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470: How to Give and Receive Useful Feedback Every Month: Insider Tips on Making Performance Reviews Not Suck with Dr. Craig Dowden

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Craig Dowden says: "If we want to give appreciation, give only appreciation. The most common blunder is that we combine coaching and evaluation."

Craig Dowden exposes gaps in common performance review practices and presents an empowering alternative approach everybody can use–no matter where you work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why the current performance review practice is broken
  2. The key thing NOT to do when giving feedback
  3. A different and better strategy for regular reviews

About Craig:

Craig Dowden (Ph.D.) is an inspiring and thought-provoking executive coach, Forbes author and keynote speaker who partners with leaders and executives to tackle their most important personal and organizational challenges. Craig holds a Doctorate in psychology, with a concentration in business and is a Certified Positive Psychology Coach. In his role as a trusted advisor, he integrates the latest findings in the science of leadership, team, and organizational excellence into his coaching and consulting work. In 2009, Craig was recognized as one of Ottawa’s 40 under 40 business leaders by the Ottawa Business Journal.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Craig Dowden Interview Transcript

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

Craig Dowden
Thanks so much for the invitation, Pete. Looking forward to chatting with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m looking forward to it as well. But, first, I want to hear a quick tale about your nickname Egg in high school and how you used that to your advantage.

Craig Dowden
Nice. Well, good background searching and sleuthing there. When I was growing up, I was kind of an awkward gangly tall kid, and so we would have races around the neighborhood. And so, of course, the classic last one to Craig’s house is the rotten egg. And then, I was routinely last, so you can see how they quickly made the link between, “Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig’s the rotten egg, Craig is the egg.” And, thus, the legend of Egg was born.

And so, not to be thwarted by the nickname, I ran for Student Council President, and we actually had a very boisterous group of supporters, and we had a lot of different campaign slogans attached to them, like, “Vote for Egg. He won’t crack under pressure.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, zing.

Craig Dowden
Or, “Vote for Egg, or the yolk is on you.” So, we got a little playful. And, apparently, that worked, branding, won by a landslide, so it was quite the campaign. Very enjoyable.

Pete Mockaitis
Well-done. Well, I’m going to go for an awkward for a segue, and I want to hear about how often people feel like there may be egg on their face on the giving and receiving of performance reviews out there.

Craig Dowden
Exactly, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I was inspired. I enjoyed your incoming pitch and we’re getting more and more selective these days as we’re getting clearer and clearer on what listeners want. But you nailed it, you and your publicist got it going on. Performance reviews, that is a pain point for a lot of people. Can you orient us maybe what’s current practice in most organizations with performance reviews and how well is that working for us?

Craig Dowden
Well, thank you for the feedback. I’m glad the pitch was received well. And, yes, it’s one of those internal pain points. What’s really interesting is if you look at organizational research, in very few circumstances does management and employees agree on certain things. You talk about engagement levels, transparency, you name it, there often tends to be a disconnect between leadership and employees. And, yet, for performance reviews, this is one of those areas that are universally loathed.

Pete Mockaitis
Loathed with a T-H, not a V as in Valentine’s. T-H as in Thermopylae.

Craig Dowden
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
The first T-H word I thought. How about thumb?

Craig Dowden
Exactly. So, yes, they just absolutely, people just dislike them. So, managers really dislike giving the feedback, and employees really hate receiving the feedback. Oftentimes they’ll use a lot of ineffective strategies like the compliment sandwich, which, you know, say something nice and then you follow it up with something really critical, and then, of course, just to make sure they leave on a positive note, you end it with a positive.

And so, all of these tips and tricks just lead to a lot of disappointed participants in this process. There was a study done a couple of years ago where 55% of people said they didn’t feel that their annual performance review was fair or accurate representation of their performance. Two-thirds said there was surprising feedback in the review, which you would think that shouldn’t happen. And then three quarters of employees said there were no specific behavioral examples given to support the feedback.

So, this is a really broken process which many leading organizations are starting to realize and make changes as a result of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I’ll tell you, this just fires me up. I just think feedback is so important.

Craig Dowden
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’ve heard it said that it’s the breakfast of champions.

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s so powerful and useful as a tool for learning, growth, and development which I am big in, big on, and to hear that in some organizations this may be the only or the majority of the feedback they get, which is sad as well, and then to hear that it’s not working for people, and isn’t accurate, doesn’t have specific examples, it makes me sad because it could be a cause for celebration.

I actually enjoyed getting reviews because I viewed them, well, one at Bain, they gave very detailed and thorough reviews and lots of examples, and I like that. But, two, I thought I’m in this job largely for the learning, and a lot of the learning is happening during my performance review, for me. And, thusly, I was like excited to go into them because I thought, “This is part of my compensation. It’s like I’m getting a bonus.”

And I was a little bit odd in most of my college life, like, “Okay, Pete, I kind of liked it a little but you’re weird.” But organizations that are not advanced or in that domain, of which it sounds like they are a majority, leave a pretty crappy experience all the way around.

Craig Dowden
Well, for sure, and I think and I love your personal experience and being a bit of an outlier to say in terms of just loving the process. And when you look at the evidence, people are open to receiving feedback, and I think there’s just a lot of challenges. I think that if it’s constructed well, the conversation can go fantastic because it provides an opportunity for leaders to give some feedback to people in terms of where they are and where they need to be.

It also provides people in the organization an opportunity to learn and grow, which this is one of the keys when you look at the research around engagement, that’s one of the key indicators, “Do people, feel like they’re learning new skills, having an opportunity to challenge themselves and grow?” So, fundamentally, the process is a wonderful one to really drive and facilitate peak performance and learning, yet, unfortunately, the way in which we handle it just ends up leaving invariably to some really challenging circumstances because people either don’t deliver the feedback particularly well.

Doug Stone, out of Harvard, did some fabulous work around the different types of feedback so this is one huge challenge in terms of how some missteps that we make. So, he identified three primary forms of feedback. So, there’s appreciation, which is, “Hey, Pete, great job. Really love what you’re doing. Couldn’t achieve what we’re doing without you.”

Then there’s coaching, which is essentially bidirectional conversation where you’re exploring with someone different ways of approaching a particular challenge or opportunity. And then the last one is evaluation, which is essentially saying, “Hey, Pete, this is where you are based on what we initially projected, or what our end goals were, and so let’s discuss that.”

And so, based on Doug’s research, and I’ve spoken to him extensively around this, the difficulty is it’s almost like the movie “Ghostbusters,” right? Don’t cross the streams. And, unfortunately, we have this terrible habit of crossing the stream. So, according to his work, and he’s been at the Harvard Negotiation Project for well over 30 years, and what he’s found is we’ll combine those.

So, if we want to give appreciation, give appreciation. The most common blunder is, is that we combine coaching and evaluation. And as he shared with me a little while ago, he said, you know, Pete, you can deliver the best coaching advice anyone has ever received or the best coaching conversation anyone has ever experienced, and if you combine it with evaluation, guess what happens? They basically just totally lose all of the coaching and focus on the evaluation, “So, why did I score a three out of five on this?”

And so, he said for the maximum impact to ensure that feedback is received and is actionable, the best thing we can possibly do, focus on evaluation for one conversation, and then have the coaching conversation following up on that. So, don’t mix them. And, sometimes, again, in the interest of efficiency, we mix the two, we’re like, “Hey, we’ll do the evaluation and then spend time coaching so that the person can really put this into practice.” Unfortunately, even though it may intuitively make sense or feel like it makes sense, in practice it has an opposite effect and actually leads to real challenges in the development and adoption of new behaviors.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s a very helpful rule of thumb, that I think that could take you far just following that forever. So, you were saying, “Let us not mingle the coaching and evaluation bits of feedback in the same conversation because we’re going to miss out on that coaching goodness.” Now, is it kosher to mingle appreciation and coaching, or are those too helpful to be separated?

Craig Dowden
Again, the safest route, based on the work that he has done, is to separate them. Keep them because, again, it’s going to be around, “Hey, great job. This is wonderful. Really appreciate your efforts on this.” So, it keeps the conversation focused on, “We want you to feel recognized and acknowledged for your contribution.” Once again, as soon as you throw coaching into the mix, the person may forget about the appreciation and then focus on, “What are different strategies I can use around this?”

So, keeping our focus on what kind of feedback do we want to deliver, and then keep or maintain that focus on delivering that message. And then, later, you can talk, again, have a coaching conversation. So, all of those pieces can be much more effective in terms of supporting behavioral change and/or maintenance in someone else by being cognizant of those three different pieces of feedback.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. Well, now, you have a particular approach you recommend when it comes to performance reviews. Tell us about this.

Craig Dowden
Well, I think it’s basically a do-it-yourself employee review, and Daniel Pink, an international bestselling author, talks about this in “Drive” around having do-it-yourself performance reviews. And there’s lots of fundamental reasons as to why this is so effective. So, number one is that so feedback becomes less threatening through familiarity.

So, every month, if you and I are going to sit down, Pete, and have a conversation about performance, then I’m going to basically hand the reins over to you and say, “Okay, tell me how you did. Tell me where you think you thrived. Tell me where there were some challenges.” And so, in that way, what it does is it empowers someone else to be able to deliver their own feedback conversation.

Also, there’s less kind of threat around it because it’s more familiar to them. And it also empowers the other person to highlight some things within their own performance. So, really, it enables someone else to take the lead.

One of the worst things around performance reviews, and how organizations typically do it, is that you’re going to deliver the feedback to me. So, it’s very unidirectional and you’ll essentially stand on high and essentially pronounce judgment on how I’ve done over the past 12 months. By making a do-it-yourself performance review, and do it on a monthly basis, it’s much more common, frequent, routine, and now the individual feels empowered around what they’re going to share with you.

And so, that provides a sense of autonomy. It provides a sense of input. It provides a sense of ownership. And it’s really framed as a learning conversation, which is so essential. And then the benefit to managers, one of the key benefits to leaders and executives and business owners that I worked with, that they’ll talk to me about in terms of their own practices, they’ll have a laundry list of feedback that they want to be able to provide to the person. Well, oftentimes, their employees will tick off the boxes of all the things that they want to share so it takes the pressure off them to deliver that message.

And, secondarily, in some cases, you will volunteer things that I don’t even have on my list. So, it’s a really cool opportunity to be able to get insight that you might not have captured with someone else and, again, without the pressure of trying to figure out, “How can I best frame that conversation?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what’s also really awesome is that if you are the manager, like you’ve reduced so much of your workload as well.

Craig Dowden
Right. I love that, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And the benefits are huge in terms of, okay, so you’re less defensive because you’re the one generating these things about yourself.

So, are there any kind of key particular prompts that you recommend to structure or to latch onto a DIY review, or is it just like, “Hey, how do you think you did? How about it?”

Craig Dowden
Yeah, great question and I think it’s important to explain to people. And this, again, a major gap around just feedback processes in general is that they’re rarely explained, the purpose is rarely explained. So, leaders, executives, business owners, that I’ve worked with, they’ll talk about. So, what we want to do is make feedback an ongoing part of our DNA. Feedback is not something every six months or 12 months. We want to get to a space where we want to have feedback as a regular part of our organization and our organizational DNA because the world moves in such a fast pace these days. We need to have information. We need to have it readily available.

And so, what we’re going to do is have a monthly performance review where you come in and tell me where you’ve done well and what your successes are as well as some of the challenge areas and even what some proposals around what you think you and I can do to be able to address them. And so, it’s a wonderful way within that prompt. And then once you have that discussion in the first month, you can a check in after the first conversation and ask your employee, “How did that go? What did you think about it? Is there anymore specific direction that I can provide and anything I can do differently?” so you really start to have, open up the dialogue around that space.

And I think another really powerful benefit of this is that by employee sharing their feedback with you, then at the end of the conversation you can say, “Hey, do you mind if I share a couple of components or a couple of observations that I have?” So, it really benefits from the reciprocity principle. If you ask someone how they’re doing, well, they’ll generally ask you how you’re doing. So, it’s a wonderful way to create a bidirectional conversation that really kind of lowers the anxiety on both levels because it’s seen as, “Well, this is cooperative. We need each other in order to paint an accurate picture here.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, how do we deal with, I don’t know, numbers, ratings, rankings, competencies, you know, raises, bonuses, like the numbery things of it all?

Craig Dowden
Well, I think this is where some of the performance review processes are really broken because, like a forced ranking system as an example, right? And this is where a lot of them lose credibility, which is, “Well, we’ve got to have a certain number of stars, and a certain number of average performances, and a certain number of low performances.” So, this is where a lot of organizations are just redefining how they do performance reviews.

Some of the larger more progressive organizations are just getting rid of them altogether and moving it to a more kind of check in type of process. Adobe is an example as one organization that just stopped doing them altogether. And so then, I think this is an opportunity for senior leadership in an organization to start talking about.

So, what is the purpose of feedback? Because if the purpose of feedback is going to be around performance metrics, as an example, well, now, what motivation is there for individuals to disclose what’s going on? So, I think the metrics are an important part of it and how do we achieve it. Now, the process is around, “Okay, so how do we have that feedback conversation so we maximally set people up for success so that they can attain the goals that they set out?”

So, again, fundamentally, so let’s go back to that standard kind of Bell curve example that so many organizations use from a metric standpoint, or a financial incentive standpoint, “Hey, if everybody is knocking the ball out of the park through terrific feedback conversations, isn’t that awesome?” So, I think this is where fundamentally we have to rethink how we deliver incentives and how the feedback system is connected to that and be much more thoughtful around its implementation.

Pete Mockaitis
So, it’d be great to be more thoughtful around it, and so I’d like to hear then, you mentioned Adobe and some other. Let’s hear some more best practices with regard to is it kind of more separated with regard to how we’re thinking about raises and promotions and compensation things? It’s kind of a different set of conversations than is the performance reviews or how does that go? Because often, you’re right, I think that these things come together and that can be.

Pete Mockaitis
So, Craig, within this model, how do you think about raises and promotions and compensation sorts of things? Are those like completely different set of conversations, kind of separate from the performance review conversations?

Craig Dowden
Yeah, I think that’s a great question, and they are. They’re separate because you can talk about, “Have the objectives, the goals, what are we trying to achieve be it quarterly, monthly, yearly?” And then that’ll be a different discussion around, “So, how well did I do in terms of achieving those objectives?” And then when we talked about the do-it-yourself performance review, essentially, and that’s something that could be readily integrated into that framework, which is, “Okay, for my Q1 goals, if I’m doing this monthly, how do I think I’m doing? Why do I think that I’m doing as well or not as well as I’m doing?” And then be able to provide that as a counterbalance to that discussion. So, they are issues that would be dealt with separately.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so then, I’m curious, if we have individuals listening who are thinking, “Boy, DIY do sound really cool.” We have a broken review process that you sort of discussed already also operating. Have you seen just sort of like individual professionals and their managers say, “You know what, this is cool. We’re going to go do it even if nobody else in our organization is.” How does that work?

Craig Dowden
For sure, yeah. One of the challenges is that it can feel awkward, almost like doing a new exercise at the gym. It can feel awkward so I think what’s really important is for both the manager as well as their team can talk about, “Okay, this may be awkward and we may have some stops and starts, and so let’s raise our hand and learn through the process.”

And I think when they have done it, what’s another challenge is that the manager, in particular the leader, almost has a scorecard, and what they may feel is the “right answer.” And so, giving control over to the employee can feel daunting and what’s going to happen, so there’s an uneasiness. And it’s really interesting and almost, to me, the parallel is having a difficult conversation.

I do a lot of work with executives and executive teams. And, particularly, if someone is having conflict with another colleague or other members of the team, when they actually sit down and have the discussion, it’s not nearly as painful or as challenging as they thought. And it’s the exact same thing with do-it-yourself performance reviews. When it’s over, a lot of times I’ll hear the executives say, “Wow, you know what, my employee shared things that I didn’t see, I didn’t have on my list, I didn’t feel was as great of an issue,” or, “I found that the conversation was much more constructive and productive.”

Or, “If they didn’t raise something that I had on my list, it seemed like they appreciated that I didn’t have the same level of defensiveness sharing my feedback with them.” So, there are so many benefits from doing it. Once again, kind of acknowledging that awkwardness. And I think it’s interesting because it is a very different way of approaching things.

And I think the other pieces, too, is that I hear is that then feedback becomes more normalized. It’s part of day to day, so it’s less awkward, so you don’t raise your hand when you only have something to complain about or a bad thing. So, it just becomes a natural extension of the discussion that you have each day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And so then, you have seen then those individuals who just decide, “Screw the broken corporate system that we’re in. We’re going to do this on top of it.” And it works just fine once they get past those kind of awkward adjustment bits.

Craig Dowden
Well, I love that you highlight that because, let’s say, you are working in an organization where they want to hold on to the standard performance review. Well, then there’s nothing that prevents a leader from adding that into the toolkit, and say, “You know what, we’re going to apply this within the traditional, or within our mandated performance review system.”

And what’s interesting, the benefits still translate because, “Now, I’m having regular conversations. You and I are having regular conversations, Pete, and so then we can talk about things. And then when the actual performance review comes up, we’ve laid so much of the groundwork that they’re really straightforward. Very little, if anything, is surprising,” which is the way it should be.

And so, fundamentally, whether or not your organization adopts it at large, or whether or not they resist and that you do it yourself, this strategy can be used regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Well, so I’d love it if we can maybe do a roleplay or a demonstration of a DIY performance review in action. I mean, I guess part of it is quiet reflective thought on your own before you engage in the conversation. So, let’s say that I did that.

Craig Dowden
Right. That’s right, assuming that, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll make this like, okay, let’s just say you are the owner of my whole company, and I’m an employee who is in charge of making the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast, and we’re having a monthly check-in here. How would we start?

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say, “Pete, thank you for taking the time to come in and meet with me today. As you know, we do do-it-yourself performance review on a monthly basis, really, so we can have an open and constructive dialogue around how things are going. And so, I appreciate you taking the time to go through the questions, reflection questions, and fundamentally what I want us to talk about this afternoon are a couple of things.”

“Number one, how do you feel things are going in terms of the goals that you set out this month? How do you feel that you’re performing? Then, also, what are the gaps? What are some areas where you feel there are possibilities to raise your level of performance? And then, also, what’s some feedback that you have for me? So, how can I do a better job of supporting you in terms of where you are and what you’re trying to achieve? And then, lastly, I would love to be able to share my insights, observations with you to close the conversation, and just talk about the next steps.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Okay, cool. Well, thank you, Craig. I really appreciate you investing the time to do this with all of your many direct reports and it could add up perhaps. And I feel that it’s going smashingly well with regard to the podcast having completed a huge listener survey. It gave me a clear idea of what people are into and seeking those folks out to deliver upon that.”

“I think in terms of the gaps, I think it’s that I’ve not yet sort of systematized an approach so that we can sort of take listener requests, write to guests like very quickly in terms of figuring out how to do that over and over again when it’s a lot harder to do that than to just snag an author who sounds relevant, who’s got a book coming out because they said yes immediately to invitations on the podcast.”

“And my feedback for you, Craig, is that we speak very rarely, and I’d love it if you could provide some more input more frequently into my performance there. So, that’s what I’m thinking right now.”

Craig Dowden
“That’s fabulous. Well, a couple of things, and I’ll certainly add that. That’s valuable feedback and I appreciate it and I agree that if we had an opportunity to speak more, have much more constructive conversations, so I definitely will commit to doing that.”

“A couple of things that I think you touched on in terms of what has been going awesomely well. I’m thrilled to hear that, so congratulations and that’s great news and great feedback. I really appreciate that you took your insights from customer feedback and client feedback that you have so that’s really compelling.”

“And so, what steps, what are some lessons that you’ve learned through the positive feedback you received in terms of what you’re going to continue to do, and then also ideas you may have from what they shared on the positive spectrum around how to potentially move the podcast to another level?”

Pete Mockaitis
“Certainly.” Well, I think we got the idea as far as demonstration goes.

Craig Dowden
And then just add to that, too, and back to systematize the approach, and then, on the flipside, then I would ask questions like, “Okay, that’s great. I think it’s really valuable that you looked at that. What are some ideas that you think could assist you in that? And then how might I be able to support you in systematizing? Do you have the resources that you need?”

So, you kind of counterbalance because sometimes, and the reason I started with the positive is sometimes people will kind of focus right in on the negative, you know, like where you would improve. And so, there can be lessons learned on both sides of the docket, and then you want to ask questions on each of those follow-up questions in each of those domains.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. And I hear what you’re saying with regard to the reduction and defensiveness because it’s totally like, “Well, hey, I brought it up.”

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And even if I didn’t bring it up, it’s like, “I’m already in the zone of having thoughtfully introspected on what are some things I might do better.” And so, it’s not like you’re giving me a jarring sort of state-shifting attack, like, “Here’s how you screwed it up.” “What?”

Craig Dowden
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “No, this is what we’re talking about.” And I’m already in that kind of place so it’s a lot easier.

Craig Dowden
And I love that you said that you brought it up. And I think that’s what’s really important is, well, because let’s say you bring it up, and then I reframe it or I probe a little, and then you get defensive. Then, as a leader, as a business owner, you can come back and say, “Well, Pete, just for a moment, appreciate the response and just I’m following up on something that you raised.” So, sometimes back to dealing with fear or dealing with a trigger, maybe I’m triggered by it. Then this can help raise, bring the discussion back on point, where it’s like, “Oh, yeah, I did raise that, and so I wonder why, what triggered me on that.” So, there’s real richness to that discussion.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. I guess, certainly, if you want to go meta there for a moment with regard to what’s happening and then I don’t think that happen sometimes. It’s probably rare that folks start crying and sharing some deep historical therapy-type elements, but they might. And that might be just the thing for that particular conversation. But it could be just like, “Oh, you know, it’s always been a little bit of a sore spot for me ever since this happened that I’ve been quite conscientious about this sort of thing. It gets me going.” It’s like, “Oh, that’s really good to understand.”

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, and this is, as an example, I mean, this is what then can bring a conversation back versus if you raise it as the feedback provider versus operating as a feedback facilitator. So, if I get triggered defensively by something I’ve openly shared, that in of itself shows the complexity and complications attached to delivering a feedback, because hearing it from you might trigger me differently than if I’m talking about it myself.

Because if I’m self-anointing and self-identifying, that can feel safer than when you do it. Then it’s like, “Wow, okay, I’m reacting to this.” So, it can be a really powerful moment of self-insight for the individual because they can actually hold up a mirror and say, “Gee, even though this is something that I recognize within myself, if anyone else around here points it out, I can get defensive.”

And then through a conversation with the manager, now they can add that to, “Hey, you may want to be aware of that in terms of how you receive feedback.” So, it can be a really powerful learning mechanism in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. So, we talked a bit about some of the emotions there with regard to removing some of the defensiveness in there. Do you have any other pro tips when it comes to handling some of the emotional bits if folks are scared to talk about stuff, they’re frustrated to revisit things again and again, they’re disappointed that they’re not, you know, maybe they heard some surprises, like, there’s a whole lot of emotion wrapped up in all of this? Any kind of overarching pro tips for working with that well?

Craig Dowden
For sure. Well, a couple of things that you can have that as almost preparatory. So, when we have these, and that’s what’s beautiful about having this as a systematized approach where it’s monthly. You can say, “Okay, during our monthly do-it-yourself performance reviews, there may be times when you feel fearful, frustrated, disappointed in what we’re talking about. How can I best show up to minimize triggering those emotions within you?”

And so, it has, “And what are some things that may lead you to experience this poorly? So, before we even embark on this journey together, you can start to lay out the ground rules about, ‘Hey, if you say purple unicorn, that can tend to trigger me in a particular direction.’ So, then it’s like, “Okay, now, I can manage that.”

The other piece can be around saying, “Well, there may be times when I have to share constructive feedback, critical feedback, in terms of what I see. How can I best deliver that so it’s perceived with positive intent and so I can make it as constructive a message as possible? And then what are some things that I can do if I sense that you are reacting emotionally to be able to address that?”

And so, once again, same thing, where the person is actually sharing the answers to that exam. Now, when you bring that up, then you will already have a preordained conversation about, “Hey, Pete, we did talk about it, and I sense this happening. So, as we agreed, I’m doing X and now it’s, ‘Oh, okay.’” So, it softens that transition.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy. That’s handy.

Craig Dowden
And I think for all of us, I mean, as a lifehack, it’s a wonderful opportunity, personally or professionally, to talk to the people in our lives about, “How do I best perceive feedback? How do I prefer to give feedback? What’s the best context? What’s the safest environment? And how can I best share those feelings?”

So, as another example, you can say, “If there’s anything that’s in my approach or what’s happening that’s provoking fear or frustration or disappointment, please raise your hand because to maximize the impact of this discussion and really leverage the power of what we’re doing here, we want to ensure that those emotions are minimized. They may not be eliminated entirely. Our job, collectively, is to figure out how to minimize those so we can have a safe discussion and really talk about what matters. So, in order for us both to get the most out of it, this is what we need. So, anything I can do to facilitate that, let me know.”

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

Craig Dowden
I’ve really appreciated the questions and the comments and the exploration. And I think, to me, the most important piece is the research shows that the vast majority of us desire feedback. We want to receive feedback. We want to figure out how we can stretch ourselves and grow. And so, for us, as feedback providers and receivers, it’s critical to develop both of those skills. And, again, I think, to me, the research in that is so important, that in order to be effective, we have to excel in both and be really committed to doing that and being curious explorers when we’re fulfilling both roles.

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

Craig Dowden
Favorite quote. I’m not sure if it’s a quote. Maybe it’s a practice. Something that I think is really powerful for me is around, “The answer is always no unless you ask the question.” So, it’s something that, for me, personally, as well as a lot of clients that I work with, sometimes we can put up artificial barriers and assume there’s going to be a negative, like, “No, this isn’t going to happen.”

And I feel like it’s so empowering for us to recognize that just by asking the question, asking someone to be a guest on a podcast, asking someone to interview, asking someone to have a coffee to discuss a business opportunity, if we don’t allow ourselves the opportunity to play the game, then the answer is going to be no, and we’re going to have a losing hand. And so, to remind ourselves of the power in asking questions.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what I like about that is, it’s sort of like there’s a guaranteed zero percent chance if you don’t ask. And even if you’ve upgraded yourself to a 1% chance, you know, divided by zero it’s like an infinite increase.

Craig Dowden
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s not like you’re ten times more likely to get a reply, or infinitely more likely to get a reply, in your favor even if you’re only going to like a half a percent or 1% chance. And I’m impressed. I think one guy, I did a big blogpost, I don’t know, on a different website. But he reached out to just tons of people, and say, “Hey, do you want to talk about consulting over coffee?” And he had a very detailed notebook about who to reach out to and what the results were. I was like, “Whoa! Tell me, how often do people say yes?”

And he had computed, because he reached to like more than a hundred people, it was like 28% of folks said yes to a total stranger to like chat with him about career stuff. And that was mind-blowing to me. Like, on average, if you ask four strangers, you’d expect one of them to say yes. That’s pretty cool.

Craig Dowden
It is. And I think, again, a wonderful piece of reflection for us around, “Okay, how much do I get in my own way of advancing the goals that are most important to me? So, if I’m okay with receiving a no, then that’s okay. Then I think that’s wonderful, and so why not, right?” And so, I would rather, I feel it’s important that we remind ourselves that it’s better for us to put it out there and then be told no, rather than not do it, and then you get zero percent, as you said, and 28% of people like to help. That’s the other really interesting thing.

When you ask people, “Do you like helping other people?” Most people say, “Yeah, it feels good and I try to do that as much as possible.” Yet, we can be really reluctant to ask other people just, again, to talk about consulting, or to talk about how to be an effective leader, or to build a great podcast, and then we’re eliminating particular potential resources for us to learn from and grow relationships with and thrive.

One quote that did come to mind, to be able to circle back to your question, I remember interviewing Jim Whitehurst, the CEO of Red Hat, and so they just finished, I think, the largest acquisition ever, multibillion dollars. And he talked about, during his time, he said, “People have an amazing capacity for forgiveness if you give them the opportunity to do so.” And I thought that was very powerful as well.

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

Craig Dowden
Oh, that’s so challenging. Every piece of research, to me, there’s just golden nuggets. I love the one which showed that empathy is the third strongest predictor of executive excellence. So, that was done by the Management Research Group. So, the third strongest predictor of executive excellence out of 22. And then it was the strongest predictor of ethical leadership out of the 22. And the top two were strategy and communication.

And so, I think what’s really fascinating about their research is not only is empathy the third strongest predictor of executive excellence, you can make a pretty compelling argument as to empathy informs our ability to think strategically as well as communicate effectively. So, I feel like the fact that empathy is either directly or indirectly related to what I call the holy trinity of executive excellence. I think that’s really, really powerful and, especially, considering how empathy is going down.

Our levels of empathy are reducing on a pretty substantial rate, and it’s been identified as a key competitive advantage for organizations and executives, so it’s this really powerful piece of research which I love to cite and talk about.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow! Do you recall the author, journal, article?

Craig Dowden
So, it was out of the Management Research Group, so they’re in the northeastern U.S., and they had a whitepaper attached to it. So, they sent me some of their individual data as well. So, they have whitepapers on their website. It was over a half a million people contributed to that. I referenced a study in one of the articles I wrote for the Financial Post. So, they have one internal whitepaper, so they have hundreds of thousands of 360 feedbacks of paper on, and that was a really compelling study that they put together.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating. Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Craig Dowden
Wow! So tough. Anything by Dan Pink, Adam Grant, Marshall Goldsmith, I think is exceptional. One book that I love to refer because it’s relatively unknown is by William Ury who wrote “Getting To Yes.” So, a lot of people know that book. My favorite of the trilogy that he wrote was called “The Power of a Positive No.” And I just found the concept so really compelling in terms of its application and execution.

So, essentially, what his argument is, and he does a lot of the toughest international negotiations and crisis situations, and he talks about how people are generally awful at saying no. And because we’re so afraid of hurting someone else, and so either we do one of two things. We either avoid the other person, or ghost them altogether, or we just say yes to things we’re not prepared to do.

So, in his book, he provides this really awesome methodology to be able to deliver a positive no which basically goes, “Yes. No. Yes. Question mark.” So, essentially, “Hey, Pete, I appreciate that that’s really important to you. The timeline for me is not going to work because of these competing commitments. How about we do X?” So, it’s, affirm the other person, affirm my own position, and then propose a solution with a question mark, say, “Hey, I’m prepared to collaborate,” and it’s just absolutely golden.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Craig Dowden
Tool? I love StrengthsFinder. I find doing a StrengthsFinder is really powerful and I love having access, I subscribe to HBR, so I love, I have to say, I really enjoy getting the articles, blogposts that come through there.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Craig Dowden
Wow, a favorite habit. I would say there’s a great book called “The ONE Thing” that was written by Keller Williams, the real estate…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Craig Dowden
And it’s amazing. And so, I strive to, each day, say, “What’s that one thing that if I do it will move the needle more than anything else?” And so, really be focused on the one thing, making sure by the end of each day, I have done my one thing.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks that they say, “Yes, Craig, that’s brilliant”?

Craig Dowden
I think the power of the positive no is really powerful. I think, really, the importance of letting go. So, the power of “I know.” So, when I have discussions with people and they have a conflict with someone, again, personally or professionally, I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you talked to Pete about this?” “No.” “Well, how come? Like, what was…?” And then they’ll say, “Well, I know how he’s going to respond.” And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, how do you know that?” They’ll say, “Well, I just know, okay?”

And I’ll say, “Okay. Well, have you tried to approach him about this topic and then he shut you down or a similar topic and he reacted this way?” “No.” “Have you ever been in a social setting where you’ve observed him react in that way?” “No.” “Have you heard third hand, like around the watercooler that he’s done this?” “No.” And then it’s, “Hey, you know what, are you sure that he’s going to…how do you know this?” And I think that’s really powerful in terms of challenging our own insights.

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

Craig Dowden
CraigDowden.com is the best way, and also @craigdowden on Twitter, and you can use my name on LinkedIn.

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

Craig Dowden
Well, I would say to think about the impact that you want to have on the world and each day, both in any organization or community that you serve, and be mindful of what your core values are. And at the end of every day, sit back and see the degree to which you’re living your core values. And a lot of my coaching clients, I do it as well, do a quick five-minute take on, “Hey, did I do today what I set out to do? Am I living my values every day?” And a lot of research shows the better we are at accomplishing that, the more effective we are and the more likely we are to achieve our goals.

Pete Mockaitis
And happier, too, I imagine.

Craig Dowden
And much happier, yeah, exactly. An added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, Craig, this has been fun. Thank you and good luck in all your adventures.

Craig Dowden
Thanks. Well, I look forward to going back to our performance review and staying in touch. So, I’ll commit to that.

405: How (and Why) to Boost Positivity within your Team with Jon Gordon

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Jon Gordon says: "You'll never have a committed team without connection... The more connected you become, the more committed you'll be."

Jon Gordon reveals best practices for building trust and rapport within a team, no matter the circumstances.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three exercises to build big rapport quickly
  2. The advantages of being an optimist
  3. How to transform challenges into opportunities

About Jon

Jon Gordon’s best-selling books and talks have inspired readers and audiences around the world. His principles have been put to the test by numerous Fortune 500 companies, professional and college sports teams, school districts, hospitals, and non-profits. He is the author of 16 books including 6 best-sellers: The Energy Bus, The Carpenter, Training Camp, You Win in the Locker Room First, The Power of Positive Leadership and The Power of a Positive Team. He is a graduate of Cornell University and hold a Masters in Teaching from Emory University.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jon Gordon Interview Transcript

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

Jon Gordon
Hey, thanks Pete. Appreciate you having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m looking forward to this chat. I’ve been reading through The Power of a Positive Team a little bit. I chuckled a bit when you mentioned all the teams you’re on and have served. You describe yourself as the second-in-command at home. What’s the story there?

Jon Gordon
Second-in-command. Well, my wife I would say is in command. Then I have a teenage daughter. Well, actually she’s 20 now, so when she’s home I’m third-in-command. The idea that even though I lead in some ways, my wife I would say is the boss at home. I’ve learned to be a great team member at home and a great second-in-command leader, where we work together then lead our kids into the future.

Pete Mockaitis
When they’re asking permission to the kids to go to an outing or a friend’s house, she’s calling the shots?

Jon Gordon
Oh, of course. When we’re deciding what we’re doing for the weekend or where we’re going, she’s calling the shots. I say, “You have to ask my boss.”

Pete Mockaitis
She likes it that way?

Jon Gordon
Of course. She wouldn’t have it any other way.

Pete Mockaitis
Good deal. I also want to hear about your book here, The Power of a Positive Team. What would you say is sort of your key point or thesis here?

Jon Gordon
Well, it’s a framework for how to build great teams. I’ve worked with teams for the last 11 years: NFL teams, NBA teams, corporate teams, non-profit teams, hospital teams, you name it. I’ve discovered what makes great teams great in working with all these teams. This is what I’ve learned over the past 11 years since I wrote my book The Energy Bus.

What happened was leaders and teams started reading The Energy Bus. They would then bring me into speak. I would then get to work with them, talk to them, consult with them and so forth. I just learned so much. In this book I pretty much put everything that I know and then everything I’ve learned on what makes a great team.

My goal with this book was that a team would read it together and they would know what they needed to do to become a great team. They would have a framework and a process they can follow along with the key ingredients and the best practices that would allow them to develop into a stronger team.

When I say proven, it is proven because it’s not based on theory. This is being out in the field. This is working with the teams. This is knowing what works. Now, I’ve done research also for the book in terms of what makes other teams great, but this is my first-hand experience in many ways of what makes a great team.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear in terms of your research, both first hand as well as kind of collected elsewhere, that confirms hey, these are the things that really make the difference.

Jon Gordon
Well, one of my favorite pieces of research is Google study, which they called Project Aristotle, where they really wanted to know what made their great teams Google at great, where did their best ideas come from. Then they also examined other teams in other industries. They wanted to know what made those teams great.

What they found was that the best teams weren’t comprised of the A players. In fact, their best ideas and their best inventions did not come from their A teams. Their best inventions, their best ideas, their most successful businesses came from their B teams. These were the B teams comprised of a scientist and experts that weren’t considered rock stars in their field.

The A teams were the people who had the most education, they were rock stars in the company, they had the most domain specific information and knowledge, but the B teams were comprised of people that perhaps were known less and perhaps had lesser education and were not considered rock stars.

But the B teams had what they called psychological safety, emotional safety, where they were free to share ideas back and forth. They were not worried about being ridiculed with those ideas. From the exchange of information and the flow of sharing, there developed a connection, there developed a trust, where they felt, again, safe to share, safe to be who they were. Out of this connection, out of these bonds of trust came the best ideas.

What we realized is that it’s not the genius minds that create the best ideas or come up with the best inventions; it’s the genius within the team. It’s the idea that the collective genius of them coming together and becoming a connected group, led to greater commitment, which then led to great ideas and genius inventions. It’s a great lesson for all of us as we build a team.

What I often say and I’ve been saying this even before I saw this research, so this research just confirmed what I believe and what I had seen firsthand was that you’ll never have a committed team without connection. You need to be connected in order to be committed. The more connected you become, the more committed you’ll be.

You can see a team that is connected, you can see how they then have commitment for each other. When diversity comes and challenges come their way, instead of running away from each other, they run towards each other; instead of fighting with each other, they fight for each other. They become stronger together.

We are better together. Together we accomplish amazing things. It’s that ability to come together as a team that allows you to be successful as a group.

Pete Mockaitis
Then in practice, how does this connecting happen well? Is it about teambuilding exercises and trust falls or what is it that makes that connection and that foundation in place for psychological safety to be present and flourish?

Jon Gordon
Well, there are many ways. Sometimes it happens unintentionally, where people just come together, develop great relationships and you wind up getting a great team out of that. But I believe that leaders need to be intentional in doing this. I’ve created a number of team building activities, exercises that teams do to help them become stronger together.

For instance, I worked with a leadership group in a company, had them come together, and they shared this exercise, “If you really knew me, you would know this about me.” Each person went around and shared that idea. That’s from my good friend, Mike Robbins. I need to give him credit for that.

In doing that it was amazing how the walls of ego just came crumbling down and you saw this group of people really come together and bond as a result of that.

My other exercise I love to do is called the Triple H exercise: hero, hardship, highlight. Hero, hardship, highlight. Who is your hero? Tell me about a hardship that you faced that made you who you are today? Tell me about a highlight in your life. As each person shares their hero, their hardship, their highlight, again, the authenticity and the vulnerability just paves the way for meaningful relationships and stronger connections.

I’ve done this with a number of teams. It’s powerful how that happens. There was one team in Australian rules football. This is the Richmond Football Club. They won a championship for the first time in 36 years. There was a whole article in a magazine about how this Triple H exercise was what developed this team, which is what caused them to come together and create an incredible bond. They all really talked about the power of this Triple H exercise.

If you could see it in these burly and strong Australian rules football player, you can see it in an NFL locker rooms like I do, you can see it in corporate meeting rooms and boardrooms, and you can see it with just a team coming together and having a team building session like this.

A lot of Navy SEALS, I’m friends with a lot of them, they do a lot of programs with companies and organizations. They do exercises where they cause people to face some adversity together. They go into the ocean and they deal with some extreme hardship. I always joke with these guys. I’m like, “Hey, you don’t have to drown together to become a strong team.” You can actually do exercises like this where you really become vulnerable and authentic and that builds a connection.

Then, if you’re a leader, this is something I recommend for leaders to do and teams to do, you can just come together and you can look to connect with one person every day, someone who you lead or perhaps a team member on your team. If everyone intentionally connected with one person every day, would have a meaningful conversation, maybe you go to lunch, maybe you have some established dialogue that you create in your culture, something that you’re going to work on together.

Snapchat for instance, which they’re now known as Snap, has a thing called Counsel, where they create groups that come together within the company and they have these ongoing meetings they call Counsel, where they sit around in a circle and they talk about who they are, they talk about different questions that are presented.

Each Counsel is going to have different questions, different focuses, but it’s all designed to have people from various parts of the company come together and create stronger teams and more of an informal kind of network, which is where we know that most of the great ideas come from. It’s not the actual formal network, it’s the informal network, the relationships that develop that lead to the bonds and the ideas being shared and ultimately the success of an organization.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, what I like about the exercises you mentioned there is you talk about vulnerability, but they strike me as – your proposals – being in the sweet spot. It’s not so shallow as to not be worth much. It’s like, “Okay, whatever. You like barbecue.” And it’s not so intense as to freak people out. It’s in a nice little zone that seems doable and approachable, but you might expect to have some real impact from.

Jon Gordon
Yes. It’s a little awkward at first, I will admit that, when you first are sharing your hero, hardship, highlight.

Just as if you would go to counseling with your wife or significant other – if you’ve ever been to counseling, my wife and I did before we got married – you know it’s hard to share at first, but as you start to do it – even we saw Tony Soprano on The Sopranos, he went to counseling. We saw this guy, who’s a mobster actually, become vulnerable and share.

As you do that, it’s amazing how you start to just let the guard and you start to share and you start to open up and you start to change as a person. You become better.

At first it’s awkward, but as it starts to go around the room, as you start to establish this is part of your culture and part of your team and you explain, “Hey, guys, this is going to be a little awkward at first, but I’m telling you as we go through it, it’s going to be real meaningful.” As you do it, it becomes very powerful.

Again, it’s not meant to be corny. It’s not meant to be touchy feely. You’re really telling them, “Hey, we’ve got to get to know each other. If we want to be a strong team, we have to know each other a little bit better.” When you know someone’s story, you’re going to know them a whole lot better.

The other exercise is a defining moment that made you who you are today. What’s your defining moment? When you know someone’s defining moment, you know their story. You’re going to know them a lot better. Then once you know their story, you want to fight for them and not really maybe be angry at them when you say them acting a certain way. You may understand them a lot better when you know their story.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it if you could just make it all the more real for us. I’ll put you on the spot here Jon. Let me know, hey, if I really knew you, what would I know about you?

Jon Gordon
It’s funny, when I’m giving my talks, I do a lot of keynotes – over 86 this year. Actually, no.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a lot of travel. You’ve got some pretty good flier points there.

Jon Gordon
Yeah, 86 this year. When I’m doing keynotes and things like that, I actually share this. I’m not afraid to share who my hero is or a highlight or a hardship or if you really knew me.

I would say if you really knew me, you would know that my father, my biological father, left when I was a year old. My mom was a single mom. I was a year, my brother was four. That was a defining moment in my life because, again, when you have a father leave that sort of imprints on you a lot of who you are. For years we never had a great relationship.

But my stepfather entered the picture when I was five. He was a New York City cop. He raised me to be who I am now. He loved me as his own. I called him dad. He really had a huge impact on my life. It’s a part of who I am. My dad was Italian. My mom was Jewish. I grew up in a Jewish/Italian family, a lot of food, a lot of guilt. It just helps-

Pete Mockaitis
And great skin.

Jon Gordon
Great food as well. It helps form who you are as a person. I think having my father leave and feeling that abandonment in my life a lot was a part of me. I actually came to forgive him and even went to visit him with my daughter right before I started writing. I couldn’t write until I actually went to clear that from the path, clear that and let it go and forgive him. I did. It was shortly after that that I actually started writing.

I let go of all the past, all the pain, all the burden and from there I became in many ways a different person. That was a big part of my past, but if you really knew me, you would know that about me and you would know that my stepfather – I hate that term stepfather because he was my dad – who raised me and raised me as his own, his love really was transformative and had a huge impact on my life.

Pete Mockaitis
Do we have a highlight in there as well?

Jon Gordon
Well, I have many highlights, but it would be I would say – everyone always says this, but getting married to my wife, no doubt. I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for her. My two kids for sure are big highlights.

I would have to say – I joke, but this is true, I used to be in the restaurant business and I had Moe’s Southwest Grill. I was the first franchisee for Moe’s Southwest Grill. The day I sold my Moe’s was definitely probably the highlight of my life. I wanted to get out of the restaurant business. It was so challenging. I wanted to pursue writing and speaking. I knew that.

The sale almost didn’t happen. Finally it came through and it was like, thank you. I was now out of the restaurant business, able to do what I felt like I was born to do and do this work. That was definitely probably the highlight of my life.

Pete Mockaitis
I can just imagine the release and the relief emerging from that.

Jon Gordon
Oh yeah. My wife laughs when I tell this story, but she knows. I love my kids. I love my wife. But that day, whoo. You don’t think the day you sell the boat or the day you buy the boat, well the day you get a restaurant and the day you sell three franchises that were just draining me every day – again, I was good at the restaurant business, but I did not want to do it anymore. That day I sold was just a great day.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Let’s talk a little about some terms. When you talk about the power of a positive team and optimism and negativity, I want to make sure we’re thinking about these in the same way. How would you define these three words, we’ll say positive, optimism and negativity?

Jon Gordon
Well, it’s funny. I don’t really define them a lot, but I guess through my writing you sort of get the gist. It’s not like I come up with a perfect definition.

But for me positivity is about being the best version of yourselves, to bring out the best in others, like positive in terms of hopeful and kind and empowering. To me, positive is a lot of things.

Optimism is believing in a brighter and better future, knowing that and believing the best is yet to come, that tomorrow will be better than today, so you’re optimistic about things. You have a hopeful attitude.

Research from Duke University shows that optimistic people work harder, get paid more, and they’re more likely to succeed in business and sports. What the researchers found with that because these people had a positive, optimistic outlook. Because they believed in the brighter and better future, they actually took actions necessary to create it. It became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

The researchers said they deluded themselves – I love that they used the word deluded – it was because they deluded themselves thinking and believing in a brighter and better future. Sometimes that’s what it takes, deluding yourself about what’s possible.

To me, pessimism is where you don’t believe the best is yet to come. Pessimism is where you believe that and you are fearful about the future. You worry about the future. Pessimism believes that your best days are behind you, not ahead of you.

I would say negative is where you bring a negative energy, you bring a fear, you bring doubt, you bring uncertainty, which, again, uncertainty is not always a bad thing, but it’s okay at times to be negative about things that help you examine them, improve them, look for where pitfalls can happen that can bring you down. There’s the benefit of negativity.

But when I think about negativity, I think of the bad kind of negativity that sucks the energy out of a team, that condemns people, that doesn’t speak life into them. It actually speaks hate, ill will, that attacks and that also focuses on perhaps sometimes self instead of others. Now that would be more narcissism, but sometimes that can come across as negativity when you put yourself on a pedestal and you bring people down.

Again, so many ways to define, I choose to define it through the body of work, through the stories and the collection of a framework and experience that ultimately creates the definition of positive and negative, if that makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. I just wanted to kind of get that squared away so that we can sort of dig into a little bit of this negativity because indeed you mentioned that in certain contexts that can really be helpful to examine something, to improve upon something.

How do you play that game optimally as a positive team in which you’re not ignoring problems – there’s no weeds, there’s no weeds, there’s no weeds – but you’re also not sort of I guess dwelling on them and being consumed with worry and your energy is drained and dissipated and you think that the worst is just around the bend? How do you play that game in terms of dealing with the constructive stuff well?

Jon Gordon
Yeah, you always confront the reality of the situation, like this is what we are dealing with. “Yes, we just lost.” “Yes, we had this mistake.” “Yes, we did a poor production run and we just lost this amount of money. Okay, let’s deal with the reality. How do we solve it? How do we fix it? Where are we going now? What is our vision for the future?”

You address the reality of the situation and there is a negative associated with that perhaps. But then you are hopeful and optimistic about what you are looking for and looking towards in order to create that future. Then you have to then say, “What actions can we take in order to create it?” You always address the reality of the situation.

But I love when people say, “I’m just being a realist. I’m just being a realist.” Well, even realism is subjective because Steve Jobs was famous for what they called his reality distortion field. Time and time again, Steve’s team would say, “There’s no way you can create this software, this hardware in this amount of time.”

If you read his biography, time and time again, he would convince them that it was possible. They said he was able to distort their reality from pessimism or realism to optimism. Time and time, they accomplished the very thing that they thought was impossible. Leadership is so often a transfer of belief. You have to believe in what’s possible. Again, you confront the reality of the situation.

I’m a big fan of the no complaining rule, which I wrote a book on. I didn’t invent it. A good friend of mine who’s a CEO invented it. I wrote this book on the rule, which is so simple. You’re not allowed to complain unless you come with a solution. Every complaint represents an opportunity to turn something negative into a positive.

We’re not saying get rid of all complaining. What we’re saying is let’s use those complaints and let’s create justified complaints out of them that lead to solutions. A complaint represents something that we have to fix. It’s a problem that we have to solve. It leads to a new innovation, a better way of doing something, a better process, progress forward.

Think about all of our inventions, every invention came about as a result of a complaint that said, “There has to be a better way.” That’s turning a negative into and turning it into a positive in a very practical way.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have some other practices for transforming the negativity when it pops up?

Jon Gordon
Well, when you have a challenge, you can look at that challenge and say, “Okay, what opportunity does this challenge present?” because every challenge really is an opportunity to learn, to grow and to improve. You’re always looking for those challenges.

For instance, when I speak to hospitality organizations or companies, I’ll talk to them about “Okay, this guest has a problem, but it’s a huge opportunity to now wow them. It’s a huge opportunity to be a hero and come to their rescue.” You can turn around a very negative situation to something very positive. You can do this with customer service as well. It’s turning that challenge into an opportunity.

It’s all about our perspective. How we see the world determines the world that we see. It’s addressing the negative, but then transforming it and turning it into a positive. Same thing with relationships. You have to have difficult conversations that might be perceived as negative, but you have those difficult conversations in order to grow.

As I wrote about in The Power of Positive Team, every team has to have the conversations that say, “Okay, what’s wrong here? What can we do better? Let’s tell the truth about where we are and where we’re not measuring up.” Those difficult conversations will lead to growth.

In a practical way, I remember my wife coming up to me. She was the boss. She said, “You need to do some things to be a better father.” I was like, “Okay, make me better.” I literally said, “Make me better.” Now in the past, I admit, I would have been defensive, but in that moment I said, “Okay, make me better.”

She started to share some ideas of what I could do. I didn’t agree with everything, but I took two or three ideas, I started to implement them, and I got better as a result. How much better would we be as a team if we just said to each other, “Make me better. I’m open. In the spirit of good intent, let’s talk about it in a positive way.”

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great line there. That’s handy. Any other pro-tips for navigating the difficult conversation waters well? I think a lot of folks are so terrified of them they just never go there.

Jon Gordon
Right. Because we never go there, we never move beyond the surface. We move – we stay stuck. We stay stuck in in a like, so then we never move to love. We never move to deeper commitment, deeper intimacy. That’s what I share in the book.

One of the things you have to do for difficult conversations is to actually say, “We’re going to have difficult conversations. We’re going to make this a part of our culture.”

Then what you do is say, which every culture says, is “This is how we do things here. This is part of who we are and how we do things. This is the way we’re going to have engagement. These are our rules of engagement that we’re going to create when we have difficult conversations.” You’re not allowed to get all up in arms. You’re not allowed to get defensive. You have to be open. But you have to come with a positive intent. It can’t be to berate someone or to ridicule someone.

The Seattle Seahawks have ‘Tell the Truth Mondays.’ Every Monday they get together as a team on Monday because the games are on Sunday and they talk about who messed up and how they messed up. They watch film and they tell the truth. No one’s defensive because everyone knows it’s designed to make everyone better. You receive the feedback. Hopefully you grow from it, you learn from it and everyone gets better because of it. But it establishes part of their culture.

You have to do this at the cultural level. You can’t just say, “Hey, everyone, we’re going to just start having these difficult conversations.” No, you have to explain how you’re going to have them, why you’re going to have them, what the rules of engagement are. Then as you do, those conversations will really help the team grow.

We’ll do it as a family. We’ll sit around and say, “Okay, we’ve got to have a difficult conversation.” We’ll meet as a family and we’ll have a difficult conversation. Our openness has led to a much stronger family and team.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say here’s how we’re going to do it, what are some of those pointers in terms of doing the how very effectively.

Jon Gordon
Well, I can’t tell you how in essence because every organization is going to be different, every team is going to be different. You have to decide the how and how you want to do it. We get together every Monday or we get together every Friday. We sit around a table. This is how we do it. We make sure in our rules of engagement that these are our positive rules. You do it with positive intent. It’s meant to help your team get better. You don’t call someone out in this way.

If you haven’t taken the time to establish a relationship with that person, perhaps you shouldn’t be the one that attacks them or criticizes them. Earn the relationship first. On the negative side you may say, you’re not allowed to ridicule someone. You’re never allowed to make fun of someone.

With Ford, for instance, Alan Mulally, when he turned around Ford, he created a working together management system that helped them become a stronger team. One of his rules were you’re never allowed to laugh at someone at their expense. That only breaks down trust. Even those little jokes that we tell when we make fun of someone or friends do that with each other, that’s not okay in that environment, in that setting. He created a rule that said that’s not okay. He believed over the long run that really created psychological and emotional safety.

There’s many ways on how you can do it. I think the key is you’ve got to sit down and decide the framework and how you want to create these rules.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Well, so we talked about some of the things to do. You mentioned one thing to not do is complain. What are some other key things you recommend that we stop doing right away in terms of this is a real positivity killer and a real negativity increaser. Laughing at other people’s expenses, that sounds like a nice one for the list. What else would you put in there?

Jon Gordon
We should stop focusing on people’s weaknesses and focus on their strengths. Research shows the more we focus on what people are doing right, the more we’ll do things right.

We should stop ignoring negativity. Too often we ignore it and it persists and exists. Then it winds up sabotaging the team and the organization. Like, you said, we don’t have the difficult conversations. Leaders do not confront the negativity and it winds up sabotaging the team. As a leader, you must make time for it. You must address it. The goal is to transform it and then hopefully remove it. Stop ignoring the negativity.

Stop focusing on the outcome. Instead focus on the process, your relationships, your people and your culture. We live in a world where everyone’s focusing on the fruit of the tree, the outcome, and the numbers, and the stock price, and we ignore the root. If you focus on the fruit, ignore the root, the tree dies. But if you invest in that root, you get a great supply of fruit.

We have to stop focusing on the outcome and start investing in the root. Our culture, our people, our relationships, everything that I’m talking about now and that I talked about in this book is a framework for being a strong team and developing strong relationships that will lead to a strong outcome. I think those are some key stop doings.

Maybe for – I don’t know when you’re going to share this – but we’re about to start a new year and I think one thing we need to stop doing is stop focusing on resolutions because resolutions, research shows 87% will fail during the course of the year.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah ….

Jon Gordon
50% fail within the first month. First month. You don’t even make it past January and you’ve already given up. Instead I believe people should stop doing resolutions and start doing one word.

Pick a word for the year that will help you be your best, that will help you focus on what matters most, focus on your priorities, focus on your keys to success, get rid of distractions, break through the clutter. One word sticks. One word gives meaning and mission, passion and purpose. One word we can remember. One word will guide you in your actions each day.

Pete Mockaitis
Please, give us some examples of these mighty words.

Jon Gordon
Well, it’s the word that you will pick. Every year everyone picks a word for the year on the team. Everyone in the family picks a word for the year. I just posted on Twitter about one word. I’ve been doing it for a number of years now. It is spreading like wildfire, how many people at organizations are doing this.

In the past Hendrick Auto had a one-word car, so all the words were on the car of all the employees. Every day those employees would come in and they would see their words on a car in the lobby of their headquarters. It would be a reminder to live their word for the year.

For instance, my words have been serve and purpose and rise, surrender. Last year was connected. I wanted to be more connected to people, more connected to my family when I was on the road and more connected spiritually. For me, my word was connected.

The year I picked serve, I knew I needed to serve more at home, serve my family, become a servant leader, stop focusing on self. I needed to serve others out in the world more where you use travel a lot, you speak a lot, you start to just try to survive and get through each day. I said, no, I’ve got to model this through the adversity, through the stress, through the busyness and serve. That was a big year that I picked the word serve.

If you watch Clemson football when they won the National Championship a couple years ago, Dabo Swinney on national TV in front of millions of people said, “My word all year has been love. I knew that our love for each other would make the difference and that’s what I told the team.” It’s really cool to see people pick their words.

Kurt Warner, the famous Hall of Fame quarterback just Tweeted my Tweet and he said his word is ‘committed’ this year. Then he wrote and typed in all of why he chose that word. He was going to be committed to his profession, committed to his family, committed to growing in his new role, just a really cool explanation of why he picked committed.

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

Jon Gordon
I think we covered a lot. I really appreciate you allowing me to share it. It’s fun to share these ideas and then it’s even more fun to watch people put it into practice.

In my book I share a lot of personal experience of what I learned and what I did with teams. I’ve had a few people say, “Oh, he was just talking about he worked with this team, that team, this team.” Well, I had to, to be able to share what we did and what I learned and then give an example. I was only sharing all of these examples to be able to help others learn from them so they can implement them themselves.

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

Jon Gordon
A favorite quote. Abraham Lincoln, “I am not bound to win; I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live up to the light that I have.”

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

Jon Gordon
Being positive doesn’t just make you better; it makes everyone around you better. The research shows that positive leaders, positive teams really do outperform negative teams. I love that.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite book?

Jon Gordon
So many. It’s almost hard to say one book, but I loved A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. That was one of my favorite books. And The Last Arrow by Erwin McManus is a great book as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite tool, something that you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jon Gordon
I like Zoom. Zoom has been great to use in terms of being able to connect with others and do podcasts, so I like Zoom. I like Evernote. I use Evernote to keep a lot of my notes for my talks. I’ll go through and I can look at talks I gave a couple years ago and I’ll have the outline of that talk on Evernote. That’s been a helpful tool that I use.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jon Gordon
My favorite habit is the thank you walk because the research shows you can’t be stressed and thankful at the same time. For about 13 – 14 years now I take a walk of gratitude every day. While you’re walking, you’re flooding your body and brain with these positive emotions that uplift you rather than the stress hormones that slowly drain and kill you.

I would say that the number one thing I’ve done to be a more positive person, because I’m not naturally positive, people think I am, but I’m not. This is a practice that has made such a huge impact on my life of a daily thank you walk, creates a fertile mind that is ready for success.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re walking and you’re thanking, how does that work in practice? Are you just thanking for anything and everything you see or how do you work through that?

Jon Gordon
Different times, different ways each day. I’ll be walking. I’m thankful for my life. I’m thankful that I’m healthy enough to walk. I’m thankful for my family. I’m thankful for my kids even though they’re driving me nuts right now. I’m thankful for these challenges that help me learn and grow. I’m thankful that I was able to write this book the other day. I’m thankful that I get to talk to you right now.

You can find things that are big and small. You can do it for 10 minutes, 30 minutes, an hour. Usually mine starts with gratitude and then I move towards prayer, but for me the gratitude is a really powerful piece. It’s always different. Sometimes I’ll just start being thankful for things that you didn’t know you were thankful for. It’s a really cool exercise. As you do it, again, big and small, sometimes big things, sometimes small things. It’s just all different.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, is Kindle book highlighted up a storm or retweeted at your talks?

Jon Gordon
“Love, serve, and care” is really a very shareable thing that I say that a lot of people share. It’s something that is very viral in terms of this is what leaders do. The best leaders love, serve and care. A lot of people do hash tag love, serve, care.

The idea is that to be a great leader, you have to love what you do. You’ll never be great at it if you don’t love it. You can’t build a great team if you don’t love your team. You have to love it.

Then you have to serve your team. When you help your team improve and grow, they’ll grow. You’ll grow in the process as well. When you help others improve, you improve. Serving is really a key part of leadership. A great leader doesn’t see themselves. Maya Angelou said, “A leader sees greatness in others.” It’s about seeing that greatness in others then serving them to help them become great. That’s key.

Then care. You have to show that you care. You really stand out in a world where so many don’t seem to care anymore, but caring is the difference. Because you care, you love. Because you care, you serve. Because you care, you go above and beyond to do things that cause you to standout, to build better people, to build great products, to build great teams. Caring is a huge part of that. Love, serve, and care I would say is something that’s really shareable.

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

Jon Gordon
JonGordon.com, J-O-NGordon.com or social media at J-O-NGordon11 is Instagram and Twitter, JonGordon11.

Pete Mockaitis
Do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Jon Gordon
I love that you’re talking about being awesome at your jobs. I would say – it’s a message I shared in my book The Seed, which is about finding happiness and purpose in work and life.

The idea is that you shouldn’t seek happiness in your job. You’ll never find it in your job or in the life. The key is to work with passion and purpose and to live with passion and purpose. When you do happiness finds you. Happiness is a byproduct of passion and purpose and doing something that you love and doing something that you’re engaged in. Focus on that part of it.

Also, don’t chase success. We live in a world that’s consumed with success, but when you’re awesome at your job, what you’re really focusing on doing is making a difference. When you make a difference in your job and you make an impact and you find ways to love and serve and care and you plant yourself like a seed, where you are, then you’ll start to grow. That seed will start to grow. You’ll become the leader that you’re meant to be. Then what happens is success finds you.

To be awesome at your job, don’t focus on the outcome, focus on the process. That awesomeness will lead to great things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Jon, thanks so much for taking this time. I wish you tons of luck with your book, The Power of a Positive Team and all you’re up to.

Jon Gordon
Hey, thanks Pete, I really appreciate talking with you.

296: Working with a Recruiter 101 with Korn Ferry’s Julie Forman

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Julie Forman says: "Be confident, know what you're worth, what you can do, and where you can go."

Korn Ferry partner Julie Forman shares how to leverage recruiters and executive search consultants as you manage your career.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Pro-tips for becoming more visible to recruiters
  2. Do’s and don’ts when speaking with recruiters
  3. When a pay bump isn’t worth it

About Julie

Julie Forman is a Partner with Executive Search Firm, Korn Ferry International where she is a member of the Firm’s Global Industrial practice and Marketing Center of Excellence.

She joined Korn Ferry following a 15 years career with GE where she’s held senior roles on both the Industrial and Capital sides with her last position being Head of Strategic Marketing for GE in Canada.

She focuses today on recruitment and leadership consulting mandates for industrial organizations going through critical inflection points requiring upscaling of strategic capabilities, shift in focus and transformational leadership. She is a certified Six Sigma Black Belt and Change Management Coach.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Julie Forman Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Julie, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Julie Forman

Thanks, Pete. It’s a pleasure to be here.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so excited for this chat. And I’m curious to learn, first of all, since you’ve hunted many heads, recruited many people, how did you end up finding me?

Julie Forman

Well, it is through the beauty of LinkedIn. I was looking for some various leadership experts and your name came across. And I thought you had an interesting background, and just sent you a request to connect to keep you in my network. And you had started a conversation, which I happily took part of.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, yeah, it’s so fun because usually LinkedIn connection is just like, “Okay, cool”, and then maybe they sit there for a long, long time. But right away, you were so interested in engaging and shared some great tips. And I’m eager to dig in and share them with the broad world.

Julie Forman

Excellent. Well, I’m looking forward to that.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, and I understand you’re often asked so I’ll ask as well. What made you leave GE where you were for quite a while and go on over to Korn Ferry?

Julie Forman

Well, so as a lot of people in the executive search business, sometimes some of them, they’ve grown up in the industry, others have come from management consulting, and others, like me, have had an executive career before. And in my case, although I loved GE and spent many years and had an awesome time, at one point, I live in Montreal and with the company’s evolution, there just weren’t anymore roles that I thought would be my next stop here. And so, I had to take the leap of faith and follow one of my ex-colleagues who I happen to love, and who sometimes knows me better than I know myself, and thought that this would be a perfect job for me, a perfect follow-on career. And he is right. It is great. It leverages a lot of the skills that sometimes I think I didn’t even know I had myself. So it’s a lot of fun every day, and I get to work with one of my great friends, so that’s an added bonus.

Pete Mockaitis

Absolutely. And I have great respect for Korn Ferry, and we had your CEO in episode 273. And I’m excited for our conversation because it sounds like you have shared a lot with people in terms of working with a recruiter 101.

Julie Forman

Yeah, for sure. One of the aspects of having had a corporate career before as myself when I switched careers, I didn’t realize how little I knew about the industry and how invisible I actually was. And so, as I go through working with different people, obviously I tend to work with C-suite and above, but I love working with up-and-coming talent as well and telling them how to leverage recruiters and executive search consultants, and how to think about it as you manage your career.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, maybe let’s start real basic from the beginning. You said “recruiters” and “executive search consultants” or “headhunters.” Are these terms interchangeable, or how would you orient us to the words themselves?

Julie Forman

So the industry’s pretty wide, and it’s one where there aren’t a lot of barriers to entry. So I think one of your previous guests had mentioned 16,000 executive recruitment firm placement agencies. Basically, when you look at the ecosystem, there’s two different models. There is the contingency model – basically being paid when you place a candidate, which tends to cater to more staff-level positions. And then you have the executive search group that is a retained model, so more closely aligned to management consulting, where we are tasked with building specific strategies, solving talent challenges for our clients. And so you will find different firms that focus on the different types of recruitment. Now, obviously there is overlap, but typically, the more senior positions will be on the retained model.

Pete Mockaitis

And when you say “retained model”, that’s just how folks get paid a flat monthly fee for your ongoing services?

Julie Forman

Well, as you can imagine, there’s a lot of different variation to that.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

But it’s more like consulting. So, when you hire a consultant and you have them redesign your whole plant, whether or not you implement those changes, you still owe the consultant for the work. So it’s the same way we do, it’s the same thing in recruitment – there is that notion of upfront work. Now, obviously we wouldn’t be in the business if we didn’t end up placing people, so we tend to be very successful at finding what we’re looking for. But the idea is there.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And so, maybe we’ll start really basic. So why would a typical professional maybe not yet at the executive levels choose to use a recruiter? They might say, “Oh, we’re just putting another middleman in between me and the job.” Is that helpful, and why?

Julie Forman

Well, so typically, a recruitment, let’s say we talk about search consultant.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

So search consultants — they work for the client, and that’s something that’s very important. So often, we get calls about candidates saying, “Well, I’m trying to work with a search consultant”, but actually, the model is where we’re hired by a client and we will find you in a sense.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright.

Julie Forman

When you are more earlier in your career, more of a professional level, then it is worth it to think about who I want to work with, because at a contingency level, a lot of the value that these consultants bring is knowing the candidates and being able to present them quickly to the clients, because there is that element of speed.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and so then I’m thinking if I am a professional and I am getting some inbound requests or information from a recruiter, how do I know how to sift through that a little bit and know, is this someone who has really cool opportunities or not as cool opportunities? Or you just have to kind of get deeper into the conversation to know.

Julie Forman

Well, the first mistake that I always see people make, or most people make, is that they are on a search mode only when they are actually looking for something, when there are not happy, when they want to move. When in reality, the conversation about your career should be ongoing. So when you get these calls, when you get these opportunities to have a conversation, you should take them. Have a conversation, learn what is out there, learn what these firms are working on, get a sense for what clients are looking for in candidates. And always make sure that you know the market in which you are, so knowing which firms are the ones that you definitely should strike up a conversation when they call, and that you should get to know.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, and so there is a nice listing in a Forbes article that I’ll put in the show notes. Any other kind of resources you might recommend to get oriented a little bit to, who are the names, who are the players? And you said, “They’ll find you”, but if we want to find them, what should we do?

Julie Forman

Well, you mentioned it. So there is a list there, and those lists, and I think on the website you’ll share, there is both the professional recruitment and also the executive recruitment. Most of these firms will have an area where you can upload your information so that you are on their radar. So that is something that’s very important. The other part is also looking around you. So when somebody has a new role, ask them was there any headhunter involved, any placement agency, and try to get their feedback for the level of service that you felt, the experience that you felt as a candidate. And that’s something that’s really important – using your network.
But most of all, I think it’s about being receptive. Sometimes people feel that, “If I dare to answer a recruiter, I am breaching this loyalty I should have to my employer, and I will be tempted to do something that I do not want to do.” Well, that’s kind of not true, right? This is just about talking about your career opportunities that may or may not appeal to you. And it’s important to have those conversations.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.  Well then, how would one make themselves more findable? I understand there is a LinkedIn feature that explicitly says, “I’m open to chatting with recruiters.” Or what do you recommend?

Julie Forman

Well, LinkedIn certainly is something that a lot of people use, so making sure that you have a very professional LinkedIn profile. And there are tons of resources out there that explain how to do it, but that’s certainly a number one. And not just listing the title; it’s really giving an idea of what you’ve done, what you’ve accomplished – that’s really important. That’s certainly a first part. Making sure that your resume is up-to-date and ready, not just as though I’m going to write up my resume because you want to find a new job, but because you’re ready to, if you want to engage in something, that you have it ready and at hand.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. And so, you said there’s a number of these LinkedIn resources. I’d love it if you could name one or two, and maybe just a couple of quick do’s and don’ts that you see all the time.

Julie Forman

Sure. So the first one is making sure that when you describe your position or the positions you’ve had in the past, you are not generic. A lot of people, they write their accomplishment or their responsibility in such a generic term that it could be anyone. And so it’s important that you think about, what is my value proposition, what have I done that is valuable to an employer, and how can I create, I’d say, the feeling that somebody wants to call you and learn more about you, because that’s what LinkedIn’s all about.
The other thing, make sure you have professional pictures. That’s always very important. Make sure that you have – if you’ve done any major transformation, any major initiatives you worked on, things that are very relevant in your industry, make sure you highlight it in your LinkedIn profiles because those are the things that are picked up. And never forget that LinkedIn is a keyword-based search engine, so make sure that whatever keyword you would see in a position spec that you would be interested in, that that is somewhere in your resume, so somebody can find it.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, so then it sounds like – we talked about generic versus specific, and the initiatives and transformations – that there could be a fair bit of content, a pretty hefty word count then on your LinkedIn profile. Any thoughts on how much is too much?

Julie Forman

Well, I think you need to put enough to be able to create the curiosity. You have to bring enough to distinguish yourself from others. Obviously, you don’t want to have a five-page LinkedIn profile, but you want to put enough. Most people do not put enough. It’s not clear the scope of their responsibility, it’s not clear what they’ve done. And it’s just not, I’m going to say “salesy” enough, right? But I would certainly advocate to put more than less, especially if you’re looking for a role.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.  So maybe, I don’t know, just to frame it a little bit – two or three bullets or accomplishments per role, or is that about the right amount?

Julie Forman

About two or three where you… And it’s important as well to say if you are leading a team, how many people are you leading; if you have a sales responsibility, give me a scope of how much; if for example you’re working in a specific vertical or industry, what is that experience; if you’ve worked with major clients, what are the types of clients that you’ve worked with; if you’re working in sales and you’ve done through channels, which channels do you know, because those are the aspects that clients often will ask for.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. And I have advised many clients when it comes to, say, working on a resume, that numbers do really work wonders, in terms of if something is significant or large – what do you mean by significant or large? Can you put the millions of dollars or numbers of people?

Julie Forman

Yeah, exactly. Or somebody in finance that says on the resume, “I was responsible for closing the books every month.” Well, yeah. Whether they were closed properly or not, that tends to stay out.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. Well, and I think that specifically for a moment, folks in accounting roles, I think, sometimes those resumes are kind of tricky to showcase some real results in terms of like, “We kept things moving well, and appropriately, and sensibly, and according to GAAP, and nothing broke.” It kind of doesn’t have as much of a flash or an enticing element as, “Discovered acquisition opportunity that yielded $200 million of transaction”, or something. So I’d love to get your take there, if that is the nature of your role and responsibilities, like you’re responsible for keeping things moving and operating and humming, as opposed to generating new explosive initiatives that are game-changing – any pro tips on that?

Julie Forman

Well, you probably hurt the feelings of a lot of accounting people out there.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so sorry, accountants. I love my accountants, and you have skills that I often do not. And I value your contributions, all accountants out there. I want to make sure these accountants are getting their credit, their props in any way possible.

Julie Forman

Absolutely. I’m just kidding. But what may not sound exciting to somebody that is not in finance can be very exciting to somebody in finance. I think finance is one of those areas where nobody is looking for somebody who just stamps paper or closes the books. We’re always looking for people that add value, that are business partners. That’s what we’re looking for. Just calculating numbers and presenting them and making sure they add, it’s not value anymore.
So it really is about, when you think about your role, is how do I add value, how what I do every day distinguishes me from somebody else, and why would somebody want to hire me and not somebody else? And if you have no answer, I would say, change it. Do something. Think about how you can change it up. Challenge yourself to go above and beyond. And find those bullets that are going to go on LinkedIn and make a recruiter say, “Hey, I’d love to get to know this person because they’ve just done what my client is really looking for.”

Pete Mockaitis

I really like that turn of phrase there, “Find those bullets”, because that is powerful both in terms of representing yourself to the outside world, but also the internal representation for promotions and performance reviews and those kinds of things, is to proactively seek them out. And in college, I was a little bit of a… I was maybe a little bit of a prestige hound in the pejorative kind of interpretation of it, or a very shrewd strategic career planner in the kinder interpretation, because I was. I was thinking, “Okay, what is this bullet going to be that is going to sound awesome to impress McKinsey, or Bane, or BCG?”, because I was hungry and focused. That’s what I wanted post-college.

Julie Forman

No, managing your career is certainly about creating those experiences that are going to impress people. But more and more, managing a career isn’t something that’s linear. Before, it used to be you need to impress your boss, you need to impress your boss. But today, those people who are going to help you along and accelerate your career are all over. They’re everywhere. They’re your colleagues. They are your direct reports. They are everywhere. So it’s important that we stop seeing it as such a, “I need to impress my boss”, because that’s not what cuts it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, I’m with you there. So let’s say you’ve done some smart networking, you found some recruiters, or you’ve been found by recruiters by having an excellent LinkedIn profile that has the great keywords and great distinguishing accomplishments. What are some key things to think about, or goals to have in mind when you start having the conversations with these folks?

Julie Forman

So, it’s important to know what you’re all about, what you’re like, what you want to do, what you have been successful at, and what you want to develop. When you enter in a conversation, that’s the really important part. Too many people, they don’t think about it, and then they get pinged on an opportunity, and they’re just like, “Hey, it sounds fun. I’m just going to go there and explore it.” And they really don’t have the control of the conversation. So thinking about what you want to do is really important.
Another thing as well is what you want in your career, what you want in life. Every so often, you hear these conversations on, “You should not have your email during the weekend. At 6:00, close everything down.” But the reality is some jobs, you cannot do that. Whatever people say, I can guarantee you that does not exist. It doesn’t mean that you should do it. It means that if that’s a value, a preference that you have, then maybe those jobs aren’t for you and you should look elsewhere. And you could be successful doing something else. But understanding who you are and what you like is something that’s really, really important to find the career success that you want.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s a really good point there. It’s not just having a clear understanding of what you want, but also what you don’t want. And I have had some conversations with guests about establishing boundaries and that can take you so far. But as you said, in some roles that is just not going to fly, no matter how diplomatically brilliantly you engage in that discussion.

Julie Forman

Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. So then you’ve got some goals in mind, you’ve got some clear self-knowledge, and then you’re entering into the conversation. What are some maybe particular do’s and don’ts to think about as you are having conversations? You’ve got a relationship with a recruiter, and you are having some back-and-forth. Are there some things that people do that just are delightful to search consultants and just dreadful, like, “Oh my gosh, I hate it when people do this”?

Julie Forman

Well, so I’m going to talk from the perspective of a search consultant. It’s probably a little bit later in your career, although these apply to any level. The first part of it is really to engage in a conversation. You mentioned LinkedIn, and the reality is most of our sourcing, most of the way we find candidates isn’t LinkedIn. Most of it is our network, the network of consultants of the firm, and also, a lot of executives that we know and we ask them, “Hey, who do you know and how? I have this particular challenge. How would you tackle it? What kind of person do you think could tackle it? Do you know anybody?”
And so one of the things when you get into these conversations is to think about, first of all, “Is this something that I am qualified for, interested?” That obviously is the first question. And then if the answer is “No” to either of those questions, “How can I help the person? What do I know about the industry? How can I help, maybe with a contact, with an idea, with a place I would look?”, because that’s really important.
The other thing that’s really important is as a lot of management consulting happens, we’re not alone. So although I don’t do a lot of the work, the work is done by senior associates and research associates – all these awesome people who reach out to folks and who are often the first entry point.  And so make sure that you network with these people, that you are very kind and nice, and take their call and return their call. So that’s really important. Another point that is also something that we talk about and there’s a lot of different points of view, is salary. Do you answer when somebody asks you how much do you make?

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah, let’s hear that.

Julie Forman

That’s a big one. And there’s certainly a lot of different points. Salary, it has changed a lot. 30 years ago, 40 years ago, your salary – the salary you got from your job – often was your only source of revenue, and that kind of dictated where you were on the ladder of life. Today, you have people that have side jobs, and they create apps, and they have this, and they have that, so salary becomes one of the ways that you create wealth. And so I think that as a lot of things in these days, transparency becomes more and more, that you should find a way to figure out to test, how much do I make and how much does this job pay? And benchmark where you’re at, and think about it that way.
So, it really is a matter of personal preference and where you’re at, but obviously when you are in search and you call someone and you want to know, “Are we in the right ballpark? Does this make sense? Could we create an opportunity that would be compelling for this person?” So when people are super cagey, it’s not the best. And they don’t have to tell us, but they have to tell us what they want. And that’s the problem. The reason we ask for salary is people don’t know what they want. So it’s like going to a store and saying, “I want this. How much is this?” “Well, I’m not going to tell you how much.” It’s like, “Okay.” So it just doesn’t work. So either you say what you make, if it’s actually allowed, because a certain US state now prohibits it, or you say, “You know what? This is what I’m looking for. This is the range that I’m looking for.” And you have to have the confidence to say it.

Pete Mockaitis

Certainly. I’ve heard that tip shared and it resonated with me. When asked the question, “What are you currently being paid?” the appropriate answer is, “I am targeting a range between X and Y.” So it’s a little bit of a dodge, but I think it still accomplishes the goal you spoke of, is, “I need to know what works for you.”

Julie Forman

Absolutely. And you need to know how do you relate. And when you have these conversations, it’s a good time to ask, “Hey, I’m at this point. Does it make sense? What do you see?” Not obviously with everybody who calls, but when you’ve established that relationship, when you have this person you spoke to two or three times, and you’ve met them, you can ask. It doesn’t change anything. At the end of the day, whatever offer you get, you can say “No”. But the problem is people think that whatever is put in front of them, they just have to take it.

Pete Mockaitis

I think that’s very wise. And I want to dig a little bit more into – you said people don’t really know what they want. Could you be a little bit more specific, in terms of maybe precise questions within that realm of “What do you want?” that you often see people just don’t have answers to?

Julie Forman

Well, I think a lot of people, they start in a career, they get paid a certain amount, and they don’t talk about it at all. And so they have no idea whether or not they’re fairly paid for what they do. So, it’s about knowing, getting a little bit more information, educating yourself to know, “Okay, so what does an average role pay?” And sometimes getting a $5,000-$10,000 raise is not worth changing the job. But sometimes having that information helps you think about, or gives you the confidence the next time you’re in front of your boss and you need to negotiate that raise, knowing what is it that you’re worth out there, what are similar jobs paying. And it doesn’t mean you’re going to leave, but it means that you have at least that information.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that’s good. And I’d like for you to speak a little more to that. You say sometimes a 5 or 10K bump is not sufficient to exit. And I can think of many such reasons why that’s the case. Could you elaborate on some of the biggies?

Julie Forman

Well, so especially when you’re earlier in your career. This isn’t a sprint; it’s a marathon. So you need to think about what is it that you want to develop, where do you want to go, and what is the best environment to develop that? And is it worth $10,000 if you just leave what you have and go? Sometimes you’re not in the right environment and you need to leave, and you’re not going to reach your goals where you are, but saying that just money is enough to motivate a move is rarely the right decision. It needs to be a package.
So, getting back to your question – you have a support environment in your role, where they are coaching you to get to the next level, you’re in an industry that you’re passionate about, and you’ve worked many years to develop, let’s say a clientele, and it’s just starting to work out for you. That would be too bad to let that aside to go to something else. So there’s a lot of reasons, but typically, people know. You get that good feeling on whether or not you’re doing it for, really, the holistic value of changing, or really if it’s just the appeal of a little extra cash.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, understood. And I’d also like to get your take when it comes to, you said we’re looking at keywords and does it seem to have a fit based upon distinctive experience. I also want to hear from you in terms of, are there some things associated with attitude or demeanor or some sort of other universal things like, regardless of I am trying to find someone in marketing or finance or if it’s in airlines or high-tech, everybody loves a candidate who, blank. Could you fill in some of those blanks?

Julie Forman

So the number one attribute, I would say, is somebody who’s agile. And agility is about the ability to take everything you’ve learned in the past and kind of rearrange it to deal with a new situation. The reality is the world is unpredictable. Nobody knows what’s going to happen. There are shocks every day, and so you can’t be prepared for everything that is going to come in front of you. But you can be prepared in developing a lot of different skills and having that ability to put them together to face whatever situation’s in front of you. So that’s definitely one.
The other one that’s very popular, and for good reason, is authenticity. So the ability to really embrace who you are and who people are, and find your real strength, and knowing what you’re good at and what you’re not so good at. And that has a lot of different flavors, you can call it self-awareness, but that’s really important – knowing what it is that you can do and being upfront and honest about it.

Pete Mockaitis

And I can see how the authenticity piece, you can kind of get a quick gauge if you’re talking to someone, if they seem to say that they are great at everything, it’s like, “Maybe, maybe not.” But we’re not maybe getting the whole story or the full truth, in terms of seeing that self-awareness or that authenticity. I’m wondering from your vantage point, how do you get a read on if someone seems agile?

Julie Forman

Well, so that’s a good question. I think it’s when you speak to somebody and they talk about their background, there is a lot of creativity in how people approach problems and create solutions, and they’re always on the lookout for something new, something different. They’re not afraid of trying different things, and they’re not afraid of changing industries, or changing roles, or they see more of the positive than the potential challenge.
So that’s typically when somebody is very agile. Now, there is a scientific measure taken from it, and we could certainly measure it. Each time we do interviews and we meet with candidates, it’s really something that we measure. But on a high level, it really is that ability to be creative on how you tackle problems.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, you got me so intrigued now. Scientifically measuring this agility, I know Korn Ferry has some tools, instruments, assessments along those lines, but from a mere conversation you’re getting a gauge and taking that into a number. How does that work, to the extent that you’re not disclosing super proprietary things here?

Julie Forman

No, so to get into levels and numbers, those are very complex assessments that are done, and so we certainly don’t do it by just a conversation. But I mean you get a feeling. I think it’s the feeling of when you think about those contests around the world and you’re a team of two and you have these challenges that you’re not too sure about. I think it’s Amazing Race. Well, who would you like to be on with Amazing Race? Who would you feel that whatever’s thrown at you, you will kind of manage it through? And it’s that feeling that we tend to look into in candidates, somebody who you would feel very safe in whatever situation, you know they’ll figure it out. And so we don’t come out of an interview with a number, I’ll tell you that much. It’s more of an impression.

Pete Mockaitis

That is a nice image there with the Amazing Race piece. Well, I guess now I’m thinking about in the consulting case interviews, in terms of we say, “Okay, we’ve thrown several business scenarios at you, where you’re able to crack them again and again.” And so, I’d be curious to hear in terms of, not to go too deep into interviewing, but when it comes to questions posed, are you seeing any kind of mistakes happening again and again that candidates can just easily avoid?

Julie Forman

Yes, definitely. So the biggest mistake that people tend to do is, they are not prepared. And they haven’t really been thoughtful about, once again, what is their value proposition, what are those great examples in their career that really showcase who they are and what they can do. And so what that creates is that when you’re in an interview, somebody will often spend too much time explaining the context, and then they get in the weeds, and there’s too many details. And they forget that this isn’t about the price of oil in 2012; this is about, what did you do about it?
So if you think about a minute, let’s say, or two minutes to answer a question, you don’t want to spend a minute and a half talking about context. You want to give it quick, have that elevator speech of, “This is what happened, this is the gist of it, and now I’m going to tell you what I did about it and that why I was amazing in this situation, why you want to hire me.” But most people haven’t practiced it, and that really shows in an interview.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Well, I also want to get your take here – you’ve recruited at multiple different levels of seniority for clients. Can you share some perspective in terms of what do you see those who are rising, they’re flourishing and seeing a really cool career progression. What sorts of, I don’t know, knowledge, skills, abilities seem to come up again and again? We mentioned the authenticity and the agility. Is there anything else in terms of themes you’re spotting?

Julie Forman

Definitely the ability to learn, and also the confidence of knowing, of being able to come out and meet with us, and have the conversation, and take the information, and really have that level of gravitas that we look for. So, gravitas is something that’s really tough to define. It’s tough to define, yet it’s so easy when you see it. And I think that one of the ways that you develop that is often by being surrounded by people who have great executive presence. But executive presence really is when you meet someone, and they have a good background, and they know how to conduct a conversation, and you feel like this person can handle a lot of challenges. That’s certainly something that we look for.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

Well, I think it’s really going back to trying to develop the best that you can be. Many years ago, developing your career was about being the best. So if there were five vice presidents or five directors or five managers, you wanted to be the best manager to get the promotion to director, and then the best director.
Now things have changed. People come and go, there are no long-term careers anymore. So you need to make sure that you work on yourself to be a director, whether or not it’s a director in your company, whether or not you get your boss’s job, all you need to do is make sure that you are director-level. And if that position is not there, then you’ll get another position. And I think that really is a shift in mindset, where you need to work collaboratively with your colleagues, you need to make sure that everybody gets to be the best they can be. And at the end of the day, everybody’s going to win by doing so.

Pete Mockaitis

That is a nice final note there. So now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Julie Forman

Well, one of my favorite quotes is actually by a great Montrealer who died last year, Leonard Cohen. And he sang in one of his songs a verse that says, “There is a crack in everything. That is how the light gets in.” And I think that Leonard Cohen wasn’t somebody who spent a lot of time explaining how he came up or what anything meant, so it’s open to interpretation. But to me, it really means that there’s nothing you can’t crack, there is really an opportunity everywhere, and that once you find that little piece of light, that’s when everything gets better. So it’s the continuous pursuit through imperfection that you get perfection.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite study or a bit of research?

Julie Forman

Well, study – I would say at Korn Ferry, as you mentioned, we have a ton of research. We have lots of information on executives that are successful and what makes them successful. So we’ve been looking at studies on what makes great Chief Marketing Officers and what distinguishes customer-centric leaders. And so we’re in a lot of that analysis right now, so certainly, if your listeners go on our website, shortly you’ll have all those findings.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, so it’s in process as we speak?

Julie Forman

It’s in process, definitely.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, cool, alright. And how about a favorite book?

Julie Forman

Well, I read so much for my job that I don’t think I have a favorite book recently, but what I’m going to suggest is a favorite podcast. I assume everybody listens to podcasts. It’s actually an HBR limited series called Women at Work. It is a six-episode that they ran about, I’d say, six months ago. And it’s a conversation between Amy Bernstein, who’s the editor, Sarah Green Carmichael, executive editor, and Nicole Torres, a younger associate editor. And it talks about issues that women face, but it is done in such a pragmatic way and away from the conciliation work and family that basically a lot of us are sick of hearing about. But it really goes into really more interesting and useful subjects, so I definitely recommend listening to those.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. And how about a favorite tool?

Julie Forman

So a favorite tool, I would say… So I bought this nifty little whiteboard peel-off that I stuck on my desk, and tons of dry erase pens. And every morning I do my to-do list, and then I have the pleasure of just wiping it off as it goes through. And it’s great. At the end of the day, when you take that eraser and you just wipe it clean, you have a feeling of accomplishment. So hey, you take what you can, right? [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I like that. I think that Caroline Webb of How to Have a Good Day, in a previous episode, really kind of emphasized that, in terms of when you are getting the pleasure of checking something off, maximize it. If it’s digital, it should have a big swoosh, or an “oink” noise, or a gray strikethrough, or a disappearing animation. And if it’s paper, it should be a big thick line through it. And you’ve taken it farther with the erasing – that’s cool. So you say a “peel-off.” What exactly does that mean?

Julie Forman

Well, so it’s a whiteboard material but it looks like a big sticker. So it’s the size of a sheet of paper, and you just stick it on your desk. So there is no way… I tried the notebooks, but then the notebooks, you forget. Papers, you have too many of it. This is just in your face, so if you decide not to strike something off your to-do list, then it’s on you.

Pete Mockaitis

Understood. And does it actually stick to the desk?

Julie Forman

It does, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay.

Julie Forman

Well, it’s removable, so if there’s any furniture-lovers out there, it’s not going to damage it. But it’s like $10. It’s actually really cheap on any place where they sell stationery.

Pete Mockaitis

And it’s held up. One peel-off has stood the test of time.

Julie Forman

It does, definitely. Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis

Cool, alright. And how about a favorite habit?

Julie Forman

A favorite habit, I’d say, is going paperless. So I have my iPad and Apple Pencil, which I absolutely adore, because I can’t get into the habit of typing everything, I still love to write. And going paperless is something that’s really great for me. It allows me to carry all my notes everywhere, it keeps them confidential. And I think that’s really something that takes a little bit of getting used to but now makes for a much cleaner desk.

Pete Mockaitis

And can you write with an Apple Pencil and iPad as fast as you can with a normal pencil and paper?

Julie Forman

Absolutely. It’s even better, though, because you can download some documents and then just mark on them. So it’s great when you have resumes and you want to keep that for posterity.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

I would certainly point them to connect with me on LinkedIn. So I love building my LinkedIn profile with great people. Also Korn Ferry, our website. Korn Ferry’s coming out with great tools for even people at all career levels, so it’s certainly worth it to go and have a peek. It’s called Korn Ferry Advance, so that really is a great tool that’s coming out. And that’s it. And watch out for Korn Ferry Institute, where we have tons of great research paper that’s backed from our experience, both on the research side, but also the pragmatic part of being in search and seeing talent every day.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Julie Forman

Yes, make sure you’re visible. Be out there, network. Even if you’re super happy in your job and you think this is the best in the world and you couldn’t be better, you never know what changes and you never know what’s out there. So be confident, know what you’re worth and what you can do and where you can go, and make sure that you can test that regularly on the market.

Pete Mockaitis

Perfect. Well, Julie, thank you so much for sharing this. I think that many folks have finally had this question demystified. So, very much appreciated, and keep doing the great work you’re doing.

Julie Forman
Excellent, thank you so much.

294: Generating Greatness from Creative Workers with Todd Henry

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Todd Henry says: "Trust is the currency of creative teams. You cannot function... without trust because trust is what enables us to take risks."

Founder of The Accidental Creative, Todd Henry, shares lessons learned from managing creative employees AKA “herding tigers.”

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why bounded autonomy produces the best creative results
  2. The right–and wrong–way to provide feedback on creative output
  3. How you may be subtly eroding trust

About Todd

Todd Henry teaches leaders and organizations how to establish practices that lead to everyday brilliance. He is the author of four books (The Accidental Creative, Die Empty, Louder Than Words, and Herding Tigers) which have been translated into more than a dozen languages, and he speaks and consults across dozens of industries on creativity, leadership, and passion for work. His book Die Empty was named by Amazon.com as one of the best books of 2013. His latest book, Herding Tigers, is about what creative people need from their leader, and how to give it to them.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Todd Henry Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Todd, it’s great to have you on the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Todd Henry
It is great to be here, Pete. Thanks so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
I think we’re going to have so much fun. I’ve seen your podcast, The Accidental Creative, again, again, and again in the iTunes rankings that I probably check more than I should. Here we are talking to the man behind the brand.

Todd Henry
I’ll tell you, having been podcasting for a very, very long time I know how hard it is to build an audience and how hard it is to create something that so many people find valuable. Kudos to you because you have really climbed the top of a very difficult mountain and have stayed there for a very long time. That’s a testament to the value that you’re providing to the audience that ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh shucks. Well, flattery is always a great start Todd.

Todd Henry
That was not planned, by the way. We didn’t talk about that in the pre-show that I was going to do this.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, you’re going to compliment me and then I’m going to compliment – let’s go back in time a little bit. Speaking of large audiences, you mentioned that once you were a country singer full time and you had audiences as large as 40,000 people.

Todd Henry
Oh my, I think we’re done here. Okay, this has been …. Yeah, I actually as I now call it – it’s funny with my kids I call it my misguided 20s. This was like 25 years ago now. But, yeah, I actually toured as a country musician singer. We played like West Coast Bakersfield, Buck Owens kind of really sort of rowdy honky-tonk kind of country music.

It was really fun for a number of years. We got to open for some great bands. One time we got invited to play at this festival over in I think it’s called St. Clairsville, Ohio, it was called, get ready for this, it’s called Jamboree in the Hills.

Somebody told me there were like 40,000 people there that day. It was really amazing. Seriously, I have never been in a situation before where it was like people as far as you can see. I speak events now and do all kind of – I have never seen a crowd like that before. It was literally – like I hear the phrase a sea of people, it was literally a sea of people. I couldn’t even see the end of the people.

That was really fun. It was a great experience. Then like so many of those kind of stories, I met a girl and realized that maybe the music business wasn’t necessarily going to be a long-term thing and ended up choosing gainful employment and marrying an amazing woman, which has absolutely been the right course of action. 25 years later here I am. That’s it. That’s my life story.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good. The thing is with meeting an amazing woman, you have so much more fodder for your country songs.

Todd Henry
That’s true. That’s true. Well, see, that’s what happened. I got happy and then I didn’t have anything sad to write about anymore and I had to give up country music.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s unfortunate in a way but in another way we’re all being enriched by your work. Maybe you could orient us a little bit to what is Accidental Creative all about.

Todd Henry
Yeah, I started Accidental Creative about a decade ago. The goal of the company is to help people and teams be what I call prolific, brilliant, and healthy all at the same time. Doing a lot of work, doing great work, and doing it in a sustainable way, in such a way that they can continue producing high volume of quality work over the course of time.

It’s really difficult to do because we’re all facing the pressure to do more. Resources are scarce. Expectations are only rising. I’ve never worked with an organization and had someone say, “You know, it’s just amazing. Expectations keep going down.” No, of course not. Expectations are rising.

With that, we all have to adapt and learn how to build practices, and rhythms, and structures, and systems into our life to help us approach the work that we’re doing on a daily basis, which when we’re dealing with the creative process, when we’re trying to solve very complex problems is challenging because you can’t force creativity into a predictable system. You don’t know when that brilliant insight is going to happen.

The only way that you can systemize around creativity is by having rituals, practices, systems, wells that you draw from. The thing is, Pete, that you have to build those systems before you need them. If you’re going to create on demand, if you want to have a brilliant idea at a moment’s notice, you have to begin far upstream from the moment you need that brilliant idea. The way you do that is by building practices, systems, rhythms into your life. That’s really what we do is we work with companies to help them do that.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. We’re going to talk about that in sort of group settings with your book Herding Tigers and management and collaboration, but while we’re talking I can’t resist, could you give us maybe one or two practices you’ve found for yourself, for clients, for listeners that just rock in terms of a little bit of effort and a whole lot of result.

Todd Henry
Absolutely, yeah. Well, one is, it’s going to sound like the most basic thing in the world, but it’s not what we know, it’s what we do that matters. The practice is implementing a ritual of study into your life.

By study I don’t mean pull out the trigonometry textbook and dust it off. That may be fine. Maybe that’s what you’re curious about. But what I mean is are you building time into your day to fill your mind with valuable stimuli. Are you exploring your curiosity? Are you, as Steven Sample from USC called it, are you communing with great minds.

Are you allowing other people to fill your well so that when you’re in a moment, because creativity really is just connecting things, as Steve Jobs famously quipped? We’re connecting dots, sometimes no intuitive dots that live just outside the periphery of our field of vision.

The more stuff we put into our head and the more we begin to think systemically, the more non-intuitive dots we can connect. As we do that, we begin to create disproportionate value.

But it begins by not just putting things into our mind, but actually taking time to stop and think about, “Okay, how does what I’m absorbing right now affect or in some way relate to the work that I’m doing?”

I might be reading a book about gardening or particle physics, but I can glean insights from those books and apply them to the work that I’m doing and try to force them together and try to play with what Steven Johnson calls the adjacent possible. Explore and experiment and try to connect dots and play around with ideas.

I can do that during that study time in a way that I often can’t do in my on-demand role at work because we simply don’t have the time or the resources to be able to play around forever. Do you have a ritual of study in your life? That’s a huge, huge thing.

Then sort of on the other end of the spectrum. I’ll tell you that one of the most valuable practices that I’ve personally implemented and now many other people that I have talked to have implemented is taking a midday walk. It sounds incredibly simple. It’s well, like yeah, duh. Okay, but are you doing it? Is that something you’re actually implementing?

What this does for is it gets us out of our environment. Often when I’m trying to generate ideas with teams, I’ll send them on what I call a stimulus dive, which means I want you to go out into the environment. I want you to go out into the neighborhood around this office building or whatever, wherever we happen to be and I want you to just observe.

I want you to come back with one piece of stimulus. It could be something you find in a store. It could be something you pick up off the street. It could be something you see. You can snap a photo of it. Whatever it is, I just want you to observe your environment and think about how are the things I’m seeing and observing potentially helping me solve this difficult creative problem that we’re working on right now.

It’s amazing what just getting out and being active and getting out in the environment and allowing new stimulus to wash over you can do for your creative process. Those are two very simple things. There are a thousand more I can talk about right now. Two very simple and immediately implementable practices I think people could put in play to help them jog ideas more consistently.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. It just sounds like that would be a fun place to work. “Oh, my job right now is to – okay. I’m down with this. Thanks Todd.”

Todd Henry
Frankly one of the biggest hurdles I have to get people over is like, “Okay, are people actually working right now?” “Yes, they’re working. Yes, that’s what they’re – right now they are working.”

As a matter of fact if you just have them sitting and staring at the problem, that’s probably the least effective thing you could have them do right now. Very rarely do you solve a problem just by sitting and staring at the problem.

You have to go out. You have to look at parallel problems that have been solved in the past. You have to go out and challenge assumptions. You have to go out and look at what’s going on in the environment. You have to immerse yourself in different kinds of stimuli. Go do a dumpster dive, see what happens. It feels very inefficient, but these kinds of things reveal intuitive connections that are just beneath the surface that we often sort of overlook in our mad dash to try to solve the problem.

Pete Mockaitis
That sounds wise. You’ve collected a number of these practices, and mindsets, and mechanics, and goodies in your book Herding Tigers. Can you give us the overview on what’s this all about?

Todd Henry
Yeah, for many years I like creative teams and I would always hear this phrase, and you’ve probably heard it too Pete, that leading creative people is like herding cats.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Todd Henry
Every time I heard that it took everything I could, I mean seriously not to punch the person.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m not a cat. How dare you.

Todd Henry
Well, because what’s implied by that is that creative people are flighty, that they have no discipline, that they just bounce from thing to thing, that they think they are the center of the universe. They’re egomaniacs. I mean that’s really I think what is implied by that.

One time I was speaking at a conference and it just came out of my mouth. I said, “How many have heard this phrase, that leading creative people is like herding cats?” and all the hands went up. I said, “It’s not like that at all. It’s actually more like herding tigers. These are powerful, majestic creatures capable of great beauty one moment and then turning around and ripping you to shreds if they’re not led properly.”

Everybody laughed and I thought, oh, that’s really cute, so I put it as a line in the book and then that became the title of the book thanks to my editor.

Really what I wanted to communicate to leaders is listen, if you want to get the best work out of the highly talented creative people on your team, who are by the way very driven and very driven to do great work. They want to do great work because often they identify themselves by the work that they do.

Then you have to know what it is they need, which sounds intuitive, but I think we often make assumptions about what creative people need that aren’t actually true.

For example, we tend to think that creative people are all about freedom. “Just give me freedom. Don’t fence me in. No boundaries. It’s all about the idea. All about freedom.”

That’s not actually true. If you talk to creative pros who are in the trenches, who are professionals, who are really doing great work, they’ll tell you that a lack of boundaries is detrimental to the creative process. They need some kind of bounding arc. They need some kind of boundary to help them focus their attention, focus their assets, focus their time, their energy.

Orson Wells, the great filmmaker, once said that ‘the absence of limitation is the enemy of art.’ I think that’s a brilliant observation. Without some sort of limitation, some sort of bounding arc, it’s difficult for creative people to focus their energy on what really matters.

The book is really about what does it creative people need from their leadership and how do we create an environment in which highly talented, driven creative people can thrive.

Pete Mockaitis
That really resonates with me as I’m thinking about – so I’m making this course right now. I’ve been working with some designers and more. It’s like great creative folk in my own experience, it’s like they eat it up when I give them some guidance.

In terms of like, “You know what? That question mark there that you’ve put into that logo, to me it feels a little bit like looming and scary, like a monster being projected over a flashlight. I want it to be more calming and sturdy and stable, like we’ve got guidance coming for you to this question.”

Part of me thinks I’m a little bit crazy when I say these things out loud. It’s like, “Okay, Pete has some odd associations maybe from his childhood about a monster in his closet.” But then great creative folks like, “Oh, thank you. That is so helpful for me.”

Todd Henry
Yes, absolutely. That is super helpful and the way you provided that feedback is very helpful. It’s very specific.

One thing that drives highly talented creative people crazy more than anything else is when somebody says, “It’s not working for me.” Oh, thank you. That’s very helpful to me.

But when you say, and this is really important as well, when you say, “Hey, I see what you’re doing here. I see what you were going for. I think I understand your strategy and your logic here and it’s not quite working for me. Let me elaborate on why it doesn’t quite resonate with me. Do you think we could do something like this or do you think we could change this thing or do you think you can think about it through this lens?”

That is super helpful feedback for creative people because listen, they want to get the project right. It’s not just about following their idea. It’s about accomplishing the goal of getting the project right. You’re the client or you’re the manager, whatever. They want to please you. They want to do what satisfies your objectives, but they need very specific feedback.

They need to understand that you use them and you see what they’re doing and that you care about the thought that went into the project. When you just go up to someone and you say, “Well, it’s not working for me,” basically what you’re doing is you’re discounting the last three weeks of their work. You’re saying, “That’s not working. What else have you got for me?” Okay, not helpful.

I would, just as encouragement to you, Pete, the way that you offer that feedback, being very precise about what you like and what you don’t like, that’s exactly what creative people need from you in order to produce their best work.

Pete Mockaitis
Good, good. Sometimes I wonder or worry like, “Am I driving this person to the edge of their sanity?” Like, “Oh, this guy. Listen to-“but, so thank you for that affirmation that that is indeed helpful as opposed to pushing people to a breakdown of sorts.

Todd Henry
Well, I will also say that one of the other things that’s a struggle is that this exists in tension. Yes, feedback is important. Yes, being very precise and specifically setting boundaries is important, but there has to be freedom within those boundaries to explore, to take risks, to try things.

Some leaders go overboard on the controlling piece. They go overboard on the feedback piece. Instead of saying, “Hey, here are the boundaries. Here’s what I’m looking for. Why don’t you play around with this and see what you can come up with?” Instead they say, “I want you to make a video for me that does this and this and this. And here’s the look I want. And here’s an example of something that’s just like it. Now go make it.”

Well, that’s not very motivating either because there’s no challenge there. Yes, there is stability for the creative, but there’s no challenge there for the highly talented creative person. What they’re going to do is basically just say, “Okay, just tell me what to do. That’s fine. Just tell me what to do.”

You’re not going to get the best work out of them. You’re not going to get the blessing of their intuitive perception, that dot connection, their years of experience because you’re basically telling them what to do.

What we’re aiming for is a bounded autonomy. Freedom within boundaries. Then frequent checkpoints in which you give feedback, like you gave before, which is beautiful. It was wonderful feedback. That’s exactly what you need.

“Hey, here’s some feedback. Now why don’t you go work on it within these rails?” Then you check back in and say, “Okay, we’re getting closer. Now, let me give you a little bit more feedback. Now, go work on it. Great.” That’s what healthy creative process looks like.

Pete Mockaitis
That is well said. Thank you. If folks are making the leap associated from – they were doing the creative making of stuff and now they’re beginning to do some management of folks who are doing that for them or for the team, what are some of the key mental shifts, adjustments that need to go down?

Todd Henry
This is a real struggle. I love how you say the mental shifts. I call them in the book the mindset shifts that you have to make when you transition from maker to manager.

Listen, when you’re early in your career and you’re making work, you’re a tactician – again, when I say making work or I say creative people, we’re all creative as a function of our job. We have to solve problems. Creativity is solving problems. That’s what we do every day. If you have to go to work and solve problems every day, this applies to you. You are a creative professional.

But when we go to work and we do something functionally, so if we’re performing a task or producing some kind of work, and basically we’re accountable for making sure that that work is great. That’s our job and we produce a result or a product or whatever it is.

At the end of the day, we measure our success as a maker by how great the product is. I can draw a very direct line between my efforts and the end result. I can say, “I made that. That’s how I define myself.”

For example, in the world of agencies, creative agencies, which is where I spend some of my time, a designer can define themselves as a brilliant designer. They become known for their work. They have a style. They have a thing that they do.

Maybe if you’re a salesperson, you have a specific way that you approach sales, specific way that you approach relationships, and you become known as the person who does that thing. That’s what you’re known for. You’re the closer. You’re the person who can get the result, which is great.

But the moment you transition from maker to manager, you have to make a couple of significant shifts in how you think about it because you are no longer defined by the work you do. You’re defined by how you lead other people who are doing that same work, which is a difficult transition for people to make who have defined themselves their entire career as a person who does a thing.

“Okay, well if I’m no longer defined as a person who does a thing, who makes a thing, who manages a relationship, whatever that is, if that’s no longer me, how do I define myself as a leader? Who am I anymore? I don’t even recognize myself.”
Which is why many leaders when they first transition to a manager role, default to control. They default to clamping down, to stepping in, to doing the work for their team because they think I can do it better than my team members can. I’ve been doing it for five years. I know the job better than they do, so I’m going to step in and make sure that the job is done the way it needs to be done.

But there’s a problem with that and the problem is you’re not giving those people the chance to grow, to take risks, to develop their skills, and over time your entire team’s sphere of influence and their capacity never grows beyond your direct sphere of involvement.

You’re going to train your team just to stop and think, “Okay, you know what? Just tell me what you want me to do. I’m just going to wait for you to tell me what to do.” That’s what you’re going to train your team to do and you’re not going to retain people with a lot of potential, highly talented, creative people for very long if that’s your mindset.

You have to transition from a mindset of control, which is all about getting the work right now to a mindset of influence, which is “I am going to lead you and guide you and provide that bounded autonomy for you, give you a chance to play and take risks and try things with frequent checkpoints and I’m going to check in with you and make sure that you’re on course.

But I’m going to give you the freedom to experiment and play and develop your skills so that the capacity of our team is growing over time beyond the sphere of my direct involvement.”

That’s a really difficult thing, Pete, for leaders to do because they have been defined by the work they produce. You would think that when you get promoted to a managerial role, you would think, “Oh, hey, I’ve arrived.” Now the ego’s kicking in, all of that, but for a lot of people there’s a bit of an identity crisis that happens because “Who am I now? How do I define myself?” We have to define ourselves as people who lead by influence not by control.

Pete Mockaitis
Well said, well said. Now I’m curious when it comes to the influence and control point, a lot of listeners have shared that they don’t even have the option of control. They don’t actually have direct reports that they have the power to reward, to review, etcetera.

And yet within their sprawling matrix-y whatever organization, they need to be persuasive and influential and have folks indeed produce something and something good. I’d love it if you have any sort of special prescriptions for being influential in that space and getting things done and getting things done brilliantly.

Todd Henry
Absolutely. Well, first of all, you have to prove yourself as component. That’s the baseline for any level of influence in any setting is if you’re not doing the work, if you haven’t shown yourself capable of doing the work, no one is going to respect you. When I say stop doing the work when you transition to being the maker, that implies that you have actually proved before that you can do the work, that you’re stepping back from it.

But the main thing with regard to leading by influence is it’s really important when we talked earlier about making sure that you understand what drives other people, leading by influence is letting other people know what drives you. It’s letting them understand your leadership philosophy.

What is it that you expect from other people? How do you think about work? What are the battle lines that you draw when it comes to how you do your job and how you interact with other people?

For example, it’s really important that other people understand how you define what quality work looks like. That can be such a subjective thing.

You need to communicate to the people around you, “Hey, when you come to me with something, here’s how I measure whether this is good enough or not. Here’s how I measure whether an idea is right or not. Here’s how I believe conflicts should be handled. Let’s talk about that philosophy of how conflicts should be handled. Should it be handled individually? Should I be involved every time there’s conflict?”

It’s important that you communicate to other people. There has to be some overriding leadership philosophy or point of view that you’re communicating to other people so that they understand how to interact with you and they understand how you’re making decisions and they understand the guiding philosophy that is informing your personal choices and interactions with them.

There was an Australian business man who once told author Tom Peters that he basically had a very simple leadership philosophy. It was I want to reward excellent failures and punish mediocre successes, which means if you succeed in a very mediocre way, I am going to punish you because that’s not what we’re aiming to do here. I expect you to take risks and try things.

If you fail, but you fail in an excellent way because we’ve learned something, because you’ve learned something, you’ve developed a skill, you’ve given us a head start on our competition even though we’ve failed in some way, great. You will be rewarded for that.

It’s really important that we communicate those kinds of rails to the people around us and help them understand the grid through which we’re making decisions, the grid through which people are rewarded, the grid through which people will be reprimanded.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot. I’m thinking now about how do you measure quality. I think if we zoom into just the realm of reports, proposals, spreadsheets, maybe it’s not as sexy as a logo or a website or something, but in that realm, I’d love it if you could maybe share a couple sort of precise examples of how someone might articulate, “This is what I expect from an outstanding write up sent to me.”

Todd Henry
Yeah. That’s a great question.

Again, part of the challenge is that quality is, it’s right there in the word, it’s qualitative. It’s part of the challenge. What is quality in one circumstance may not be quality in another circumstance. It just totally depends on the objectives, depends on the client. There are probably clients who want something fast more than they want it to be maybe of the utmost quality from your sort of subjective opinion.

But I always like to encourage people at the end of any project to basically ask three questions to determine whether it’s quality or not, whether the project was successful or not in that way.

Number one, did we accomplish our objectives. We went into the project knowing we were trying to accomplish something, we were trying to create something, so does the thing that we did solve the problem we were trying to solve. If the answer is yes, great, wonderful.

Secondly, did we maintain our values in the process because if you produce something but in the process of producing that, you destroyed the team around you or there is all kinds of backbiting and infighting and everybody hates one another now, well, okay, I would be really hard-pressed to say that was a successful project because yeah, you produced a quality end product that accomplished the objective, but the team hates itself, so the process was in some way corrupt.

I think you have to include the process in that definition of quality too. Did we engage in a quality process? Did we maintain our values in the midst of it?

Then finally, and this is a little bit subjective, but I always encourage people to ask this question because I think it’s important, are we poised to do it again. If we had another project just like this come across our desk tomorrow, could we do this again? Are we able to do it again or are we completely spent? Are we completely burnt out? Are we at a place where I need three weeks in Hawaii to recover from this project, which is often the case?

This is what a lot of teams do. They sprint, sprint, sprint, sprint and it’s like, “Okay, we’ve just got to climb this mountain. Once we get to the top of this mountain, we’re going to be good.” They get to the top of the mountain and everybody’s like, “Okay, okay.”

Then they get to the crest of the mountain, they look over and there’s another bigger mountain right in front of them that the leader’s like, “Okay, let’s go take that one.” The people are like, “Are you kidding me? You told me this was the mountain we had to climb. Now there’s a bigger one in front of us.”

I think we always have to ask ourselves are we poised to do it again. Can we continue producing work at the rate that we’re producing this work or are going through cycles of crash, burn, refresh? I think that has to be included in the definition of quality and excellence as an organization in order to continue producing what can be prolific, brilliant and healthy over the long term.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot and it’s resonating. I’m thinking about my own exhaustion, like, “Hm, what needs to change here? Is it more help? Is it – yeah, is it just a clearer sense for how long things actually take because I’ve never used those tools before and it takes some time to learn those tools even though they say it’s supposed to be really easy on the sales page of the website.”

Todd Henry
Sure, absolutely. This gets sort of to the issue of trust. As a leader, you will lose your team if you do that.

If you are not being realistic with them, if you’re not painting a clear picture of what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, what’s expected of them, if you say things like, “Well, let’s just get through this and then we’re going to  have a couple days break,” and then you get to the end of the project on a Friday and you say, “Actually, I need you guys to come in this weekend because blah, blah, blah.” Whatever.

You’re like Office Space, right? Yeah, I’m going to need you to come in this weekend.”

You’re going to lose your team. Now you won’t lose them immediately. They’ll show up. They’ll do their job begrudgingly, but they’re not going to be engaged. I guarantee you they’re going to be looking for other jobs before too long if that happens very frequently because most leaders don’t blow trust in the big ways.

You’re not overtly lying to your team. You’re not overtly underpaying them. You’re not overtly doing things that are causing dissention and all that. It’s the little things that cause us to lose trust.

Trust is the currency of creative teams. You cannot function as a creative team without trust because trust is what enables us to take risks. Trust is what enables us to collaborate even when we disagree with an idea, I trust you enough that I’m willing to go your direction because I believe I trust that you have my best interests at heart. I’m willing to do that. If we begin to forfeit trust, we forfeit everything as a creative leader.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I would love to hear a few little examples of how trust gets eroded that might really strike home and cause people to look themselves in the mirror and go, “Uh oh.”

Todd Henry
Yeah. I’ll give you one very quick story. I live in southern Ohio. A couple of years ago there was a bear spotted in southern Ohio, which is an anomaly by the way. I’m not sure where you’re based, but we don’t really have bears around here.

My kids were freaked out. They’re like, “Oh my gosh. There’s a bear in southern Ohio.” They’re envisioning this bear climbing up the wall of our house and sneaking into their room and eating them in their sleep. I’m like, “Listen, listen, listen. That bear is like 100 miles from here.” I live in Cincinnati.

I was like, “Okay, the bear’s like 100 miles east of here. It’s out in the woods. That bear has no interest whatsoever in coming into the city. That bear is perfectly happy. It’s going to make its way back over to Kentucky, where it belongs. It’s going to be fine. Everything’s good. Don’t worry about the bear. You’re never going to see that bear in a million years.”

Two weeks later, Pete, two weeks later, I pull out of my driveway, I turn right, I go down to the bottom of the hill and there’s a news crew camped out at the bottom of the hill right down the block from our house. I roll down my window and I say, “Hey, what’s going on?” They say, “You’re not going to believe this about a half hour ago two joggers saw the bear run into the creek across the street,” a block from my house, Pete.

The bear was in my neighborhood. The bear was literally in my backyard. The bear that I had promised my kids, “Oh, it’s 100 miles away. There’s no way you’re ever going to see that bear,” was in my neighborhood.

Over the course of the next two weeks that bear was seen basically in every place we go: restaurants – it was in the trash at some of the restaurants we eat it, it was seen in the trash of some of our neighbors, it was running around the neighborhood, people say it running in the moonlight, all around our house.

Let’s just say that dad lost a little bit of credibility with the whole bear thing with the kids. For like three months after that it was like, “Now dad, is this really true or is this kind of like the bear thing?” Not a good thing, but super cute. Cute story. Not cute for dad, but cute for the kids.

But we do this as leaders all the time. We do. I call this declaring undeclearables. We say something because we think, “Oh, this is most likely going to happen, so I can declare this as an undeclearable. Hey, if you work this Saturday, I’m going to give you next Friday off. Well actually something came up. I didn’t have anything to do with it, but somebody up above me said that we need to work on this thing, so I’m going to need you here on Friday.”

It’s a little thing. It’s a very little thing, but it’s not little when your team takes your words to heart.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and they made a plan. They were going to do a cool think on Friday, now they’re not going to do it.

Todd Henry
That’s exactly right. They made a plan.

Pete Mockaitis
Had to disappoint their family, their friends.

Todd Henry
That’s right and it’s really easy to navigate yourself to a place as a leader where your words mean nothing. They mean nothing.

When it comes to encouraging your team to take a big risk to follow you into the metaphorical battle of doing complex, difficult creative work, they’re not going to follow you. They might follow you begrudgingly. They might go behind you, but they’re not really following you because they don’t really trust you anymore. It’s the little things we do as leaders that forfeit trust.

I encourage people to think about is there a place in my leading right now where I am saying things because most likely I’m going to be okay, but I can’t guarantee that it’s really going to happen because that’s a way that you potentially setting yourself up for a breach of trust. You have to be careful about your words because your words actually have weight to the people on your team. Your words matter.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s potent. Thank you. Todd, tell me, is there anything else you really want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Todd Henry
I think the main thing that I want to encourage people in is listen, if you have hired talented, bright, sharp, amazing, driven people for your team, understand that they care about the work and they care about the mission and they care about you as a manager. It may not always seem like it, but they care about you as a manager and they want – it’s really important to them that they’re doing work that matters to them.

You have to know them. They need to know that you see them, that you believe in them, you know what makes them tick, that you see the great work that they’re doing, the sacrifices that they’re making. This is another thing we often overlook. As managers we don’t recognize the blood, sweat and tears that actually goes into doing creative work.

I just want to encourage people, “Listen, you need to know your team. You need to provide stability for them and protect them from the chaos monster of the organization. But you also need to give them permission to take risks, to be themselves, and to know I see you, I value you, I believe in you and I know that you’re capable of great things. It’s just that we need those great things to be within a kind of bounded autonomy and creative pros will respect that.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. Thank you. Well, now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Todd Henry
Yeah, it’s kind of a long one. I could say it verbatim, but I often share this when I speak. It’s by Thomas Merton, who’s one of my favorite thinkers and writers. He was a cloistered monk in Kentucky actually, just outside of Louisville in the mid-1900s and wrote I think some of the most potent observations about life and art and work and spirituality.

But he said ‘There can be an intense egoism in following everyone else. People are in a hurry to magnify themselves by imitating what is popular and too lazy to think of anything better. Hurry ruins saints as well as artists. They want quick success and they’re in such a hurry to get it, they cannot take time to be true to themselves and when the madness is upon them, they justify their haste as a species of integrity.’

The part that really resonates with me is the part about being in such a hurry, they want quick success that they’re in a hurry to emulate other people in order to get it.

That’s a reminder to me that I need to step back on a consistent basis and ask, “Am I navigating according to where I believe I should be or am I navigating according to what everyone around me thinks I should do.”

Because it’s really easy, Pete, and I’m sure you’ve seen this in your work as well, it’s really easy to get to a place and look back and say, “I never wanted to be here. I just did what everybody else told me I should do or what they would do in my circumstance.”

There are all kinds of reasons people will tell you to take a risk or do something, Pete, right? There are all kinds of reasons. They will say, “Oh yeah, you should go do that,” because they just want to see if you’ll jump off the cliff. They don’t have your best interests at heart. “Yeah, you should go do that.”

You have to be really careful to make sure you’re navigating toward something meaningful and not just emulating others for the sake of quick success. That’s what that quote does for me.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful and wise and I wish I took that to heart maybe in the first three years of my business. I just sort of said, “Oh, I should start a blog? Okay. Oh, I should be on Twitter? Okay.” It’s like, no, no, no. The very first step is to identify a need that I can contribute to in a helpful way that real people have.

Todd Henry
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And from a business perspective, will ultimately pay for. It’s like, oh, okay.

Todd Henry
That’s exactly right. Yes, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s more important than starting a blog.

Todd Henry
Absolutely. We see this, right? We see people copying tactics because tactics seem to work in the short run. That applies to large organizations as well as small.

How many times have I come into an organization and you see the book du jour on somebody’s desk. It’s like, well, okay, everybody in the organization is reading this because it’s the book du jour. But it’s just the latest trend. It’s just the latest thing that everybody’s reading, but it’s not really solving their problem. It’s just we’re chasing after something.

It’s always important that you step back – by the way, if you want to make Herding Tigers your book du jour, I would fully endorse that. That’s totally great. But if not, if it’s not for you, that’s great too. We have to step back and ask what problem are we really trying to solve here and what’s the best way for us to solve this problem, not what would everybody else do in our circumstance.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. How about a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Todd Henry
Yeah, I’m actually – it’s funny, the first thing that comes to mind right now is I’m reading a book called The Hit Makers, which is about how things become popular in an age of distraction. It’s really fascinating.

One of the studies that they reference in the book is a study about the fact that people tend to – we tend to think that people like things that are extremely novel, extremely new, extremely creative from that perspective. The reality is we actually don’t. We actually like things that slightly push the boundary, but also feel extremely familiar.

That’s why a lot of the pop music that is so popular, people are like, “Oh, that’s so repetitive and mundane and whatever,” well, but there is something about it that is unique. There’s some hook or something that makes it feel a little bit edgy, but it’s still rooted in something very familiar to people, which is why a lot of pop music, popular music sounds very similar on the radio.

They all have sort of a unique hook, but really if you dissected the songs, they’re all often very, very similar because as human beings, that’s what we gravitate to.

If you’re in a place where you want to introduce an idea into your organization, it’s not always best to go in and say, “I have something nobody has ever thought of before.” No, no, you need to say, “Hey, here’s kind of where we are and here’s the ground that we’re kind of taking right now and here’s kind of an intuitive leap just beyond the bounds of where we are. What do you think?”

You have to contextualize it for people and help them connect the dots if you want it to resonate. I can’t remember the name of the study. I can’t remember who did it. But that’s the one that’s really clicking with me right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Good, thank you. How about a favorite tool, something you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Todd Henry
Yeah, I use the writing tool Scrivener. For anyone who does long form writing, it is by far my favorite tool I’ve ever used for writing.

It allows you to write in a non-linear way. I tend to write my books from the inside out. I don’t write them from the beginning to the end, so I can work on sections at a time and just put a couple hundred words in a section and whatever I’m thinking about at that point in time. It’s great. Yeah, highly recommend Scrivener.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, thank you. How about a particular nugget, something that you share that really seems to connect and resonate for people?

Todd Henry
It’s funny. The one that gets shared so often on Twitter, like every day there are probably 50 or 60 people that share this is ‘Don’t let your rituals become ruts.’

I think I spend so much time talking about rituals and building rituals into your life, but it’s really easy to allow the ritual to become the objective.

I always tell people, “Listen, your systems in your organizations exist to serve you, not the other way around. You don’t exist to serve your systems.” People think systems are set it and forget it. They think rituals are set it and forget it.

You know, “We have a recurring meeting every Monday. That’s what we do.” Really? How long has it been since that meeting’s felt extremely productive for your team?

I would just encourage people look at all the rituals, the systems, the methods, the things that are going on in your life and consider have any of these rituals become ruts for me and do I need to shake them up and do something different to jog my creative self.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. Thank you. If folks want to learn more or get in touch, Todd, where would you point them?

Todd Henry
The best way to find me is at ToddHenry.com. That’s my personal site. From there you can get to Accidental Creative, the Accidental Creative podcast, which I’ve been doing for 13 years now, twice a week. You can check that out at ToddHenry.com as well and also find all my books.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Do you have a final challenge or call to action for folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Todd Henry
I do. Listen, friends, because I’m in the same boat that you are. I care very deeply about my work as I know that you do. I care very deeply about the people I work with, as I know that you do.

It’s important to recognize that that project you’re working on is going to be forgotten in 50 years. That company that you’re building right now, nobody is going to remember that in 50 or 75 or 100 years. That amazing campaign you did that won all of those awards, nobody is going to care about that in 50 years. Not to depress anyone, but that’s the reality.

The truth is the way that you influence the people around you, the way that you lead other people, the way that you impact their life for the better is going to continue to resonate down through generation, after generation, after generation. They way that you build into people is going to echo for generations to come.

That is your legacy. That is your body of work. That’s the only thing that’s going to last from how you spend your days right now.

My encouragement to anyone out there who has any form of leadership responsibility, which is all of us because we lead ourselves and lead other people, lead the people around us, but if you have influence over people, I encourage you to commit to being a leader who makes echoes because that is your legacy.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Todd, this has been so much fun. Thank you for sharing this. I wish you tons of luck with Accidental Creative and Herding Tigers and all the cool stuff you’re doing.

Todd Henry
Thanks so much Pete. And thanks for the great work that you do. Very few people understand how hard it is to continue to produce great content like you do week after week. Thank you for committing to all of us who are fans of your work and continuing to stay committed to producing great work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you.

278: The Critical Factors Separating High and Low Performers with Morten Hansen

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Morten Hansen says: "Collaborate on activities with a great business case, great compelling values. Say no to the rest."

Professor Morten Hansen shares the striking results from his multi-year study that identified the seven factors that explain 66% of the difference between low- and high-performing employees.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The seven key practices that outperformers do
  2. How to work less while accomplishing more
  3. How to win your colleagues over to collaborate better

About Morten

Formerly a professor at Harvard Business School and INSEAD (France), professor Hansen holds a PhD from Stanford Business School, where he was a Fulbright scholar. His academic research has won several prestigious awards, and he is ranked as one of the world’s most influential management thinkers by Thinkers50. Morten Hansen was also a manager at the Boston Consulting Group, where he advised corporate clients worldwide. Morten travels the world to give keynotes and help companies and people become great at work.
He is the coauthor (with Jim Collins) of the New York Times bestseller Great by Choice and the author of the highly acclaimed Collaboration and Great at Work.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Morten Hansen Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Morten, thanks so much for joining us here on the How To Be Awesome At Your Job podcast.

Morten Hansen
Well, thanks, Pete, for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am such a dork for great research and I know you put a lot of research into your book Great at Work. Can you tell us a little bit about the five-year journey there?

Morten Hansen
Yes, it took five years though it wasn’t planned to take five years, it’s just that the way it is with research. I wanted to answer a fundamental question, and that is, “Why do some people perform better in their job than others?”

Now there are a lot pieces of advice on that out there, there are hundreds of books and I found 200 pieces of advice when I catalogued them so there’s no shortage of advice. But I wanted to do an evidence-based inquiry to see what really matters. And to do that we started out by interviewing 120 people, we’ve got some hypotheses, we did a pilot project of survey instruments for another 300.

We realized that a lot of the things we thought upfront weren’t correct, were incomplete or downright misleading. We reorganized the hypothesis and then we did a test of a survey instrument of 5,000 people across corporate America, junior/senior roles, men, women, women are 45% of the sample across jobs, marketing, sales, industries, finance, consumer goods sitting in automobile companies and so on. So it’s really a wide range.

And what we have here     is a combination of statistical analysis that can tell us what really matters in driving performance, and we also have a lot of index case studies so we really know what these top performers did or what some poor performers did so it’s a combination of things. And that took in total five years.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is epic. And you just get to reap the benefits of all that great work. So, do tell, what are the key things that better performers are doing when it comes to work?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, what we found is that there are key, the seven key practices, that together account for 66% of the difference in performance among these 5,000 people, so think about it that way, two-thirds of the performance difference can be explained by only seven key practices.

Now there are other things that matters as well beyond those seven but they don’t count for as much and that’s good news for all of us. It’s not that we have to do 200 things right in our jobs to be a top performer. We can concentrate on a few of those. And I divided the seven into two buckets. And one bucket is mastering your own work, and the other bucket is mastering working with others.

And, you know, almost every job today, you got to work with others to achieve. You can’t just be sitting and lock yourself up in your office so you’ve got to do both for these really well.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, then, so can we hear what are the seven within these two categories?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, let me just skip the headline. So in the mastering your own work bucket we got four of them. So the first one is do less than obsess. These people are hyper-focused and then they go all in on a few things to be excellent performers. And the second one is what I call redesign your work for value. They don’t just take a job specification, they actually go in and say, “How can I create more value in this job? How can I change the role that I’m asked to perform, and then create new ways of delivering more value?” In other words, they are innovating how they work.

And then the third one is what I call the learning loop. They’re not just practicing 10,000 hours to master a skill. They’re saying, “How can I have a greater level of continuous improvement if I’m really getting good feedback, modify my behavior and so on?” It’s the quality of learning, not the quantity of learning that matters.

And then the fourth one in this bucket is what I call P2 combining passion and purpose, that you need a drive, you need an inner motivation to get going. And the combination of passion and purpose is what counts. So those are the, in a nutshell, the four in terms of mastering your own work.

And then mastering working with others there are three of those. The first one I call forceful champions, that are really good people, they are able to inspire and persuade others to support their work because in most companies, you need the support of others, and these are people of whom you have no formal authority often. They’re working in different departments, they’re working in different offices and geographies yet you need their support.

And then the next one is what I call fight and unite. I love this one. You’ve got to have a good fight in meetings and with colleagues to have that. By that I mean great conversations, great discussions and debate, and not just be nice to each other and not being able to challenge one another. But then, of course, you need to unite, you need to commit to a course of action.

And then the last one I call disciplined collaboration. There is an interesting observation out there which is that people either under-collaborate and they often over-collaborate, it happens in lot of companies today. We’re just doing too many collaboration efforts. And so you’ve got to be able to discipline and just work on a few but the right ones and go all in on those.

So these seven are, together, account for a lot of the reasons why we have top performers and others are not. Now, for each of these seven, there are specific practices that you can actually engage in to be able to do this well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yes, I would like to hear about each of those. And so, then, do less than obsess. You know, that’s reminding me of the 80-20 Rule here in terms of, if I’m understanding that correctly, it’s like you’re zeroing in on the thing that matters the most, those key few things, and then just doing them. So obsessing so much and doing them so well, you know, some might say, “Oh, that’s a bit much,” but it’s a bit much in exactly the right places. Is that what you’re after there?

Morten Hansen
Yes, yes. So let me qualify that a little bit. So the first thought that pops into your head is you’ve got to focus on a few things. A lot of people said you should focus. There are books out there saying that, there’s the 80-20 Rule, there are many other ways of thinking about focusing. But we’ve got this sort of wrong because focusing is about choice. It’s about setting priorities.

And it’s true. The top performers in our study did do that. They were hyper-focused. Now whether that is 80-20 or 60-40 or 99-1 depends entirely on the situation so you’ve got to be able to really, really have focus on a few priorities.

But what we found is that that is not enough. That is just half of the equation. There is another half, and that is the idea of obsessing, that the top performers were going all in, apply intense targeted effort at the very few things they were doing. And we had people in our dataset that were focusing, they were doing the 80-20, but they weren’t great performers it’s because they weren’t obsessing over what they have left over. And so you’ve got to be able to do both.

And I chose that word obsession deliberately because it’s a bit harsh. It sounds a little extreme and it’s supposed to be, because if you’re not obsessing over the few things you’re focusing on you’re probably not going to do great work. And if you’re going to do a few things you’ve got be doing them well, exceedingly well, because they’re going to be other colleagues out there, some other competitors that are doing more.

They are doing five projects when you’re doing one project. They’re calling 10 customers when you’re calling five customers. And the only way you can be better than them is that you’re exceptional in the kind of work you do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so then I want to get to the point. I know you also have some good research when it comes to longer hours and working smarter. So how does that fit into the obsession and the being exceptional part of things?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, that’s a great question. So, you know, we think that one way to obsess is just to work crazy long hours, right? So it’s about, you know, 70 hours a week on average, for example. And that’s not what we found. What we found is that people obsess, is that they do work hard. In fact, there’s probably kind of guidelines around 50 hours per week on average, and that’s hard work. That’s not being a slacker at all.

In fact, we ran a statistic analysis, and there’s a chart in the book that shows that if you’re working 30 hours a week on a full-time job, it pays to increase your hours to 30 to 40 and to 50. So there’s a big upswing in performance if you go from 30 to 50 on average in our dataset. But from 50 to 65 hours per week on average, there’s actually the upswing, it kind of flattens out very quickly. You’re not getting a lot of bang for the buck in that intervals.

And beyond 65 hours per week on average, we actually find that quality goes down somewhat. So there is kind of a sweet spot of around 50 hours. And then the question we hear is, “What are you doing in those hours?” It isn’t working more hours.

So what these people do that are obsessing is that they are paying attention to detail, they are going the extra mile, they would rehearse a presentation, they’d be very well-prepared for meetings, and so on. And you can do that if you’re not doing too many things. If you’re constantly running around spreading yourself too thin, from running to meeting to meeting to meeting, you can’t prepare every meeting really well.

But if you’re doing fewer things, you actually have that time to go on and saying, “I’m going to be extremely well-prepared for this meeting. I’m going to have the question. I’m going to think about the topic. I’m going to read all the prep materials, etc.” Now you’re obsessing and you’re doing far better work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Thank you. And I’m curious with that 30 to 50 hours there. Are we talking about hours of like you showed up or hours in which you’re actually doing stuff?

Morten Hansen
Well, we did ask people to report their hours and asked their boss to report hours, and, yeah, in those hours it could be a lot of wastes, absolutely. I mean, it’s not effective hours, meaning the hours you’re really working. I mean, there’s so much wastes obviously. And that is one of the problems. When you’re working 80 hours a week, you’re probably wasting a lot of those hours. And I’ve been there.

When I started out in my own career, I joined a management consulting company, I had no real experience so I thought I had a brilliant strategy for success – work crazy hours. I was doing 70, 80, 90 hours even for a week, when I think about that. And, you know, I did well but there was a lot of wasted time. But the question here is it’s not how many hours you worked, right?

We have this idea that to succeed in your career, you should do more and put in more hours and work harder than anyone else. That’s kind of the paradigm we’ve been sort of taught, and it’s wrong. It doesn’t lead to better performance. I mean, that’s the point. It is to work hard 50 hours a week and then it is about what you do in those hours that count.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m with you. Well, let’s talk about some of the practices when it comes to redesigning your work for value. So you say you’re not just content with, “Okay, this is your assignment,” but rather you push farther. How does that work in practice?

Morten Hansen
Yes, so, first of all, we have to focus work on value which is very different from reaching your targets and your goals and the metrics that you might be pursuing. So let me give you a brief example to illustrate the difference. One of the people we come across was a person who was running a logistic function in a warehouse, and his job was to ship these industrial products from their warehouse onto the corporate customers. And he was following one metric.

And the metric was the number of times that those shipments leave on time, so percentage on time shipment from the warehouse. And on that metric, he was really good. He had 99% success rate. But then they surveyed the customers, and the customers said that only 65% of the shipments received when they needed them. In other words, a third of the shipments were late. And that is value.

Now you’re thinking about the value metric, “When does the customer need the shipment?” as opposed to my own internal metric, “When does the shipment go out of the warehouse according to schedule?” And so much of work today is around these internal-oriented goals. HR people delivering training programs. Check the box. Going to meeting or making a customer call. Check the box. Medical doctors, physicians use the metric of the number of patients seen in the office during a day.

Pete Mockaitis
Yup, what gets you reimbursed.

Morten Hansen
Right?

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Morten Hansen
Versus the number of times I’ve actually had an accurate diagnosis and provide kind of treatment. These are more difficult to track but those are the real-value metrics, and we don’t. So we sort of have the wrong metrics. So what you have to do to get out of that kind of metric problem, is say, “Okay, in my job, if I’m sitting, and I’m a software coder sitting in Ford Motor Company, and I’m in charge of delivering some kind of feature for a product, what is the value I can create in this job?”
And every job has a value-creation potential. Meaning, if you are the beneficiaries of my work outfit, and how can I create far more benefit? So that shipment person in that warehouse then shifted the task to on-time delivery by the customer metric, not his own metric, now you have to redesign how you work, right? Your schedule has to be different. You have different targets. You need to have different metrics and so on.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is so good, Morten. You’re bringing me back to when I was doing some strategy consulting with a British van group, and we’d harp on, again and again, outputs versus outcomes. They’re not the same thing and you’ve got to get your head on straight with that, and that is so good. Beneficiaries and benefits, well-articulated. I like it, so.

And I think a lot of times that requires you to proactively say, “Hey, boss, this isn’t…” I don’t know, you’ve got say it nicer, I guess. But it’s like, “You know, just hitting that target doesn’t sound like it will optimally delight the customer or what we’re really going for here.”

Morten Hansen
Yes, exactly. That is exactly the point. And so we’re trying to – you’re trying to get the value metric, is kind of what you’re looking for. And it requires you to maybe re-educate your boss, it requires you to re-educate maybe the customer of your product. So there are a number of ways in which you can do this far better and it’s a challenge but it can certainly be done. And you need to be more creative in your job, and that is a key thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. Now let’s talk about the learning loop. You say it’s important that you just don’t gain mastery at something, but you be a little bit more strategic in the learning. How does that go?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, so the top performers are very, very good at practicing high-quality learning. We always have the idea that you should practice for 10,000 hours and you will master a skill. That’s about the quantity of learning.

Now, in a learning loop it’s about seeking, doing something, measuring the outcome, seeking feedback, and modifying. Now, I’ll give you an example. We had a supervisor at a hospital, and she was in charge of about 20 people to deliver all the food services to the patient in this hospital. And they weren’t doing so well. The food was kind of late. It was cold. It didn’t get there on time, etc.

And she was trying to get her staff to propose more ideas for how they can improve. So she got her staff together in a huddle and she asked for improvements and she didn’t really get any ideas. In other words, she wasn’t leading those huddles in those staff meetings really well. And then she decided, “I’m going to try to improve this.”

So she started out by, “Okay, what questions am I asking?” She asked the question and she gets very little response. And then she got some feedback on the question she had asked, and people said, “You know, you’ve got to ask the question differently. It wasn’t inviting. It wasn’t open-ended.” Then she modified her question.

Now she got one idea in the room. And then she just dropped it and nothing else happened. Then she got some feedback, they said, “Well, you’ve to follow up.” Next day she asked a question. She got some more ideas. She got some follow-up voice to implement these ideas, and then she got some feedback saying, “You know, you’ve got to be more systematic. You’ve got to ask to different questions, you need to get different ideas, you need to enroll different people.”

In other words, constantly getting feedback on how she was running these sessions, and then slowly, but surely, she improved. And within 12 months, they had implemented more than 80 new ideas for how to improve food delivery. And in the patients’ score you could see it, they went from being dissatisfied to high satisfied with the food quality.

And now she’s rated as a top manager in this hospital and she is seen as a terrific leader, but she wasn’t a year and a half ago. And this is the power of the learning loop. If you take the time to focus on a few skills and really pay attention to how you learn and improve, then you can really improve your performance much faster. And we don’t do it in business but we do it elsewhere – sports and so on.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. So then you’re applying the learning not just to kind of any skill that is popular or, you know, the next thing in the Korn Ferry lineup of competencies, but rather the things that are most important and just loop, you know, iterating on it again and again. And in this story, it was cool that she was getting the feedback. You know, sometimes that’s hard to come by.

Morten Hansen
Yeah, you know, you’re right. And you have to seek it out, and she had a benefit of a coach in the beginning, he said, “You know, you’re not doing it correctly,” and so on. So we need the feedback. And the feedback system in most companies is kind of broken. I mean, we have the annual performance review.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Morten Hansen
I mean, that doesn’t work. Let’s face it, you can’t just get feedback once a year. Now you might be lucky that you have a mentor, a colleague, or a boss that gives you continuous feedback. But for the learning loop to work, you need to do something, and then you need to have immediate nimble and quick feedback. And then you need to modify your behaviors. It’s sort of like on a daily basis or weekly basis.

But here’s good news. What we found is that top performers, by and large, only spend about 15 minutes a day trying to learn this way, because they’re doing the job anyway. I mean, the supervisor, her job was to run those huddles and create new ideas. But the way she had questions and the way she organized it, well, there was an additional bit of effort of 15 minutes. It doesn’t take a lot of time. We just need to focus on a few things that we want to improve.

Pete Mockaitis
Just to clarify. You say 50, five-zero extra minutes?

Morten Hansen
No, 15, one-five.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Morten Hansen
Yeah, 50 that’s a lot. But, no, one-five, yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Morten Hansen
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of like that’s kind of a nice rule of thumb in terms of to keep the learning loop alive and well, maybe aim for 15-ish minutes of kind of feedback seeking, reflecting, “how can I improve this” kind of thoughtful time per day, and you’re off to the races.

Morten Hansen
Yes, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Morten Hansen
And add one thing. Use the power of one as a quality. Focus on one skill at a time. Don’t try it with 10 skills. One skill, 15 minutes a day, get that quick nimble feedback, and that’s the way to improve on the job.

Pete Mockaitis
Are you thinking take one skill for a month, or six months, or as long as it takes?

Morten Hansen
No, I would say about six weeks, five to six weeks. And depending on the skill, maybe just four weeks. No, no, you don’t have to – so she was spending maybe several months but they were different skills getting these ideas implemented. But first you’ve got to get the ideas out there in her team, and that was sort of like took four or fives weeks to make sure that she got that going.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s good. Thank you. Okay. Well, now, let’s talk about a couple of the work with others. I’m going to fast forward a little bit. Forceful champions, I think we like some more of those. How can you make it happen?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, so one of the things that’s important to today’s workplace is that you need to be able to inspire/persuade others or assuming you have no formal authority. Because we work with so many other people, colleagues in different departments, they may be your peers, but it doesn’t mean they will support you. They have different agendas. They might be naysayers. They might even be opposing your project, your initiative because it clashes with theirs.

And so you need to be able to navigate that political landscape, if you will, and you need to be smart about it. And so I’ll give you an example of a person, kind of a junior project manager in Dow Chemical, in the name of Ian Telford, that he had his new business idea to create an online store for one of the chemical products they were selling.

And so he proposed his idea to the management team, and they voted him down right away, they didn’t like it. And in the beginning he was very frustrated, he said, “Oh, they are just the old-school type. They don’t understand the internet,” and blah, blah, blah.

But that, of course, doesn’t get him anywhere. So then he started thinking, putting himself in their shoes, he said, “Why would they be against this?” Then he realized that they didn’t like this thing because they now were displaying a lower price online that some of the offline customers who were buying.

So, in other words, they were getting great offline. But, nevertheless, there was that fear that these customers are just going to migrate from the offline high premium high service thing to this online thing. In other words, their concern was completely legitimate if you took the time to put yourself in their shoes.

And then he said, “Okay, given that, I can find a compromise solution, a different pricing scheme. It will work for me.” And then he went back to the management team and now they approved it. And what that story illustrates is that we must take the time to put ourselves in the shoes of other colleagues who have different priorities and get different performance metrics. And if we do that, we can understand why they might be against us or not supporting us. The first step to be a forceful champion.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So you get that understanding and then I’m imagining then…

Morten Hansen
And then you have to tailor your tactics. Now there are two parts to this. One is to inspire people. Now it’s about stirring emotion in others in a right way so they say, “Okay, I am really, really stirred up about this. I’m excited about what you’re trying to do so I’m going to support you.” And here we often appeal to people’s logic, rational mind, and we provide them with numbers, “This is why you should be doing this.”

And that’s not enough. Emotions are not, you know, you speak to the heart, you can’t just use numbers. I’ll give you an example, a terrific example of somebody who did this. There was a low-level purchasing manager in a company, and he was sitting in the office of this global company in Germany, and he was giving this very boring task/project to convert all the paper forms to electronic documents. So you can imagine sitting in that project, and nobody wants to support him and he couldn’t get the resources needed and so on.

So one day, he learned that the CEO of the company was going to come to that office, and he booked a conference room next to where the CEO is going to be for the day. And so then there was a break, and he went up to the CEO and he introduced himself and said, “I just want to show you something next door. It will just take two minutes.”

She he walked with the CEO into this other conference room, and there, on a gigantic table was a mountain of paper, from the table all the way to the ceiling. And the CEO says, “Holy cow, what am I looking at here?” And he said, “You are looking at all the paper forms that we use in this company.” And the CEO, and I spoke to the CEO afterwards about this, and he said, “You know, there was this kind of visceral reaction I had of emotions like frustration and anger, and how can we be so slow. Why do we have all these forms?”

And from that day onward he received the support he needed to complete his project and be successful. And it’s a great story because it illustrates, you need to show not just tell. We want to stir emotions. You’ve got to find a way, whether it’s a pilot project, a demo, or a stunt like this one, to show people what you’re trying to accomplish. And that’s a way of inspiring, and oftentimes we don’t think. But with a little bit of creativity we can easily come up with our own version here.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that is good. And you’re right, it might just be a matter of, “Hey, there are customers who are frustrated.” They’re like, “Okay, yeah, they’re frustrated.” As opposed to you could maybe get a video, it’s like, “Look at the customer and hear the outrage,” or, “Look at the mess that she has to deal with because we can’t modify our service in some simple way.”

Morten Hansen
Yeah, that’s a great example. I can tell that the customer is frustrated, where if I show you in some way, you’re going to have that reaction. It’s a great example. And there was another person who said, you know, she was in charge of office kind of re-modeling, putting people into cubicles and change the office landscape.

And she walked around telling people what she was going to do. And everybody says, “Oh, I don’t want to be doing this. It doesn’t sound good.” And then she sat down on a computer and did a little mockup on sort of like a digital design on how it would look like, not even being an architecture herself, she just did it on her own. And she started walking around with that photo of how it might look like. And people looked at the photo and said, “Oh, boy, that looks nice. I’m on board.” Right? Showing not telling.

Pete Mockaitis
So that’s the inspiration part. Now is persuasion a little something different you want to talk about?

Morten Hansen
Yes, it is, because you can inspire people but if they’re really against it, you need a little more of a forceful tactic there which I call persuasive tactics. And here it’s about understanding why people are against you and they come up with some political maneuvering. So it could be compromise, it could be co-opting people, it could be basically challenge them directly on, it could be building allies so that you are actually are able to overcome the opposition, not do the work on your own.

So, as an example, back again to Telford. He had another problem which was that the IT department in Dow Chemical didn’t want him to build this new website, they didn’t want to have this kind of fragmented approach to IT, and this is kind of entrepreneur out there in one department doing it on his own so they were against this idea.

So, then, Ian Telford, what he did was that he decided to become a model internal customer for the IT department. He went to them and he understood their needs, and he came up with – instead of being nasty with them, he started using their language, started using their forms. And when they first got some customers, he called them up by saying, “This is as much a win for you as it is for me.”

And over time, they became one of his supporters. So he did it by bringing them into his tent and inviting them and trying to understand their concerns again, and he won them over. And had he not done that, they will eventually shut it down, shut his venture down. That’s called co-optation in the academic language. I mean, to be a little, let’s say, crude about it.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it.

Morten Hansen
L. B. Johnson, the former president, apparently, he said the following, he’d invited one of his political enemies into his cabinet. And people were looking at this and saying and telling him, “Why did you bring your enemy into your own team?” And he said, “You know, it’s better to have this person inside the tent pissing out than standing outside pissing in.” Apparently, that’s what he said. And, you know, there’s some truth to that, right? You want to win people over, especially enemies.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is so good. Well, Morten, I think I could chat with you for hours. But could you give us maybe the one- to three-minute version of fight and unite, and disciplined collaboration?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, I’ll give you the short version. So fight and unite is about having better meetings. We have lots of bad meetings and people report a lot of unproductive meetings. Okay, how can we make them better? Well, meetings should be for one thing only – having a great debate. It should not be for state of something. A state of something you can put in an email.

Okay, how do you have a good meeting? Well, it’s either, say, two people, or it’s ten people. You’ve got to have a good discussion. You’ve got to have a good fight. Not a bad fight, but it’s got to be a good fight. You’ve got to be able to ask questions and solicit minority points, scrutinize assumptions, and have a rigorous debate of the best ideas and arguments emerge.

Then you need to unite. You commit to the decisions made because, otherwise, you’re just not implementing what you decided to do. That’s the fight and unite. And that chapter really talks about particular techniques and tactics you can use to do that well. So that’s the fight and unite to improve the meetings and your results because you have better meetings now.

On the collaboration, I talk about the concept of disciplined collaboration which basically boils down to a set of rules for how to collaborate well. The first one is, only collaborate on activities with a great business case, great compelling values, say no to the rest. And then set sharp unifying goals around those collaborations. And then align your sentence, people are actually willing and able to work on this. So you try to staff it correctly and so on. So those are set of rules to do that well.

And with those two, you’re working more effectively with others and, thereby, you’re proving your own results and the results of your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that. Any pro tips on saying no to a suboptimal collaboration in a prudent diplomatic way?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, I do it all the time myself. So I noticed some very effective managers, they do this way. So somebody might call up and say, “We’re forming a new taskforce and we like you to be on it.” And then you’re saying, “Okay, so before I do that, what are you trying to accomplish? What is the value of it?” And if they cannot articulate that, right, sharply then you’re saying, “Wait a minute. Shouldn’t we be doing this?”

You’re asking questions as opposed to saying, “I think it’s a bad idea. I don’t want to do it.” Because when you’re asking questions, people are forced to say, “This is a great collaboration activity.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. Cool. Well, Morten, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about a couple of your favorite things?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, I think that just one more remark. What we found is that small steps can actually produce big results. So when you look at all of these practice, you might say, “Boy, this is a lot. I don’t even know where to begin. It’s overwhelming.” And it isn’t because what you can do is that you can start small and, step by step, you will actually improve your results. That’s what we found in all our case studies.

And so that’s a hopeful message, and I’m doing that myself. I’m saying, “I need to be better at this. And what are the few steps I can take in the beginning and then improve over time?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like it. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something that inspires you?

Morten Hansen

Yeah, I think there is a quote in the book, and I just wanted to think about what is a great sort of way of talking about the do less and obsess. And it comes from Henry Ibsen, who is a Norwegian, he’s one of the most famous Norwegian writers and poets. And he says, “Whatever you are, be out and out, not partial or in doubt.”

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

Morten Hansen
And that can be a fiction, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely.

Morten Hansen
Yeah, Beloved by Toni Morrison.

Pete Mockaitis
And what do you love about Beloved?

Morten Hansen
Just, I mean, writing is so beautiful. I mean, the story, too, of course, but the writing is just incredible.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Morten Hansen
I have a barren computer that has nothing on it except word processing. No internet. No texting. I take it to Starbucks and I can sit there and use it, and I don’t get tempted.

Pete Mockaitis
So there’s like literally no wireless card inside it?

Morten Hansen
Yes. Nothing. I’ve stripped it completely. And if I leave my smartphone at home, I don’t have any connection to the outside world.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is excellent.

Morten Hansen
You should think, “Neat,” folks. It’s just an old computer.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, if somebody attempted to just like swap out an old laptop into, I’m saying, like monitor, keyboard setup on my desk, they’d have to go all the way over, you know, to the other room to get the new laptop to replace it in order to access the internet. That’s fun.

Morten Hansen
And it’s actually quite difficult to get stuff off it. You know, somebody should come up with a service that will disconnect these computers.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s clever.

Morten Hansen
To allow us to focus and concentrate.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Morten Hansen
I think that’s a good question. What is my favorite habit or a favorite I have? I, very much, like to go for a walk in the morning. So I work and then I just go for a walk for 10 minutes, and it helps me to just have a break, a small break.

And I was reading Dan Pink’s book, you know, When about the timing of things, and I just learned there that there’s a science behind it. If you have small breaks, you rewire yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect. Thank you. And is there a particular nugget or articulation of some of your favorite messages that you find really resonates with folks and you hear it quoted back to you often?

Morten Hansen
Yeah, I was thinking about that and I do have a favorite from my own book, I mean, a nugget that I think is important, and people seem to resonate with it. It’s not the magnitude of your effort that counts; it is the magnitude of the value that you create.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Morten Hansen
If we can live by that, we can have so much more impact in our working life without spending all that effort and killing ourselves in the process.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s interesting because, in a way, what you say, it rings so true and resonates so much. And then in another way it’s like the American work ethic, you know, is like, “But you got to work hard.” It’s like, “Well, not necessarily. If the hard work is producing greater value, well, then, yeah, that’s good. But if it’s not, it’s not.”

Morten Hansen
Exactly. If we can stay focused on the value creation and not just the hard work and the effort, we can do so much more with our working life. And, let’s face it, we spend 50% of our time, half of our time on this earth as adults working. Think about how much more impactful we can be if we really apply that dictum.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Morten Hansen
The best place is my website. We have some additional tools and we also have a quiz. You can take a quiz that takes you five minutes, and you can score yourself against these seven practices. The website is MortenHansen.com. So www.mortenhansen.com. Let me spell that M-O-R-T-EN-H-A-N-S-E-N.com, and you can find a quiz there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, excellent. And do you have a final challenge or call to action you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Morten Hansen
Find one specific thing that you can improve and focus on that one over the next four weeks.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Perfect. Thank you. Well, Morten, this has been such a treat. I wish you lots of luck with this book and much congratulations to concluding a five-year plus journey of research and synthesizing all these insights for us. It’s much appreciated.

Morten Hansen
Well, thank you so much and thanks for having me on your show.