decade and I had that trust factor with them already. They knew that time with me would make their jobs better, and so I got that kind of peer buy-in that was essential. Had I not had that, those relationships of trust already established, I don’t think I could’ve converted on it.

But agreeing to do that six-month trial and then inviting extreme critique from all of those people I had worked for and got a 360-performance evaluation from them was the proof that they needed that this actually did, I think one of them described, 10x-ing our output by having me be able to represent him in more rooms.

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

Ann Hiatt
No, I am so excited for your listeners to really create this playlist for themselves, and then to be brave enough to say it out loud. Honestly, I think that’s the hardest part is just the first time you have that conversation with your manager, it’s awkward. I remember trying to expand the confines of my job description when I was working with Marissa Mayer, who was my first manager at Google.

She was employee number 20, first female engineer ever hired at Google, tough as nails, insanely smart. And I remember suggesting a couple of projects that were far outside the confines of my job description, and it was met with awkward silence at first. She literally did not respond. She didn’t even acknowledge she’d heard the words coming out of my mouth. But it was processing, that was kind of her thing.

So, I just wanted to put it out there. Sometimes it does, at first, be met with that silence because you’re trying to teach people to treat you and think of you in a different way so don’t let that deter you but be very clear and show the value of not only for yourself but for your manager and your team as a whole. I found it works pretty consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Now, could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Ann Hiatt
So, there’s two that come to mind, if I can cheat and choose two. One is from Maya Angelou. It is very apropos to what we were just discussing, where she says, “People may forget what you said, they might forget what you did, but they’ll never forget the way you made them feel.” And I think that absolutely resonates for me in my life, in general, and definitely in my career. I have worked for very driven dedicated sometimes terrifying people but they made me feel valued, they made me feel like they wanted to invest in me, and I’ve really tried to pay that forward now in this next part of my career.

And that leads into the second quote that I really liked that’s by Diane von Furstenberg, one of the first self-made female billionaires. And Diane said, “I didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew the woman I wanted to become.” And I think a lot of people who have natural ambition and just feel like they were made for more sometimes can opt out because they don’t know what that looks like yet.

And I don’t want people to be deterred. That quote has inspired me because the woman I want to be has always been very clear to me. How I accomplished that came in very unexpected packages, and so I find that very inspiring.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ann Hiatt
There’s two I find myself constantly quoting to my clients and to just my friends that we talk about careers is. There’s one by Ben Horowitz called The Hard Thing About Hard Things. My favorite line in that book is full of so much wisdom. My favorite line is saying that, “As an entrepreneur, there are only two emotions: terror and euphoria.” And I find that to be very true in my work.

And another one that I find myself recommending nearly on a daily basis is one that’s written by John Doerr called Measure What Matters. It’s about the goal-setting moonshot system that is used both at Amazon and at Google for innovative thinking, and it’s very applicable to individual careers, not just those trying to become the next Amazon and Google, but it’s really about leading an ambitious life and pushing through the boundaries of your capabilities.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And can you share a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Ann Hiatt
Well, the first response that comes to mind is just all the things I’ve used to stay connected across the pandemic, especially since I moved to Spain and started my own company just before the pandemic happened, so I’d already set myself up for a bit of a learning curve. To be connected with global entrepreneurs while not face to face with them is tricky.

So, if I really had to choose something, it’ll probably be this little green light here on my laptop, like being able to be connected on these different platforms, these video platforms is 100% how I do my job now. So, if I had to pick one, it would be Zoom or Zoom-like features is how I’ve really stayed connected.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with clients; they quote it back to you frequently?

Ann Hiatt
Probably the most quoted line from my book that people send me on Twitter or Instagram or otherwise, is “No life is too small and no dream is too big to be worthy of investment.” I really believe in that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, thank you. I’m going to chew on that for a while. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Ann Hiatt
So, the best single stop is the book’s website, which is BetonYourselfBook.com. There you got links to all my social media and all the places you can buy it. I’ve got some nice free downloads there. And very active on LinkedIn. I post articles three or four times a week, and so you get little bite-size pieces of the wisdom from the book and things that I’m sharing consistently with my clients there, so you can find me there.

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

Ann Hiatt
My call to action is start today. As you’ve been listening to this episode, an idea that you’ve been afraid to say out loud has come to mind. Take one little baby step towards that today. And if I could pick one for you, it would be say it out loud to somebody that is a nice sponsor for you that will keep you accountable and support you in taking those first brave baby steps forward. So, start today.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ann, thank you. This has been a treat. I wish you much luck in all your bets.

Ann Hiatt
Thank you very much to you, too.