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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Gorick

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

 Resources Mentioned

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Gorick Ng Interview Transcript

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gorick Ng
Exactly right.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Are you still able to pull it off?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Dramatic.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Hmm, tasty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gorick Ng
Exactly.

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite book?

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

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite tool?

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

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

670: The Four Keys to Leading Successful Virtual Teams with Darleen DeRosa

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Darleen DeRosa discusses how to build top teams and deliver high-impact work while leading from a distance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The quickest way to build trust in your team 
  2. How to ensure accountability with the ATC model 
  3. Simple, but effective ways to keep your team motivated 

 

About Darleen

Darleen DeRosa, Ph.D., is a consultant in Spencer Stuart’s Stamford office and a core member of the Life Sciences and Leadership Advisory Services practices. Darleen brings more than 15 years of consulting experience, with deep expertise in talent management, executive assessment, virtual teams, top team effectiveness and leadership development. Darleen works with leading companies to facilitate selection, succession management and leadership development initiatives. She is a trusted advisor to CEOs, CHROs and boards. 

Darleen earned her B.A. in psychology from the College of the Holy Cross and her M.A. and Ph.D. in social/organizational psychology from Temple University. Darleen is the co-author of Virtual Success: A Practical Guide for Working and Leading from a Distance (with Richard Lepsinger), as well as other book chapters and journal articles on leadership. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Darleen DeRosa Interview Transcript

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

Darleen DeRosa
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for hosting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’m excited to hear about Leading at a Distance insights. But, first, I want to hear about your love for deep-sea fishing.

Darleen DeRosa
I knew you were going to ask that. Well, people don’t know this and they’re often very surprised for whatever reason, I’m not going to read into that, but I love deep-sea fishing. And wherever I go, whether it’s Hawaii, here in Connecticut, we charter boats and we love to go fishing. And I probably go six or seven times a year. I don’t always catch anything crazy, I’ve never caught a marlin, or anything fantastic, but it is something that I love to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, I have fond memories. I think I did deep-sea fishing exactly once for a bachelor party and the father of the bride fell into the water and it was a heroic rescue, so that story. You make memories when you go on those trips.

Darleen DeRosa
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear, we’re talking about leading at a distance. Can you share what’s perhaps one of the most surprising or counterintuitive discoveries you’ve made while researching this stuff and putting things together?

Darleen DeRosa
That’s a great question. And so, what’s very interesting is I wrote a book on virtual teams in 2011, and my co-author, Jim Citrin, keeps reminding me that that is the most, at that time, it was a very obscure topic even though, as you know, companies have been working remotely for quite some time, especially big companies that are more complex and more global in nature.

So, what was surprising, I guess most surprising to me, is that a lot hasn’t changed. Yes, technology, of course, has evolved and business is more complex and more dynamic, certainly, but, in general, what’s fascinating is that a lot of the best practices that we learned way back 10 years ago actually hold true now and have just become even more important. And so, that’s very interesting to me that there’s not a lot of major profound differences in what we found.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is noteworthy in and of itself. You’d think that we, as workers, would have learned a couple of lessons in a decade. So, share with us, what are some of those kind of foundational things that are still at play and maybe overlooked?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah. So, it’s interesting, there’s a number of things, and we try to make the book really practical. What I really wanted to do here, was have a practical hands-on guide for anyone, anyone who’s managing telecommuters, whether you’re managing remote teams, whether you’re a CEO who’s managing a large complex organization with distributed employees. So, we wanted to make it very pragmatic.

And, interestingly, the topics ranged from everything like, “How do you build trust remotely?” to “How do you coach and hold people accountable who you don’t see?” But one of the things that hasn’t changed, as I was mentioning, even from our early research in 2010, is what we found is that, back then anyway, the best-in-class leaders who are managing remotely do a great job balancing the relationship side of things, the interpersonal components, with the tasks and sort of execution-oriented behaviors. In other words, they don’t overly weigh any one of those and they’re really good at managing that big continuum. So, it’s a big complex role.

And what we do know is that managing virtually is hard. It’s harder than managing people who are co-located in the same room. And leaders have really had to adapt a lot, especially in this current environment where you’re leading through technology, but the best-in-class leaders really do a great job at that, balancing that continuum, and we call that RAMP. So, we frame it as the best-in-class leaders are really good at relationships, which is the R; they hold people accountable, which is the A; they know how to motivate people through a screen basically, people they don’t see, or through a phone; and they can use process, things like technology, which is the P, to engage and try to replicate what they would do if they were in person.

So, that’s one framework that a lot of our clients find practical but like the fact that it’s research-based and comes from data on what differentiates best-in-class virtual leaders.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you tell us a cool story about a virtual leader who was struggling and then employed some of this stuff and had a transformation?

Darleen DeRosa
Absolutely. So, we have a number of those but one of the things, and, again, it’s surprising how we fall back on some of our bad behaviors, and we all do this. We all succumb to sort of those bad habits. Especially, in COVID now, I think people have gotten better but we were working with the CHRO of a global hospitality company and he was so focused on results and he had a very large distributed team. And one of the things that he wasn’t really cognizant of was, “How do you build relationships and trust with your team members but also with one another?”

And so, we talked to him about, “Here are some ways on that RAMP continuum to focus on building trust, and how you infuse collaboration and relationships from a distance.” And so, he started doing simple things, things that you would think, “Well, we should all be doing that anyway.” Like, once or twice a week, he blocked time in his calendar proactively to just give people feedback. He had recognition sessions to thank people on the team. He also would call people, and he actually called these care calls, where he would randomly call people and just check in, no agenda, no real need, but just to say “Hey, how can I support you?”

And his engagement scores and the team’s performance, over a period of time, of course, changed dramatically and were much more positive. So, again, it’s a good example of if we focused too much on any one thing, and we’re not very balanced in how we engage and lead, it can become almost like a strength overdone.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s hear some of those best practice approaches there for each of those four components: the relationships, the accountability, the motivation, and the process. What are some top things people should start doing and stop doing?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah. So, on relationships, and this is by far, when we asked people, “What is the biggest challenge you’re facing?” in our most recent survey for the book, it was that sense of connectivity. So, in other words, if I were to bump into you in the hallway, Pete, or in the lunch room, we could have that spontaneous interaction, and virtually you don’t have that. It’s lacking.

And so, some of our clients have started using apps like Donut, which sounds a little funny, but what it does is it randomly pairs employees with one another all around the world for 15 minutes once or twice a month, and it allows you to create that spontaneous interaction. And some people might think that’s a little strange but it really does replicate, and, again, it’s one example of replicating what you would do if you were in person. So, having a lot of these virtual lunches, building time into your meetings for watercooler conversation.

The chief technology officer that we interviewed at Starbucks for the book, talked about she started using fun warmups at the beginning of her calls, playing Kahoot!, doing Wordles, or Pictionary, putting people in breakouts to do really fun activities. It’s those simple things that really go a long way for relationships. So, those are just a few examples. Again, simple but highly effective.

Pete Mockaitis
And I don’t think I’ve ever played Kahoot! before. What does this consist of?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, they’re like little quizzes and you could make them up. They’re all random topics. They’re just little fun games. And, again, it sounds crazy but it’s just something to get people to get to know one another, because when you’re building trust virtually, it takes a lot longer. So, what we tell leaders is, “The one thing you can control when you’re working virtually is what’s called task-based trust.” In other words, the most important thing as a leader when you’re managing remotely is to help your people get to know one another and find that they are credible and they’re going to deliver on commitments, and that’s really important.

And, actually, this trust is different in a virtual setting. So, basically, invest in building that task-based trust early on and it will go a long way because it takes a long time to build interpersonal trust when you’re not face to face. So, that’s just, again, a very simple technique but something that best-in-class virtual leaders consistently apply.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to building task-based trust, I guess I’m not quite seeing the connection between how the games accomplishes that. Or are there additional practices for accelerating that?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah. Well, it gets people to know familiarity with your background, who you are as a person, your experiences. So, a lot of the games can be around getting to know people so it sounds like it’s task-based but the idea is that it helps build credibility and are simple ways, again, everything together builds trust. But creating fun, not focusing so much on the work, and focusing more on the people is really, really critical.

So, again, we’re not telling people, “Don’t focus on interpersonal trust virtually,” but if you want to get the biggest ROI, initially, helping people learn about one another’s background through, again, it could be fun games, it could be little polls in your virtual meetings, those things have a tremendous impact on trust.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s interesting, and maybe it’s a matter of the terminology we’re using here, but it seems like if we’re getting to know each other better, that’s fun. It has some connections. I know there’s a face and a name and a person and a story behind that. I guess I’m not quite seeing how that makes me think, “And that guy is going to rock out and deliver on the thing I’m going to ask of him or her.”

Darleen DeRosa
Well, yeah, it definitely is the fun component and that’s what I was starting to talk about early when I mentioned the relationship-building piece, the R in RAMP. But, again, it’s almost like it has a dual purpose. So, when people are playing those fun games, especially if people are just getting to know one another, because, basically, no matter what, people are sharing their experiences, who they are through these polls, these chat exercises.

A lot of our clients do fun chats in their meetings, things like, “What’s the first you can’t wait to do after COVID?” “What’s your favorite hobby?” So, it is a way to get to know one another, and sometimes the questions are around projects, which is very linked to task-based trust. So, again, when we think of trust virtually, it’s the combination of task-based trust and interpersonal trust that matters, but it’s easier and quicker to focus on the task-based trust early on. And you can do that through building people’s credibility and helping people get to know their colleagues.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly. And then when it comes to accountability, how do we make that all the better?

Darleen DeRosa
So, this is actually a pretty hot topic virtually because, as you can imagine, it’s hard to know what people are doing. And so, the biggest mistake that we see leaders make is they don’t trust and empower their employees. Now, COVID has been a great example because, in many industries, productivity is actually up right now. It could be masking extreme burnout and fatigue, which is actually well-publicized right now, but, in all seriousness, many people are productive. And I think this COVID environment right now has led some leaders who were very skeptical about working virtually to realize that it actually can work.

And one mistake that leaders make is they’re so focused on when people work, “Is it 9:00 to 5:00? Are they available? Are they doing something with their kids when they’re supposed to be working?” and that actually is a myth, and people will be productive, but you have to empower them and find ways to check in and hold them accountable, of course, but just by empowering them alone, you get higher levels of productivity.

So, you’ve got to change your metrics with accountability. You can’t look at when people are working. You have to look at their output, which is much more important. And that’s why many companies have now started to really change the way they measure performance because it’s much different in a virtual setting.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. So, the clock is not going to be your guide in terms of seeing, “Are people performing well?” And so, what are some of the best approaches to do those check-ins and see the output flowing?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, some companies use software and different technologies to help measure output but, in general, the advice that I give leaders is, “You have to work harder at setting very clear goals for people.” And one of the things we know is more challenging virtually is making sure that people understand the priorities. So, in a more dynamic virtual setting, priorities shift, and if you’re not seeing people in the office where you could do a quick check-in with them, you’ve got to find ways to replicate that virtually.

So, setting clear goals and then being clear about what good looks like, what’s the deliverable, what’s the timeline, and then having checkpoints to actually check in with people. And we call this the ATC model. Again, lots of models today, Pete. But we call this the ATC model because it’s simple and people get it. And what we tell people is, much like an air traffic controller who’s managing numerous flights, “You’ve got to help your people manage a tremendous workload and priorities that are shifting fairly quickly.”

So, the A is really being clear about what it looks like, what’s the product, and being super clear about that with people up front. So, what’s the action and who’s accountable? Sometimes we see leaders say, “The team should do this,” but no one really knows who’s actually on point for that and who’s taking full ownership. The T is timetable, so, “Is it next quarter? Is it May 1st?” Like, what’s the real deadline and being very clear about that.

And then, finally, checkpoints, which is the most important, in my opinion, is, depending on the tenure and experience of that employee, you may need to check in with them more or less frequently, but actually have a conversation with the person to say, “Here’s what we’re going to be working on. When should we touch base? Would it make sense to touch base in two weeks? Next week?” And for people who you’ve known for a long time and might be high performers, you might not need as many checkpoints. For others, where this might be a newer task or developmental task, you might need to check in more frequently. So, the ATC model is a very simple way to make sure that you’re setting people up for success virtually.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, you mentioned some software tools, and I find that intriguing because I guess it will probably vary quite a bit based on what work you’re doing. But it’s really kind of hard to measure one’s true value-add contribution. I don’t know, like if I were to say, hey, lines of code as a metric, or words produced, or invoices processed, in some ways that can be counterproductive to have automated software kind of counting that sort of thing. So, what are the software solutions and what are they doing?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, a lot of it is things like Teams, which now has a lot of like optionality in there for tracking projects and milestones and things like that. A lot of clients use Basecamp, as one example. But it’s less about tracking, like literally what you’re doing, and more about helping the team members stay on track together when they’re working virtually. So, it’s much more collaborative to help track and measure the team’s performance.

So, to store documents, to have the timeline up there, to keep track of things, to have version control for things that people might be working on together. So, technology has continued to evolve significantly, as you know, over the last decade, and I think it will continue to evolve even more in the next five or six years alone. So, those are just some simple things that some organizations are using but, clearly, depending on the role, the complexity of the job, and the industry, there’s a lot of variability.

Professional services, that’s not how we’re measured. It’s more we’re measured on how we deliver to clients. We’re measured on our productivity. But we have internal software to track that, just as one example.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about the motivation?

Darleen DeRosa
Yes, I love this topic because this is very challenging virtually. So, first of all, you’ve to set people up for success, but what we do know is that motivation takes on a different meaning virtually. It’s harder. Virtual colleagues and employees face very unique challenges. And you probably have seen this in this year alone where it’s particularly difficult for people because people are feeling isolated, there’s much less work-life balance with the blur between work and home being gone, so managers have to think differently and really try to be proactive at checking in with people.

People are exhausted and people are burnt out. Again, I’m making a generalization but this is pretty well documented in all the research. So, encouraging people to take breaks and schedule time for their own personal development is very important. Don’t have meetings just to have a meeting. Having meetings for status updates is one of my pet peeves and it’s very unproductive. Encouraging people to get off video. Non-stop video or that Zoom fatigue that you’ve probably read about, Pete, is real because it’s cognitively draining to sit there and stare at a camera all day.

So, encouraging people to take a walk and just talk on the phone is really good. Again, these are just a few simple ideas but really checking in with people, depending on where they are in their own personal development journey is important, and finding time and encouraging people to make time for non-work interaction, the relationship piece that I talked about, is really important.

The other thing that’s very important virtually is you’ve got to recognize people. So, clearly, recognition is important but many leaders are so busy that they’re not doing it proactively. So, one tip I’ll give to senior leaders that I’m coaching is, “Block time in your calendar, even if it’s once a month, and call it your time to recognize people. Send him notes. You can send gift cards,” a Grubhub Gift Card, for example. Again, it doesn’t have to be monetary. Just send someone a text to thank them. It’s simple things that really go a long way to recognize the team.

One of my clients, it’s a pharma company, they have guest speakers come in, they have recognition sessions where they actually get the team to talk about, like, a colleague who’s been helpful to them. And, again, it sounds really simple but these are critical drivers of motivation when you’re working remotely.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And how about process?

Darleen DeRosa
So, process, the most simple thing about process is technology, that’s what we think about. So, there’s a bunch of processes that fit in the P but the one that’s probably most relevant here is match your technology to your task. So, I talked earlier about using technology well. What we learned is that best-in-class virtual teams don’t necessarily have the most sophisticated technology, they just know how to use it.

So, really, as a leader, what’s most important is if you’re going to have a meeting, don’t have a meeting for a status update, that’s just one simple example. Don’t use email to coach someone. And, again, it sounds crazy but I see this all the time. So, you’ve got to be very thoughtful when you’re working virtually about how you use technology appropriately depending on what your goal is and what you’re trying to accomplish.

So, if you’re going to have a tough conversation with someone or you’re going to give someone feedback, do it by video or phone, obviously. It has to be that high-touch environment. So, really being thoughtful about that and making sure that teams are not overwhelmed by technology, that everyone is using the same thing, that’s very important. So, those are just a few quick examples. But this idea of Zoom fatigue is very real.

And I don’t know if you’ve seen like the articles in Forbes, in Fortune, and the Times, HBR actually has an article on this. Basically, people are sick of video. And I think many organizations went to the extreme with video in COVID because they were unsure how to connect with people, but being thoughtful about video, encouraging people to take breaks, some of our clients are doing video-free Fridays, or video-free half days. So, for those of us who are on video nonstop, it actually really matters. So, being thoughtful about how people are working is really important.

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

Darleen DeRosa
So, I think one of my favorite quotes, is from this book Illusions by Richard Bach, and it’s this quote that says something like, not verbatim, but something like, “Every person, all the events of your life are there because you’ve drawn them there, and what you choose to do with them is up to you.” And I love that because, throughout my career as a psychologist, I really believe that we have some control over how we respond to things, how we handle stress, how we handle all of those types of things that really build our resilience, so I’ve loved that quote even from more than a decade ago.

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

Darleen DeRosa
I think one of the ones that has been the most profound for me was one that what I read about in grad school, so a long time ago when I was doing my dissertation on virtual team work. And it was a study that looked at trust and how you build trust virtually. It’s exactly what I was talking about before. It was one of the first studies, it was pretty old at that time even, but it still rings true about, “How do you build that swift trust or that task-based task virtually?” and that it’s actually more important.

And that, again, it’s interesting because I never realized, way back then, how much of this would be part of what I do day to day many years later, this idea of studying virtual teams and helping leaders be more successful remotely.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Darleen DeRosa
One of the books that I love that has been profound in my CEO succession practice is The Leadership Pipeline mostly because I’ve always been fascinated with “How do you identify high-potential leaders?” So, besides the virtual team stuff that I do, that’s a huge part of my work and I’ve been fascinated with, “How do you identify people who have potential to do more? What does that really look like?” and then building assessments around that. So, it is a bit specific but it also has been a big part of the work that I’ve been doing over the last decade.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just kind of curious. And what are some of the top telltale signs that someone has great potential?

Darleen DeRosa
Yeah, that’s a good question and one that we continue to try to evolve on, Pete, over time. But definitely, people who take initiative, which isn’t a surprise; people who are engaged and advocate for their organization; people who have learning agility, which is one of the most important predictors of leadership potential, so someone who’s put in unfamiliar situations who can really thrive; and then, lastly, someone who’s self-aware. So, self-awareness and then they’re able to flex and adapt and learn very quickly. So, I think, again, these are just some of the dimensions that I think are quite well documented when we think about what really defines people who have the potential to do more over time.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Darleen DeRosa
Honestly, right now, video conferencing because, besides all the virtual team stuff that I do, I am on video every day. So, using Microsoft Teams and other technologies I use constantly. But the other thing that I do, and I’ve been using a lot more, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with these tools, but in a lot of my training work where I do leadership development with top teams and companies, we’ve been experimenting and using collaborative software technologies to help teams brainstorm, share ideas, whiteboard, and also have fun while they’re working together in our leadership development virtual classrooms.

So, we’ve been using tools like Mural and Miro which are really fun, innovative, collaborative tools that help people. It almost replicates what you do if you had people around the conference room table, so I love those two.

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

Darleen DeRosa
I think one of the things, this was in an article that I wrote in the Wall Street Journal years ago, and it was this idea of out of sight but not out of mind. And it’s the notion, at that time when I was writing this article, it was something that I said and is now very widely quoted. And, at the time, I was writing about “How do you, as a leader, own your career? And even if you’re not in the same office or geography as your boss, how do you win over a boss who’s remote?”

And I started talking about this idea of out of sight but not out of mind. You’ve got to work a little harder at it. And I do really believe, and it’s a great lesson for all of us, that being virtual or hybrid in this kind of some of us in the office, some of us not, really requires more initiative and ownership, as like us managing our time, managing our calendars, and taking initiative to reach out and not just rely on our boss or manager reaching out to us. And I think that’s really important.

And I think it’s actually more true than ever because most organizations, about 80% of companies, are going to land in what we call a hybrid environment where you’ve got some people in the office and some people at home. And, frankly, that is the most challenging environment to manage in because of lack of equity, some people feeling like they’re not next to their boss, they might not get cool projects so they might not get promoted. So, that is the hardest model to manage in but it’s going to be the one where most organizations land.

And so, I think this idea of trying to create an even playing field is going to be really critical for all of us as leaders in the next decade.

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

Darleen DeRosa
They can go to my LinkedIn page. They can go to the SpencerStuart website. We’re actually going to be putting up some pretty cool self-assessments and technologies, or quizzes rather, that people can use as the book launches. So, the SpencerStuart has a Leading at a Distance page that people can go to as well.

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

Darleen DeRosa
I would say get feedback. That is something that I believe is true. Again, super simple but let me end with this one statistic. In our first study in 2011, this was based on 50 global virtual teams that we ended up publishing in the book, more than two-thirds of the leaders were not seen as effective by their boss and other stakeholders, and they had no idea.

So, the biggest learning, again, under this idea of taking initiative and really owning your own career, it’s important to ask for feedback, and most of us don’t do it because we don’t want to hear it necessarily, but even if you don’t want to hear it, people might be thinking it. And so, what I would encourage us to do is to step outside of our comfort zone and check in with people more because it’s more important in a virtual setting where you can actually course-correct and make some improvements.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Darleen, this has been a treat. I wish you all the best as you lead from a distance.

Darleen DeRosa
All right. Thanks so much, Pete. Appreciate it.

621: How to Banish the Four Habits of Time Wasting with Steve Glaveski

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Steve Glaveski says: "Focus on what you can control, not what you can't control."

Steve Glaveski reveals how to unlearn the four habits that make us time poor.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why we often feel like we get nothing done 
  2. The simplest way to keep others from stealing your time 
  3. Why we achieve more when we have less time 

About Steve

Steve Glaveski is an entrepreneur, author and podcast host whose mission is to unlock the latent potential of people so that they can create more impact for humanity and lead more fulfilling lives. 

Steve is CEO of Collective Campus, an innovation accelerator based in Melbourne and Singapore, and founder of Lemonade Stand, a children’s entrepreneurship program and now, SaaS platform, that has been delivered to kids across Australia and Singapore. Steve is also the author of Employee to Entrepreneur: How To Earn Your Freedom and Do Work That Matters, the children’s picture book Lemonade Stand: From Idea to Entrepreneur, and the newly released Time Rich. 

Steve hosts the Future Squared podcast. His work has been featured in Harvard Business Review, the Wall Street JournalForbes, the Australian Financial ReviewTech in Asia and numerous other outlets. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

 

Thank you, sponsors!

Steve Glaveski Interview Transcript

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

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much for having me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your wisdom but, first, we need to hear about your relationship with heavy metal and performance in a tribute band.

Steve Glaveski
Wow, that’s a great question, a great place to start this. Well, I always say that you’ve got to cultivate a positive relationship with adversity, put yourself in all sorts of uncomfortable places, and then everything just becomes easier. So, one of those uncomfortable places for me was wearing zebra-print pants, a snakeskin cowboy hat, and makeup in an ‘80s metal tribute band called Ratt Poison, that’s R-A-T-T, paying homage to the band Ratt many, many years ago now. I think I was about 21 at the time, and, well, I’m still a big heavy metal fan, and that was a great experience. Although I do recall snapping a string at that particular performance and spending about 10 minutes trying to fix my guitar while the band played without me. So, trial by fire, but, yeah, that’s my heavy metal story, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Now you said that this was an uncomfortable position, so you didn’t seek this out, it was thrust upon you?

Steve Glaveski
No, look, I joke. I was looking for a good way to introduce that but, ultimately, I loved it. Like, it was a lot of fun. I mean, looking back now at those photos, they can be used to incriminate me or can be used against me, but I proudly have them up on my Facebook account. So, Pete, if people want to look for that photo, they can find it on my Facebook profile.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. It sounds like a rich use of time. How’s that for a segue? Your book is called Time Rich, which sounds like an awesome thing I’d like to be. Can you tell us, what does it mean to be time rich?

Steve Glaveski
It really means living life according to your values. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you wake up in the morning and you spend all day in your underwear watching Netflix. It really comes back to having the time to invest your hours, your very few hours, into things that give you a more rewarding experience of life. So, for some people that might be working longer hours, for some people it might be spending more time with family but, ultimately, I think it comes back to how you choose to spend those hours, and spending those hours in high-value activities.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds like the ideal. Can you tell us kind of what’s the state of affairs right now in terms of how much of us, how many of us really do that?

Steve Glaveski
Very few of us do that. I think a typical person now is spending about 12 hours a day staring at screens. That’s actually gone up since the pandemic just because we find ourselves watching more Netflix and YouTube and whatnot. But if you look at what we’re spending our time doing with those screens, particularly now when it comes to work, people’s way of work, we’re effectively taking what we did in the office, which was 50 to 60 interruptions a day, which was 40 to 50 notifications, push notifications popping up on our screen all day long, which was responding to emails within five minutes of them being received, checking email every six minutes, we’ve taken that and we just put it all online.

Like, instead of a one-hour face-to-face meeting, it’s a one hour Zoom call. Instead of taps on the shoulder, all day long it’s a Slack message. It’s actually worse now because we’ve got that Slack channel or the Microsoft Teams channel up all day long, and the red light is always going off, new notification, so we’re bouncing back into that all day long.

And what that does for us in terms of our focus, effectively we’re paying a cognitive switching penalty because every time we switch task, it can take us up to 23 minutes to get back in the zone. And when we’re in the zone, when we cultivate the ability to get into flow, we’re about five times more productive. When we’re totally immersed in one task, the rest of the world seems to fade away and the hours just fly by, we’re way more productive. But we’re in this state of hyper-responsiveness where nothing gets done, and we can be “busy, busy, busy” all day long but have very little to show for it come the end of the day.

And just to close the loop on your question, Gallup ran a study last year which found that 85% of people are either disengaged or not engaged by their works. So, any 15% of us are engaged by our work, which comes back to these organizational cultures where either we’re not aligned with the values of the organization or we’re just not given a sense of control to actually get stuff done because we’re spending all day long in meetings, we’re being interrupted all day long, and we’re glorifying things like inbox zero, which demonstrates that we’re really good at responding to other people’s demands on our time at the expense of our own priorities. So, my sense is that very, very few people are doing the utmost with what little time they’re given.

Pete Mockaitis
Now that 23-minute stat, I think that sounds familiar, like the Microsoft study with email. Is that where that comes from there?

Steve Glaveski
Oh, that actually comes from an organization called Advanced Brain Monitoring in the United States who ran a study on the flow state. It also echoes a study that McKinsey ran, a 10-year study around high executives where they found that when these executives are in a flow state, they are up to five times more productive.

There’s also another study that Advanced Brain Monitoring ran where they found that even micro tasks switches, so a notification pops up on your smartphone and you see it but you don’t tap on it, you just notice it. That one-tenth of a second micro task switch, over the course of a day, they found that that can add up to about a 40% productivity loss because even if you’re in flow, and you notice that, that’s enough to kind of take you out of flow and it’s going to take you time to get back in. Not only does it compromise our productivity but this constant sort of recalibrating our minds around a different thing, it can leave us exhausted as well.

So, we can find that by, say, 1:00 P.M. we’re feeling spent just because we’ve spent the first four, five hours of our day just shuffling between browser windows madly instead of just focusing on that one-high value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, this is quite fascinating because when you said 23 minutes, I thought, “Oh, that sounds like the 24 minutes associated with the Microsoft email study.” But it’s a completely different study which arrived at a very similar number, which I find intriguing and validating. So, can you share with us some details on what was going on in terms of how we tested that and got to that 23-minute figure?

Steve Glaveski
So they basically got a number of control groups and it required a little bit of objective feedback in terms of the interruption and how they got back to it. So, they would look at a performance of, say, marksmen who were able to get into flow in terms of how well they hit the bullseye. And what would happen was they would leave them be to just, say, extended stretches of time of, say, 30 to 60 minutes to just work on their craft, and they performed at a much higher level than when they’d been, say, interrupted or when someone came over and had a quick conversation with them.

And then they’d look at the first, say, 5 to 10 minutes thereafter, as opposed to, say, 20, 30, 40 minutes thereafter when they’d had more time to just really hone in and get in the zone, and it’s kind of the same as, say, you might find if you meditate. The first two or three minutes, there’s a lot of monkey mind going on, but then 5, 10, 15, 20 minutes in, a lot of that stuff kind of starts to fade away and you really get into your element.

So, they ran these studies across a number of different fields where they basically took someone’s performance shortly after an interruption and then compared it to their performance 20, 30 minutes in, and there was a vast difference in that. And then after they’d been interrupted, how long does it take them to get their performance up to that sort of optimal level.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, okay. Well, so there we have it. I mean, it seems like there’s plenty at stake here in terms of whether or not you’re engaged at work, whether or not you’re having fun, whether or not you’re doing well, you’re executing at a high level and just sort of ultimately getting more stuff done during the course of the day in terms of whether we are in flow and doing things well in a time-rich fashion versus kind of just jumping and being scared all over the place with notifications and emails and interruptions in a time-poor fashion.

So, tell me, what are the best interventions, super habits, practices, tips and tricks, for those of us who want to cut out the time-poor behavior and be all the more time rich?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So, a good visual mnemonic that will help your audience is TYRE. So, I say when it comes to our personal productivity, we’re carrying around spare tires which effectively slow us down. So, the T stands for task switching. So, the best thing you can do there, actionable step is you turn off your notifications; that’s a really easy one. But the second one is really cultivating the ability to focus on one thing for extended periods of time. So, using something like a Freedom app or BlockSite to block Twitter, to block these app sites you’re inclined to jump into, and then just, “Yeah, let me just quickly check my notifications.” And that can send you down the Twitter rabbit hole for half an hour. The other thing there is also the browser windows. Like, rather than having 20 browser windows open, just focus on one. So, these are like some actionable things you can do in terms of that environment.

And then the other thing I would do on task switching is it’s like cultivating any habit. Like, if you’re not used to going to the gym, it can take you a while to get into that. But cultivating the ability to sit still on one task for 30 to 60 minutes without switching, that also takes effort so you might want to start with, say, 15 minutes and work your way up.

Environment design is important too. If you want to build new habits, cultivate an environment where it’s easy to build that new habit, where it’s easier to break bad ones as well. So, I’ve touched on a couple of them there, but also if I have my phone right next to my desk, and I was going to reach for it but I don’t have it here, which speaks to what I’m trying to communicate, it’s much easier for me to just pick that phone and just check Instagram quickly and do things like that. So, whatever you can do to build a habit free of distraction, build an environment free of distraction, do that.

And then the second piece on building that…

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, if I may, before jumping to the I of TIRE, so this 30, 60 minutes of not switching, you say that could be hard. We might just need to start with 15. I think maybe it might be beneficial to paint a picture in terms of when we say not switching, I have a feeling you have a higher standard of this than most of us. So, give us an example of when you say, “Hey, okay, for the next 15, 30, 60 minutes, I’m doing this and only this.” What can be some examples and then what are we not doing? We’re not looking at any notification or ding or beep or buzz whatsoever or visiting any place. Paint a picture for us.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, look, I’m a writer so I spend a hell of a lot of time staring at my Google Docs module, and if I am writing a thousand-word article, I am not checking my phone, I am not checking other websites, and there are no notifications popping up on my screen. I’m focusing purely on the task of writing. Now, there may be, while I’m writing, I might need, say, a reference of some kind to help me elaborate on things but I’m going to go through one round first.

So, if there is a reference that I’m looking for, I might just make a note of that in the article, and write, “Reference,” highlight it in yellow, and keep on going. Because if I stop every 50 words to seek out references, that can slow things down. I want to write it first and then go off and do those other things because it’s, in a world of four million blogposts being published every day, it’s so easy for us to get stuck in content rabbit holes. And, again, we need to be honest with ourselves because it can be easy to conflate doing stuff with being productive because, ultimately, we derive a lot of self-worth from our work, but we need to make sure that we’re deriving that self-worth from productive activities rather than just stuff that makes us feel busy.

So, that’s essentially my definition of not task switching which is really focusing on not just the one task but also, “What’s the task within the task?” because writing, it could writing, it could be researching, it could be fact-checking, there are different elements to that value chain of writing, but focusing on that one task within the value chain of writing at a time.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Yeah, I really like that about the task within a task. And then I guess that’s where things get tricky is when you need to get something else to do the thing you’re doing, whether it’s inside your email, or whether it’s inside a reference, or whether it’s inside your phone text message history. That’s what trips me up in terms of it’s like, “Oh, I need to get this thing in order to finish what I’m doing.” But then as I go to that other place, I’m besieged with all the other stuff, and I hate it. How do I fix it?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that’s a great, great question, and in some cases, you might get to a point where, “Look, it’s a dead end, and I need to jump into my email to get this widget, to get this attachment, whatever it is, to continue with my work.” So, of course, you need to do that. Now, I would say that in some cases there are tools that exist. So, for example, if I need to quickly write an email but I don’t want to be besieged by all of my new incoming emails, well, there’s widgets like…or plugins rather, like Google Chrome’s compose email plugin, which will just open the Compose email window so that way I spare myself seeing my inbox. Or, it might be that if I’m jumping into my inbox to get an attachment, well, in that case, I might see those other things coming in.

At the same time, I think it comes back to building that muscle and cultivating the ability to be like, “Hey, I see you. I see you, email, but right now I’m working on this other thing, and I’ll get back to you later.” So, that comes back to nothing new. I mean, people have talked about batching before, but really batching the checking of email to, say, three times a day, which is something I talk about in the book where a study showed that once people check email more than three times a day, their sort of emotional wellbeing starts to fall off with it. There was like an inverse correlation, the more times you check email throughout the day and how good you feel kind of tapers off.

So, batching that, whether it’s morning, mid-day, end of the day, and just having that time specifically for checking and responding to those emails is better than sporadically doing it throughout the day. Now there’s probably all sorts of reasons why people feel worse off when they do that. It might be just that they’re spending all day on shallow-level tasks, they’re not getting any high-value work done, and that could be part of it. It’s kind of like Netflix is all, well, and good, but if you spend four hours bingeing a TV series, you feel terrible at the end of it. Like, it’s just shallow-level work. You get into sort of a vegetative state and it can be that that would also happen with that email as well.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so let’s hear what the I is in TIRE.

Steve Glaveski
So, I is actually Y, so we’re going with that definition, so it’s higher. But, basically, so the Roman philosopher Seneca once said that, “People are frugal when it comes to guarding their personal property but not so when it comes to their time,” which is the one thing which is right to be stingy with because time, unlike money, cannot be earned back once you spend it.

So, Y essentially stands for yes, saying yes to all sorts of demands on our time, oftentimes at the expense of our own thing. Because, as human beings, we have a tendency, well, not a tendency, we have a predisposition to wanting to be liked. So, if someone requests something of us, we say yes. If someone sends us a meeting request, in most organizations it’s expected that you will say yes, and that if you say no, well, that’s going to create a bit of a tension there between you and that person that invited you. But every time you say yes to something, you’re saying no to everything else.

So, there is a lot of narrative, if you will, particularly in startup ecosystems where they say, “You know, if you say yes to everything, you create serendipity,” and that’s true but, at the same time, you’re saying yes to one thing and you’re saying no to everything else. So, being more diligent about what we say yes to, and making sure that that stuff really aligns with our goals, is going to help us get close to those goals.

But the one other thing that I would say on that is when it comes to meetings, for example, at Basecamp, if you want to book a meeting with someone else’s calendar, you just can’t do that. You need to sell the meeting to them. You need to, like, why is their contribution going to be valuable at this meeting. Whereas, in many organizations, there is just this tendency to just call every man, woman, and their dog to a meeting, and you have, like, 10 people sitting around a Zoom call nowadays, when, really, you might only need two or three people to be there.

One example I can talk of there is Dominic Price who is the resident work futurist at Atlassian. So, he uses this really useful visual of boomerang and stick. So, for so long, his calendar was basically back-to-back meetings all day long, all week long, and after a while, he said, “Look, I can’t keep working like this, I can’t work on my own goals, and I’m not just finding that my time is really optimized attending all of these meetings.” So, he started saying no, and two-thirds of those meetings didn’t come back so they were effectively sticks. He sent back the meeting rejection; they didn’t come back. One-third did and he called them boomerangs.

So, it might be that two-thirds of the meetings that you’re attending yourself, particularly if you work at a large organization, could be proverbial sticks, if you will. And just by saying no, you might save, as was the case with Dominic Price, 15 hours a week that you can reinvest into your own stuff as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s really inspiring because I think you said, perfectly earlier, like, yes, there’s this fear associated with, “If I say no to this meeting request, I’m going to create some friction, some tension,” and it sounds like that was not the case for Dominic in terms of he said, “No,” it’s like, “Oh, okay.” Well, I don’t know, maybe they were furious but it sounds like they were just fine with it, it’s like, “All right, that’s fine.” And then the one-third was like, “No, seriously, I really need you.” He’s like, “All right then.”

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, that’s a pretty simple filter then right there. And do you have any pro tips on how we’d recommend saying that no?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, definitely. So, rather than just saying, “No, I will not attend your meeting. It’s not of value to me,” it comes back to human psychology, trying to empathize with that person, make sure that they understand your own position as well, and say, “Look, I’m currently working on XYZ. It’s a high priority for me. I need to get it done by then. I don’t think that my presence at this meeting will be of value but if there’s anything I can share that you think is valuable, I’m happy to email that along. If you think, for whatever reason that I absolutely have to be at this meeting, let me know why and I’ll come along.”

So, it’s just about, I suppose, taking the edges off somewhat and just being human with your rejection. It’s the same as anything. Even last week, I had organized for someone to appear on my podcast, and in line with this philosophy of not saying yes to everything, I had them come back and say, “Oh, you know, our AV guy wants to set up a 30-minute or 15-minute test call.”

And we’re a small team with only so many resources, and I don’t do test calls with anyone, so I went back to them and said, “Look, I appreciate that. I’ve never had any issues with AV. We’ve got a good setup. I’ve published 400 podcasts episodes. I have a small team and we’re very diligent about what we say yes to because if we say yes to one thing, we might find ourselves saying yes to everything, and I won’t have any time to focus on our goals. I hope you understand.” And they were completely fine with that, they responded and said, “Yep, totally understand,” and just about doing it that way rather than just saying no off the bat.

But, ultimately, what’s better than that is just getting to a point where your organization has a culture where you’re not expected to say yes to things and the onus is with the people requesting the meeting to say why you need to be there to spare you from having to say no in a very sort of diligent way.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. That’s great. And if there are superior solutions, like I think, I don’t know what it was called, it’s like Online-Voice-Recorder.com or something like that, is something I’ve sent people to in that very context in terms of it’s like, “You see if it’s recognizing your microphone, and if you record it, if it sounds good. And then if it does, then that’s really the hard part. So, we’ll be all set by the time we’re meeting up here.” So, that’s great. And then it’s probably for them, too, in terms of they don’t feel embarrassed, like, “Oh, I’m sorry, Steve. Let me try to unplug it and then refresh, and sorry.” Okay, you can be there on your own with no self-consciousness, so everyone is better off.

Okay, so we got the T, we got the Y. What’s the R?

Steve Glaveski
Residual work. So, many of your audience will be familiar with Forrest Gump, and there’s this classic scene in Forrest Gump where he’s playing college football, and he was running towards the end zone, he gets there, he’s got the touchdown, he just keeps on running right into the change room, he takes out one of the band members on his way there. And this is essentially how we tend to approach a lot of our work where we don’t stop at the point of diminishing returns. We just keep on going. And so, we might spend, say, four hours putting together a sales presentation, but then we might spend another four hours tweaking it, working with the formatting, making it absolutely “perfect,” at the expense of just saying, “Okay, we’ve created most of the value. Let’s stop. Let’s move onto something else.”

And so, high performers tend to have a good relationship with that point of diminishing returns, and this is something that I find myself doing sometimes as well, and often it comes back to doing something that’s familiar, that’s comfortable, and that gives us that sense of being busy, again, at the expense of starting something new. Because when it comes to switching and starting a task afresh, something that’s perhaps somewhat challenging, our brain needs to recalibrate around that, it’s like staring at a blank page, you can get writer’s block or coder’s block or whatever block is associated with your work.

And the way around that, again, comes back to just breaking that up to its smallest possible unit, and getting started on that, and getting those wheels rolling because that comes back to Isaac Newton and his first law of motion, “An object at rest stays at rest. An object in motion stays in motion,” which effectively means that once that ball is rolling, the amount of energy you need to apply to keep it rolling is much less than what’s required to get it started in the first place.

So, when you do find that you are at that point of diminishing returns, stop, maybe go for a 20-minute walk because that helps us release some BDNF, brain drive neurotrophic factor, which is like our cavemen brain sensing movement as a fight or flight moments, and that helps us focus. So, taking that walk, coming back, and starting on that fresh task, breaking it down to its smallest residual part, getting that ball in motion, and once it’s in motion, it’s so much easier to do that.

And the benefit of this is we’re not talking about this over one day, but if you do that over, say, a hundred days, you’ve saved yourself countless hours just kind of tweaking stuff, inconsequential activities that you do on a task long after it’s been done, and you’ve actually spent a lot more time working on high-value activities. So, the compounding interest benefit, if you will, over long periods of time is significant.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, what are some telltale signs that you are approaching or have hit or have passed this point of diminishing returns?

Steve Glaveski
You’ve got to be objective based on your own work, so it’s hard to answer that without knowing the kind of work that people are working on. Like, I know myself that if I am getting into that state of just doing stuff because it’s comfortable, because it’s easier than moving onto something else, I have a pretty good relationship with that. Like, yes, there is value in, say, writing an article and then going over and making sure it’s spellchecked and it sounds good and everything else.

But once you’ve done that once or twice, you might just yourself scrolling up and down, and just looking at it ad infinitum, and that’s perhaps the point where you want to move on and go to something else because it really depends on the individual task at hand. I can’t think of a perfect way that we would say, “Okay, here’s a telltale sign around when you have hit that point of diminishing returns.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I think that’s…I’m picking up what you’re putting down there with regard to you kind of know it when you see it and feel it with regard to, “Has anything useful happened here in a while?” Like, for me, I find it often occurs like maybe I was in a good groove for like 90 minutes plus, and I’m still working but it’s more of a coasting at that point than a creating new stuff, and it’s like my brain is tired but I haven’t yet acknowledged that my brain is tired.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, you might find yourself, like if you work in social media, you might spend a bit of time putting together some content, and then you go off and you publish it, and then you might just find that you’re spending too much time refreshing the screen and seeing what kind of engagement you’re getting. Now that’s past the point of diminishing returns. People might say, people who work in social media will say, “Well, that’s part of my job.”

But, like the email, you can batch that. You don’t need to be doing that refreshing the page every five minutes, and then while you’re there, checking out some of the other things that have been posted, going into analytics and doing all these little inconsequential things that perhaps you should be batching once a day, and then moving onto another activity.

So, again, that comes back to that sort of the value chain of work, “What is the nature of your work? What’s the value chain within a task?” And batching that stuff rather than finding yourself kind of just in this hamster-on-a-wheel sort of mode. And the value in that case was creating the content, publishing it, and that’s it. But refreshing the page ad infinitum? That obviously isn’t a high-value activity.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And I think you’re really nailing something there with regard to when there’s real-time stuff happening. It’s funny, we’re recording this on Election Day in the U.S., you’re in Australia, and so there’s a lot of refreshing I think going on in a lot of places to see, “What’s the news? What are the numbers? And how are things potentially unfolding?” But I found that that is a temptation, like when I’ve done my listener surveys, I’d refresh, “Ooh, we got two more. We got two more. What do they say? What do they say? Ooh, they love the show. Great!” It’s like, “Ooh, we have three more.” So, there’s that real-time temptation, I think maybe people who if they’re doing trading in the financial markets as well.

And so then, as I’m thinking about this real-time, it kind of gets back to, “Hey, what am I trying to accomplish in this moment?” And there may be a great reason to say, “Okay, hey, I just launched a survey, and I want to see the first 5, 10 results right away to see if maybe I had a really unclear question, and folks are not actually giving me answers that are what I’m after, or they’re confused, or skipping it. So, yeah, I do want to check, maybe repeatedly, in the early moments to do a quick correction and make sure I don’t let it run for five days and get 200 responses that are not what I wanted because I was unclear with my question.”

So, in a way, I think that that’s super helpful to do that refreshing, it’s not a diminishing return. It’s a great return. But other times, it’s just like, yeah, it’s almost like you go into a state of, “Duh, refresh anymore.” It’s like there’s less life and juice and drive and goal domination going on in terms of how it feels in my psyche.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, which comes back to what I was saying earlier, like you know it when you see it, essentially, when it comes to that point of diminishing returns. And what you’re talking about there is so valid as well. I’m not a big fan of absolutes and all-or-nothing type of advice or guidance on anything. I feel like most things in life exist on like an inverted U, like stress as well. Like, “No, stress is not a really good space.” I mean, some stress actually helps us get to that point of optimal performance. So, that inverted U, you want to look for that space at the very top of the inverted U, or the bell curve essentially.

Pete Mockaitis
Or an N, lowercase N.

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, whatever the case it is, lowercase N, but then you’ve got two like peaks, so. But, essentially, finding that space. So, yes, maybe check it for a little bit, get the feedback you need. It’s the same with running an ad. You want to run an ad and you want to see that it’s performing in the early stages, and if not, you want to tweak the ad and make sure that you’re getting a better click-rate, for example, that you’re reaching the right people, whatever the case is. But if you’re sitting there, refreshing the ad all day long, “Oh, our cost per click has gone down a little bit. Oh, we’ve got a few more clicks now,” like that is obviously the point where you’re like, “Okay, let’s move onto something else.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, we got the T, the Y, the R. And the E?

Steve Glaveski
So, the E, essentially, I suppose dovetails off something we touched on, which was the path of least effort. So, human beings, biologically, we’re predisposed to taking the path of least effort. I mean, that comes back to evolutionary wiring whereby tens of thousands of years ago, when we were naked running around the African savannah, we didn’t know where our food would come from, and so we needed to conserve energy for extended periods of time in case we needed to hunt out some prey or evade some predators.

This now shows up in our work when we sit down to our desks and we take that path of least effort, checking Twitter, LinkedIn, and so on. And we already touched on some of the ways to circumvent that by breaking things down to their residual parts, environment design, and cultivating the ability to get stuck on the most difficult task perhaps first thing in the morning or first thing in the afternoon, whenever it is you tend to do your best work, which is something we touched on in the book as well, which is that about 50% of people are actually night owls, which means they do their best work 10 hours after waking. Otherwise, if you try and get a night owl to work an hour after waking, they actually suffer from a form of social jetlag, which can also predispose them to developing anxiety and depression over the longer term.

So, this whole idea of getting people to the office at, say, 9:00 A.M., getting them out of bed at 7:00, particularly if they’re night owls, it’s really detrimental to their health, but not only their health but their ability to perform at a high level. So, when you think about the fact that about 50% of the population are night owls, like they have these preferred sleeping patterns but they’re forced to get to work early, and I think it’s encouraging to see that now with the move to remote work at scale, hopefully more organizations stay that way.

It does create the conditions to move to more asynchronous communication where we’re not expecting real-time responses, where we’re not conflating presence with productivity, and people aren’t expected to be on Slack all day long and expected to all be on these back-to-back Zoom calls. It does give people the ability to design days as it best suits them, as it best suits their biological predisposition, the realities of their lives, their families and everything else, and they can get work when it best suits them.

And, ultimately, that benefits everyone. It also benefits the organizations because if you can create those types of cultures, it also is a compelling recruit tool because people want to work at places where they can create their own days as it best suits them but also work in organizations where they can actually get stuff done and not be bogged down by bucketloads of process and policy that just gives them no sense of control or agency over their work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Well-said. Well, so I also know you’ve got a take on the eight-hour workday. Lay it on us, are shorter workdays better and why?

Steve Glaveski
Sure. So. Shorter workdays, there is no yes or no answer. Ultimately, a six-hour workday experiment was something we ran two and a half years ago and I wrote an article about this for Harvard Business Review and called “The Case for the Six-hour Workday.” And what you find is when you have a shorter workday, if you’re an organization that has a lot of bloat, that isn’t intentional about how it goes about creating value, a shorter work day forces you to focus on high-value activities. It’s a forcing function.

So, one, it will force you to, say, automate and outsource rudimentary process-oriented lower-risk activities so that your people aren’t doing that. Two, it will force you to focus on, say, high-value tasks. So, applying the Pareto principle, focusing in on those 20% of tasks that create the majority of the value rather than just focusing on those low-value tasks that feel good, that you’ve done because you’ve always done them before but don’t really move the needle forward. It forces people to cultivate the flow state, to get better at getting into that deep-work state, do away with those notifications, those distractions, and those meetings that inhibit our ability to do our best work. So, a shorter workday will help you in that regard. So, if you do have a lot of bloat, and you’re working at eight-hour workdays, and you come back to six, you will find more productivity.

Now, over the past couple of years, there’s been a trend as well to four-day work weeks. We saw Microsoft Japan run a four-day work week, and they suggested that their productivity improved by 40%. Now, me, personally, I would argue that five shorter work days is better than, say, four longer ones because if you have created this environment and culture where people can get into flow and people can do that for, say, the max amount of time, which is about four hours a day, maybe five, then if you’re keeping them there for, say, eight hours for four days a week, that suggests that maybe there’s two, three hours of waste there rather than running, say, five days at four or five hours a day, which I think is more beneficial if people are spending that time in flow.

Now, again, there’s something to be said about not all hours will be in flow. Like, for example, you may have to have some meetings. There is collaboration that’s required at organizations, there are things that need to get done where you’re just not working in isolation, so that’s why adding maybe a couple of hours to that workday, so it’s six hours rather than just four, I think makes sense.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And you mentioned automation and outsourcing. Do you have any favorite tools or services or tricks?

Steve Glaveski
Yeah, look. I think Zapier, for me, is probably one of the most powerful ones. So, Zapier, or IFTTT, which stands for If This Then That. So, these tools will basically help different tools speak to each other. So, recently, during the pandemic, I spun off a media company called NoFilter, and one thing we found was taking up a lot of time was getting people that we had paid to take Google Docs that our writers had developed, take them, copy them, paste them into our CMS and publish that.

So, we created a very simple automation between, say, a web HTML form and our CMS so that our writers will just plug the content right into the HTML form, and that would get picked up by Zapier and come into our CMS, so then us, as editors, we just jump into that CMS and we just need to publish it, or we might need to just make some changes if we feel like the content is not good enough, or just delete it if it’s crap, right? But that saves us a lot of time copying and pasting, but it also meant that we could operate at scale because, then, we could reach out to a lot of different writers, and say, “Hey, if you want to write for us, here’s the online form. You can republish some of your old blogposts too and we’ll link back to that, and we’ll give you an article links and whatnot.” And that just helps us make the process a lot more seamless. So, that’s one.

Another example is tools like repurpose which help you effectively repurpose content for different platforms. So, you can think about something like recording a Facebook Live video and then using a combination of tools like Zapier, Repurpose, record posts, for example, where that Facebook Live video could get turned into a transcribed blogpost, an audiogram, a YouTube video, and social media post with a click of a button essentially.

Now, again, inverted U, sometimes there is an element of personalization that can get missed with that but these tools are slowly getting better and better, but just by recording that Facebook Live video, you can have all these other forms of content basically at the click of a button, and that just means that we’re creating a lot more content, we can reach larger audiences, and it saves us a hell of a lot of time in trying to manually create different versions of that content ourselves.

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

Steve Glaveski
There are a couple. Another couple of tools people might want to look out for: WebMerge and Airtable. So, I mentioned earlier our sales presentations, we use Airtable to automate our sales proposal generation, right? So, rather than having to manually seek out, “Hey, where’s that proposal we prepared for that client about six months ago?” getting that PowerPoint or keynote, and then manually putting that together, we’ve created this tool where all we do is plug in the prospect’s name, their logo, and choose the color scheme, and also just choose what products they’re actually interested in, and this will spit out a presentation that we might spend 5 to 10 minutes customizing. And, over the course of the year, that also saves us a bunch of time when it comes to just automating these rudimentary process-oriented tasks.

So, I would challenge people that whatever task you’re all currently working on, like whether it’s customer service, sales, marketing, testing, administrative tasks, like so many things can be automated, and the cost of doing so is not high, but a lot of people will say things like, “Yeah, but I haven’t got time or money to do that,” but it’s kind of ironic because over the long term you actually end up spending a hell of a lot more time and money trying to do it yourself rather than just spending that time upfront which will pay itself back in orders of magnitude.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. That’s what I found. It’s like it’s not so much that you don’t have time, it’s just that it’s kind of hard and tiring to figure it out and execute it and set it up, but once you do, yeah, I’ve had many instances of setup a system and a process with a combination of training someone to do something, and software doing something, and bring them together, and I spend two hours and it saves me 40 hours. There’s not a lot of 20-to-1 returns to be had in your investments, but when it comes to time and automation outsourcing, there’s many, many to be done.

Steve Glaveski
Many, many. One quick one there, just on that 20-to-1, if you look at things like a five-minute task done five times a day, like if you just outsource that task or automate it, that saves people something like 15 days over the course of the year, like if you extrapolate that five minutes out. And that’s just that five minutes, like we’re not even accounting for the fact that you need to stop what you’re doing to do that task and then come back to what you were doing, so the task switching as well.

So, it doesn’t need to be a big task to save a lot of time, but it’s the small task that you’re doing often, like even five-minute tasks, think about outsourcing that as well.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’m a big fan of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditation, And one of the quotes in his book was, “When you have power over your mind, not external events, realize this and you will find strength.”

So, essentially, I think that navigating life in that way where things will happen to you that perhaps aren’t pleasant, things won’t go your way. You might pursue business and perhaps it doesn’t work out, but you have control over your mind and how you choose to interpret and respond to these things. Just by having that sort of mindset, it just opens you up to trying things where you might fail and you might not be good because so many of us suffer from a sense of paralysis when we’re scared that things will not work out our way.

I’ve tried to cultivate that adversity in my life just by doing things that scare me. Like, last year, I hit the standup comedy open-mic circuit here in Melbourne, and I did five shows. Now, I’ve done keynotes and things of that persuasion in front of hundreds of people but getting up in front of a crowd of ten in a smokey back-alley bar somewhere and trying to make them laugh, man, that’s scary. Doing these things just, I find, optimized not only your life but just predisposes you to taking that path of more effort rather than the path of least effort. And, oftentimes, even if you fail, you end up in a much better place.

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

Steve Glaveski
One that I pulled out during my research for the book Time Rich was around some group of scientists that…so there was three control groups: so one was working 20 hours a week, one was working 35 hours a week, and the third was working 60 hours a week. And what they found was that the group that was working 20 hours a week was twice as productive as the 35-hour a week group, and the 60-hour a week group was the least productive of all, which they found came back to the fact that the more hours these groups had, one, they’d spent it on non-consequential tasks, but, two, they also had less time to rest and rejuvenate and come back as the best version of themselves. So, that’s why the 60-hour a week group were just the least productive of all.

So, that comes back to something I talk about in the book, which is burnout. Burnout essentially, where that comes from is the fact that us, as human beings, we might be present on a Zoom call or in the office, but if we’re burnt out, we’re only physically present. On the inside, we’re a shadow of our former selves, and that’s kind of like a house that’s been ravaged by a house fire. It might still be standing but if you go inside, everything has just been burnt out to a crisp. So, that’s an interesting study that I think validates some of these thinking around shorter work days and focusing on high-value activities rather than just conflating hours with output as we might, say, on the factory room floors of the industrial revolution.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Steve Glaveski
For now I’m going to say Ray Dalio’s Principles just because he is someone who’s been in the trenches for a number of decades in the funds-management space. His initial business failed, he effectively came up with ways to codify decision-making based on what’s worked in the past but also adaptive decision-making in a way where he will update his worldview based on new evidence that comes to light which is a core of the scientific method, but just lots of principles in there which I think help us navigate not just business and life.

For example, multi-order thinking, so not just thinking about, “What’s the benefit of making this decision but what are the consequences? What are the second, third, fourth order consequences of this?” So, it’s just a chock-full of these principles that effectively help us better navigate life essentially.

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

Steve Glaveski
It’s really about a quadrant that I drop on a whiteboard once every quarter. So, not a fancy like tech tool or anything like that, but I just draw up this quadrant and I just write in each corner start, stop, more, less. And so, I’ll do this with my business, I’ll look at, “What should we start doing, stop doing, do more, do less?” And I’ll apply this to sales techniques, marketing channels, products we’re selling, customers, geographies, real targeting, all that sort of stuff, so that every period of time we’re always optimizing, we’re cutting away wastes, and we’re doing more of what works, we’re introducing new things that we perhaps haven’t tried. We’re always experimenting.

But it’s also a valuable tool that you can apply to your own life in a sense that, “Hey, here’s what I should start doing, stop doing. Hey, here’s what’s not really working for me. Perhaps I need to stop doing this, and perhaps I need to be more of a friend to these people,” whatever the case is. But being objective with that and just taking the time out to stop and reflect, as Mark Twain urged us to do, and actually act on those reflections, I think, just helps us get to a place where we’re just living more contended lives.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And how about a favorite habit?

Steve Glaveski
Just getting started to the most difficult thing first thing in the morning, whatever it is. It might be a gym workout. It might be writing a 1500-word article. It could be anything, but I find that if I start my day achieving something, then that kind of permeates the rest of my day in a way. And not only that, but there is something to be said about dopamine release that comes with accomplishment, that comes with achieving something, that puts you in a better state of mind as well, which then, in turn, impacts how you show up with the people around you, and impacts the energy that you bring to the rest of your work. So, for me, that all just starts with making my bed first thing in the morning and then going from there.

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

Steve Glaveski
Focus on what you can control, not what you can’t control. I think that’s a big one. So often, people don’t delineate between the two and find themselves getting wrapped up with what they can’t control, and that’s really putting yourself in a place of victimhood narrative. There’s nothing you can do about that other than make yourself feel like crap. So, really delineate between the two and focus on influencing what you can control and the stuff that you can’t control, well, there’s no point working yourself up over it because it’s essentially outside your locus of control.

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

Steve Glaveski
I’d point them to SteveGlaveski.com. They can find all of my links to businesses, social media, books, all that sort of stuff over there. And if they want to learn more about Time Rich, they can do so at TimeRichBook.com. They can download the first chapter for free as well as a 30-page document of Time Rich tools over at TimeRichBook.com.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Steve, it’s been a treat. I wish you all the best in being time rich.

Steve Glaveski
Thank you so much, Pete. It’s been an absolute pleasure.

577: How to Manage and Engage Remote Teams with Kevin Eikenberry

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Kevin Eikenberry says: "Leadership first, location second."

Kevin Eikenberry discusses the small, but powerful changes leaders must make when managing remote teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The foundation of successful remote teams
  2. How to measure your remote team’s productivity
  3. Top tips for facilitating better online communication

About Kevin

Kevin Eikenberry is a world renowned leadership expert, a two-time bestselling author, speaker, consultant, trainer, coach, leader, learner, husband and father. He is the Chief Potential Officer of The Kevin Eikenberry Group, a leadership and learning consulting company that has been helping organizations, teams and individuals reach their potential since 1993.

Kevin also is the creator and content developer of The Remarkable Leadership Learning System, a continual leadership development process focused on developing the 13 competencies of remarkable leaders with virtually delivered content to leaders worldwide. Kevin and his family live in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Kevin Eikenberry Interview Transcript

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

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s awesome. I’m glad to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m glad to have you. And one fun thing we learned about you in stalking you is that you have an antique tractor collection.

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I have an antique tractor collection. The first question people ask is, “Do you mean like real tractors?” Yes, 13 of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Thirteen real full-size tractors?

Kevin Eikenberry
I also have spread around this office, I have toy tractors of different ages as well.

Pete Mockaitis
So, please, how did this come to be? And what is your fascination with them?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I grew up on a farm, and my grandpa u sed to say, “You can take the boy off the farm…” which I largely did, “…but you can’t take the farm out of the boy.” I own the farm I grew up on, started the hobby, if you will, 21 years ago. It became a hobby I shared with my father, and then he passed away unexpectedly and I’ve continued it. It’s a way to connect to my kid-hood, to my adulthood. It’s created a bunch of great memories for me. And, like most things in life, it’s not really about the tractor. It’s about the why underneath it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so do these antique tractors work or is it sort of a mixed bag, more for show?

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s a mixed bag. I have some that people that do this would say are parade quality or show quality. I have others that run, I have a couple that aren’t currently running, but I don’t have any that are like torn apart in 3700 pieces, anything like that.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I, one time, went to a tractor pull, and it was a unique event. So, I grew up in Central Illinois so that’s not so outrageously a thing to do.

Kevin Eikenberry
Completely outrageous, yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But it was interesting to me not knowing much about tractors, how much people got into it, like, “Good pull, buddy. Good pull.” But toward the end, it’s like these tractors didn’t even look like they did farm work. They were more like the sports car tractor.

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah, exactly. Depending on what kind of tractor pull you went to, they weren’t anywhere close to being an actual tractor. So, my collection ranges from 1939 to 1966, is the range of the tractors.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, so I don’t have a poor segue but maybe you’ll give me one. We’re talking about long-distance leadership. And I’d love to know, so you put together this book The Long-Distance Leader. What would you say is the most surprising and fascinating discovery you’ve made while researching and putting it together?

Kevin Eikenberry
So, I think, I don’t think it was the biggest thing I learned during it, but I think one of the biggest things that people can take from it, and, of course, now lots of people are living in this world in a forced way, is that the first rule we mentioned in the book is the idea that it’s leadership first, location second. It’s not that everything changes, but lots of little things change. And, as one of my mentors told me a long time ago, Pete, little hinges swing big doors.

And so, there’s a whole lot of little things we got to get better at, nuances we need to take advantage of and pay attention to that will help us be effective in leading a team when we don’t see them every day.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you say leadership first and location second, do you mean in terms of your priority for how you’re allocating your time, attention, resources, and growth? Or, what is the first and the second that you’re getting at?

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah, there’s some truth to that. There’s some truth to that we need to remember that we’re leaders and be leading. And we’re only leading, by the way, Pete, if people are choosing to follow us, right? So, that’s the first thing I would say. And so, part of the message is don’t get worried or lost in, “Oh, my gosh, I can’t see them. Are they working?” So, don’t get lost or worried about the location, but we must recognize the location, and because of the fact that we’re not in the same place, we have to be more intentional and work harder.

So, in other words, everything we had to do in leading people when they were down the hall, still needs to happen. May need to have more of it but don’t forget what you already knew, transfer those habits to what you need to change and adjust to do it when people aren’t right down the hall.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, in summary then, what would you say is fundamentally the same and unchanged versus, indeed, unique here in the remote world?

Kevin Eikenberry
We’re leading people. They’re all different. They have unique needs, wants, etc., and so we must work harder to understand those things and understand those people so they will still choose to follow. I believe that our job as a leader is to create a sense of commitment and not just try to create compliance. So, to do that at a distance requires us to b e more intentional, more focused, more diligent, because we have to continue to build those relationships.

Some of the things that happen without us even thinking about it at the coffee pot. Someone pops their head into the office, none of that is going to happen when we’re at a distance, so we’ve got to be more intentional and more focused to make those spontaneous things, serendipitous things, happen when they can’t be that way anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so then I’d love to hear your take from lots of experience with working with lots of people. What would you say are the top one to three struggles or surprises or challenges that remote leaders, when they start doing it, go, “Uh-oh,” they’re having a tough time with?

Kevin Eikenberry
They have trouble with figuring out, “How are we going to communicate with each other?” and the frequency of that communication. They have trouble, oftentimes, with trusting their teams, which often manifests itself as micromanagement. And they have a lot of trouble with coaching and holding people accountable often. I would say those are three areas that often show up early.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, then, well, tell us, what are some of the best pra ctices there in terms of addressing each of these?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, so the first thing, we can’t create clear accountability unless there are clear expectations. And, foundationally, for us as leaders, and I’ll talk to the leaders and to the team members here for a second, okay? So, we need to, as leaders, be setting clear expectations for our folks. Because if they don’t know what’s expected, how can they possibly deliver? And if you’re on the other side, as a team member, out working from home or wherever, and not seeing your boss, your leader, your manager, you need to be making sure that you know what those expectations are.

So, don’t just say, “Well, they haven’t told me.” Instead, say, “I need to understand them so I need to make sure that I’m clear on what they are.” And once we’re working remotely, Pete, the expectations aren’t just about what needs to be done, but also how we’re going to do it, because so many things that sort of just happen, were obvious when we saw each other in the hallways and we could commit in someone’s office, it doesn’t happen anymore, so we’ve got to make sure that expectations are crystal clear in both directions. And if we don’t do that, we can’t get accountability, we can’t really do coaching until we have that set. So, that’s one of them.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take there in terms of arriving at those crystal clear expectations transmitted and received, are there any key questions or approaches you use to ensure that you land there?

Kevin Eikenberry
Step one, as a leader, make sure you’re clear yourself, which often isn’t the case. So, just because you think you know and you roll your eyes because they’re not delivering, you can’t even make it clear to them yet, so you got to get out of your head and written down. So, when I’m coaching leaders, in fact I have a conversation with one of them tomorrow, the challenge was, “Okay, tell me what you really do expect. Don’t just tell me. Write it down then we can talk about it, because until you’ve written it down, it’s not clear enough. Thoughts are fuzzy, words bring clarity.”

Once you’ve got it written down, then you can share it with the other person. So, you can’t make it clear to them until it’s clear to you, and seldom is it clear enough. You are too vague and too high level usually, or too close to a job description and not close enough to clearly what we want. I’m not talking about creating a situation for micromanagement. What I’m talking about is creating a set of boundaries and lanes so people know where they’re headed, why they’re headed there, and how they can succeed when they arrive.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Lovely. So, you write it down, and then you…

Kevin Eikenberry
Then you have a real conversation, which means don’t just go, “Okay, I wrote all this down. Let me email it to you. Any questions?” Don’t do that, first of all. And don’t just say, “Well, let me read all these to you.” Rather, send them, and say, “Hey, I want us to have a conversation, make sure we’re clear on expectations.” And as we’re having this conversation, a lot of people who are listening to us are now maybe 60, 80, 90 days into working remotely for the first time, or leading remotely for the first time, right?

And so, maybe we got by for a while, the honeymoon is over. It’s still okay to have this conversation now, say, “Hey, listen, Pete, I’ve put together some thoughts. I want to make sure we’re on the same page about expectations, so I’m going to send this to you. I want you to review it. It’s meant to be a draft for us to have a conversation about. Then I’d like for us to meet and talk about it. I want to make sure it makes sense to you, it’s clear. Did I leave anything out? Does it leave any questions for you?” etc.

Then when we get on the phone or perhaps on a video call, then I need to start by saying, “So, Pete, what are your questions? What are your thoughts? What’s missing?” Because as the boss, as the leader, there’s a power differential between you and I, right? So, if I do all the talking first, there’s nothing left for you to say.

Pete Mockaitis
Gotcha.

Kevin Eikenberry
So, if I want a conversation, I have to engage you in it first or early. The more I talk first, the less likely you’re going to say anything even if there’s a high level of trust between us, even if you are pretty self-assured and self-confident because just of the unspoken nature of the power differential between us.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. So, there we go with the communication. Let’s talk about the trust next.

Kevin Eikenberry
So, the trust piece is, well, people will say, “Well, if I don’t see them, I don’t know if they’re working.” Well, you don’t know if they’re working anyway, right? Just because they happen to be in their office, and they happen to be typing away on the keyboard, you don’t know if they’re working unless you’re looking over their shoulder, which I surely hope you weren’t doing before.

People get lost in activity versus accomplishment. What we want is to accomplish things, not to be busy. I don’t care if my team members take a time in the middle of the day to go for a walk. I want the team to know it, in case you’re trying to get a hold of them, but I don’t care when they do their work. I want the work to be done successfully. And, especially now, we may need to allow people to be flexible about how they actually get it done, if they’ve got other issues like teaching school while they’re trying to work.

So, the reality is if we can stay, as a leader, focused on accomplishments and not activity, we can let go of all this garbage about, “Well, I don’t know if they’re working or not.” Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Absolutely. And it’s intriguing because before, the phrase “work from home” often just sort of had scare quotes in it because I’m always working from home so for me I really mean it. But it’s like, “Oh, I’m working from home, wink, wink, wink.” And so, it’s intriguing there because some folks really aren’t doing much with the activities, but it sounds like where you’re going with this is if the accountability is clear and the expectations are clear in terms of the output and achievements, then it’s like, whether they’re working 10 hours or one hour, they’ve accomplished all that they were supposed to accomplish.

Kevin Eikenberry
It really shouldn’t matter. If people can get their work done in two hours, then maybe you’re not giving them enough to do, or that you’re not using them to their potential. That’s a different subject than what we’re talking about right here. Now, if you’ve got someone who’s working remotely and they’re on a call center, they need to be customer-facing, or they can’t be away from their desks, that’s a different thing. But for many of us who are working from home, that doesn’t matter whether you do it at 2:00 p.m. or 2:00 a.m. sort of it doesn’t matter. And as a leader, I should let go of that because what I want is I’m investing in this person to get an output that creates a profitable exchange. And so, as long as that’s happening, that’s what I should be focused on.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I’m with you. And let’s talk about the coaching now.

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, so we kind of went to the coaching first when we talked about expectations. I want to come back to the communication in general. They’re connected, of course, but the communication in general is chances are, once you’re working remotely with folks, you’re going to need to communicate with them more frequently than you were before because you don’t have any of the happenstance, and you probably need to be a little more formal about it, and here’s why.

Like, right now, I’m in our offices, I’m the only one here. I’ve been the only here for 60 some days or however long it’s been now, but when there were a couple of people that were here part of the time, then they could see if I was available, they knew if I had a minute or not. Now, they don’t. They look at my calendar, it looks busy, and so they don’t reach out, not because they don’t want to, maybe not even because they don’t need to. And, in part, in my case, I think it’s because they’re honestly thinking about my time.

However, it ends up a phone call that ends up, “Hey, Kevin, I know you don’t have much time. I’ll make this quick.” And all of the conversations then become very transactional. We get no interaction. We only have transaction. And we, as leaders, got to make sure that doesn’t happen. I’ll get back to how to do that in a second. But what we need to do is schedule those times, and we need to be reaching out to each other, talking about, and this is part of the expectations of how, about how often we’re going to interact and have those one-on-ones. Why? Because, otherwise, they’ll not happen. And more of the times we have to be way more intentional about all this.

And here’s the other part, you got team members who are thinking you don’t trust them. So, we hear all the time, “Well, my boss is just checking up on me.” Well, if we pre-scheduled a rhythm for these conversations then it’s not going to feel like checking up, it’s checking in, because we’ve already decided we’re going to have this conversation. Kevin didn’t call or Zoom you or Slack you because, in this moment, he decided he wanted to figure out what you’re doing. We decided that at 10:00 o’clock on Friday we’re going to chat. Does it make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That makes sense. And so, then with the coaching portion of that chat, do you coach differently remotely than you do when you’re in person?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I would say a couple of things. Number one is whenever possible, use the video cameras because we’ve got more cues from the communication perspective, we have better sense. You and I had that better right now than if we were only on the phone.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right.

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s certainly a lot more than if we were only doing it via typing, right?

Pete Mockaitis
What the audience doesn’t know is that we’re looking at each other.

Kevin Eikenberry
We are looking at each other.

Pete Mockaitis
But that’s not…

Kevin Eikenberry
I’m looking at your bookcase, and you can’t see mine, you can’t see one of the eight in this office because it’s off to the side. But the point is that if we’re going to coach, we need to make it as close to face-to-face as we can, as much as we can. That’s the first thing. The second thing that I would say about the coaching piece is that every time we have a one-on-one, there are opportunities for coaching because coaching isn’t just about, “You’re screwing up and we need to fix it.” Coaching is also about, “You’re doing awesome. And how can we do even awesome-r?” Right?

So, all coaching is, “How do we help people continue to advance in the direction of a desired outcome?” And so, I think that we ought to be, as we create this rhythm, have the opportunity for coaching to not be an event but an ongoing process.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Good deal. Thank you. Well, so you mentioned, you rattled off a number of tools, Zoom, Slack, etc. I’d love it if we could touch that for a moment in terms of you’ve seen a lot of stuff. What do you think are some of the greatest tools available?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, first of all, it’s always a danger for me to say ones out loud because then people say, “Well, that’s not the one we use.”

Pete Mockaitis
And they’re changing, what people are using.

Kevin Eikenberry
And they’re changing, right? So, we’re writing this new book called The Long-Distance Teammate, we had this long conversation, “Do you use those words?” In the last three months, Zoom has become a verb, right? A lot of people have never heard of it until a few months ago. But I would say this, chances are you already have tools that will work just fine. What you need to do is two things. Learn how to use them beyond the 20% you got, and then use the right tool for the right thing.

So, for example, there’s good times to use email and there’s better times to use your instant messaging tool, be it Slack, or Microsoft Teams, or whatever it is. So, the point is it’s not like, “Well, I think Slack is better than Microsoft Teams.” It doesn’t matter. Pick one. Don’t let there be in-squabbling about, “Well, I like this better than that one.” Pick one, set clear expectations as a team about when we’re going to use which tool for which job, and then use them for the right reasons not because it happens to be the one you like.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, could you maybe give us some category of tool, good use for it, and bad use for it?

Kevin Eikenberry
Email is not for a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Kevin Eikenberry
All of us have been in the third email in, right? That’s not going well. Someone needs to pick up the phone or do something else, right? At some level, as long as you and your team, or you and your organization, have agreements, that’s the most important thing. Have agreements about how you’re going to use which.

But let’s just take your instant messaging tool versus your email. Now I’m talking about how we do it. If it doesn’t need to be responded to in the next hour or two, email is fine. And we’re not expecting people to automatically respond to an email that quickly. We’re a little more so with Slack than with email in our case, our instant messaging tool that we use.

So, shorter, synchronous, instant message. Longer, really needs to be asynchronous or could be asynchronous, email. That’d be one way to look at it. Another thing is if you’ve got multiple tools that you can use to do video, for example. You’ve got a Zoom thing. Like, in our case, because we work with clients all over the world, we’ve got, like name them, we got them all.

But we, as an organization, say that when we’re communicating with each other, it’s either this one or this one, not all of them. One of these two. And for the most part, if we’re having a two-person conversation, excuse me, it’s Zoom. If we’re having a larger team, it happens to be GoToMeeting. That just happens to be how it’s evolved for us. The most important thing is know how to use your tools, know how to use most of their capabilities, and then get agreement with everybody about how you’re going to use them.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say, you mentioned 20%, like we only know 20% of how to use Zoom or a given tool, what are some sort of features that most people are just leaving on the table? Like, “Did you know you could do this? You can. Maybe start doing that.”

Kevin Eikenberry
Here’s a simple one. If you’re in a meeting room, in a conference room, you’ve got a whiteboard or flipchart and you’re using it, maybe not using it as well as you could but you probably are using it. Pretty much all these tools have that. Are you using it there? Do you know how to use it there? One example. Do you know how to, if you’ve got a Brady Brunch screen with 12 of you, or whatever, and that’s driving you nuts, do you know that you can change it so you only see the active speaker?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Kevin Eikenberry
There’s two simple examples. We could go a lot further but there’s two simple examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so, when you mentioned asynchronous communication, there’s email. One of my favorite tools for asynchronous communication, personally, is Loom with a screen-recording videos that are super zippy. Anything else that maybe is not on most people’s radar but should be?

Kevin Eikenberry
I don’t know that I have. I mean, there are some pretty cool tools, or bunch of them. There are some pretty cool tools that allow you to shoot quick videos that you can then include. I will give you one that you may not know. Did you know that you can send someone a video message in LinkedIn?

Pete Mockaitis 
Oh, yes. I do.

Kevin Eikenberry
At least, as far as I know, you can still only do it with your mobile device. You can’t do it from here, but you can send someone a more personal note. So, that’s probably more for networking, or staying connected with other people, or for sales and marketing roles within your team, there’s an example. I’m always open to finding new stuff, but I’m always concerned when people just keep hopping, “Oh, we got to try this. Oh, we got to try this. Oh, we got to try this.”

Let’s see what we’ve got and what works with it before we start looking because, again, a lot of times we’re not using the capabilities of what we’ve already got, and we create some amount of…especially the larger our team or organization, we create a whole lot of new angst and spinning of wheels by introducing new tools before we use the ones we got.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. And so, when it comes to knowing how to use them and using them well, part of the game is to just be aware of the features that are in existence when you click different popups and dialogues and submenu items. And I think, beyond that, there’s also how we conduct ourselves as humans when, say, on a Zoom or video call. Can you lay out some best and worst practices that we should be aware of?

Kevin Eikenberry
Before we got there, I want to say one more thing back to where we just were, and that is the way to learn these tools is two things. Watch other people using them well. And, number two, don’t try to figure them out when you’re live. Go into the tool and practice. This sounds so simple but people don’t do it. You’ve all been in a meeting, “Well, how do you do this?” And someone else is trying to tell someone else how to do it. You could’ve taken 10 minutes ahead of time and already figured it out without the stress and the pressure, and wasting everybody else’s time.

So, to your other question now, how do we behave on a Zoom call? Is that kind of the question?

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, I mean, I think there are some sort of givens that don’t need to be articulated. But, at the same time, there are other stuff that you’ve probably seen hundreds of times that annoys you like crazy. So, spell is out for us, what should we start and stop doing?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, the first thing is people need to be focused on what they’re doing, and multitasking is a myth, and we shouldn’t be trying to do it. And so, one of the many reasons I love people having their webcams on is it’s harder for them to multitask. I mean, it’s pretty obvious if they’re looking away or doing something else, right? So, on my team, webcams are on, mute is off. In other words, unless you’ve got ambient noise that doesn’t allow it, or in the past, you’re in an airport, you’ve got a barking dog, the reality is I want your mics open, if at all possible.

Why? Because that helps you stay more attentive and stay more connected, and it helps the meeting be more natural. It’s never going to be quite the same. There’s still the hesitations and the interruptions and all that stuff, but we take a lot of that away, people are talking, “Hey, you need to go off of mute,” and we lose all of our momentum and all of our rhythm.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so true.

Kevin Eikenberry
So, set some clear ground rules as a team about how you’re going to do some of those things, first of all. Next thing is put a background behind you. And you can do all those things if you don’t want people to see where you’re at. You can do all sorts of things to change that. But, more importantly, is set yourself up, if at all possible, so you don’t have light behind you so we can see you.

We don’t need to look like you’re in witness protection, you don’t have to have professional lighting, but you just need to orient yourself so that when you look at yourself, can you see your face just like you want to see everybody else’s. So, those are a couple of simple little things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what I love about that mute tip so much is that, one, it’s counterintuitive. I think everyone thinks, “Oh, I should mute it so that I’m not annoying everybody.” And, two, it’s sort of like I think people already have some resistance associated with speaking up. And there’s all this research which suggests that just removing a little bit of friction just can go a long way in driving behavior. And so, if you want more people to participate and have more engaging interactive exchange, well, that mute button is providing just one more little bit of friction to make it less comfy.

Kevin Eikenberry
“Oh, I can’t find the mute button,” blah, blah, blah.

Pete Mockaitis
“I have a thought but it’s not that important and I’m going to have to reach for my mouse to unmute it, so I’m just going to hold it back.”

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah, like when you say it like that it sounds kind of silly, but the reality is it’s friction.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, it’s true, how we work.

Kevin Eikenberry
It’s friction in the system. So, let me give you a tip around this for the leader and as a member of the team, because even if you’re a leader, you’re in a bunch of meetings that aren’t your meetings, right? So, first, as a leader, you need to, if you want people to engage, we said this earlier on a different topic, if you want the team to engage, you’ve got to engage them early. If you don’t engage them early, the longer you do the talking, the less likely they will engage so you’ve got to engage them early.

And the second thing you need to do, as the leader, is facilitate better, which means more directive in terms of asking for input because, again, there is friction and there’s reasons, “Oh, wait, I’m not sure. I think someone else is going to say something.” That friction exists in the room, but when we get on Zoom or in a video conference setting, it’s enhanced. So, I will say, “So, hey, we haven’t heard anything from the marketing department yet,” or, “How about someone on the West Coast or in Pacific Time?” or

I was teaching a two-hour virtual session earlier today, and I had some people that, for some reasons, had to be on mute. And I said, “Hey, James, I’m going to give you a chan ce to get off mute. But before that, Keith, what do you think?” What I want to do is set him up to succeed in sharing something valuable, and ask questions that they have answers to. Like, “What do you think? What’s been your experience?” those kinds of questions will happen, help.

Now, if I’m on the participant side, it’s not my meeting, recognize that chances are the leader wants you to participate, “Oh, that’s true.” Assuming that’s true, then be a little more proactive, be a little more bold. What might feel like you’re jumping out on a limb, probably isn’t. It’s probably actually helping you be more, what I would call, ethically visible. You’re not trying to grandstand. You’re just trying to contribute. And so, don’t be afraid or, to say that in a positive way, I encourage you to be proactive and share your thoughts when you have them.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that. So, let’s see, I want to make sure I get some tasty morsels that caught my eye in your book. You said, “Leading successfully requires understanding not just what they’re doing but what people are thinking.” How do we pull that off to get that understanding of what people are thinking?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, we’ve got to have more conversations. Let me go back to one other thing about the conversations we need to have, especially remotely. let’s say, Pete, you and I are having our weekly one-on-one call. The first thing I need to do is not dive into my list. First thing I need to do is start with a little bit, and maybe one minute, maybe three minutes, it depends on the person and the relationship with that person, I want to start with, “So, how is it going? What’s happening?” And, especially during this whole COVID thing, that’s been a super important point. We need to talk about something besides the work first so that we start to create the sense and continue to nurture the relationship, number one.

And the second thing is I encourage all of my team members, and I encourage all of our clients to do the same, if we know we’re having a weekly one-on-one, or whatever the frequency is, I’m always creating a list of things that I can save for that conversation with you, and I’m asking you to be doing the same. So, everyone in my team calls it the Kevin list. So, I always start with, “So, what’s on your Kevin list?” If I go first, we may not get to theirs. If I’ve got something we got to get to, I make sure we get that done. That’s not a problem. But, really, what I’m after here is to get more of their thinking earlier.

So, if I start finding out what they’re wondering about, what their questions are about, I’m getting a better chance to get inside of what’s going on for them, what their worries, concerns, anxieties are. And by really creating conversation, then I have a chance to ask those questions to learn more and to be more observant about those things as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. And by having this running list, you also reduce all the other options, they’re all bubbled together.

Kevin Eikenberry
That’s a whole episode right there, Pete, about how we manage our time and the productivity around that. There’s no doubt about it. If we both know that we’re meeting on a regular rhythm, and the rhythm for me with my team members isn’t the same for each person based on who they are and the role that they play and the five or six other things. But if we know that, then if something comes up that goes to the top of the list and we need to talk, of course we talk.

But by having that regular rhythm, there’s a lot of things that it doesn’t have to be, “Oh, by the way, I just thought this as I come down the hall,” and we are both interrupted. You were interrupted and so was I, right? Now we just put that down, we’ll get to it, it’s all good. If it’s really urgent, we’ll talk about it. No problem.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. All right. In chapter nine, you have a golden suggestion for working with others. Did we already get it? Or what is it?

Kevin Eikenberry
not do unto others how you want to be done unto. It’s do unto others how they want. So, in other words, always focus on “What would work for them? How can I communicate it in a way that will work for them not what I would want, but what will work best for them?” So, it’s shifting, it’s still thinking about it’s more empathetic, more outwardly-focused approach.

Pete Mockaitis
And how does one get to that understanding? I imagine you have to ask, you have to discuss your preferences and needs and habits, and how things flow well for another.

Kevin Eikenberry
Hopefully, if you’ve been leading a person for a while, working with someone for a while, you’ve started to figure some of that out. If that question that Pete just asked you, “Oh, I’m glad he asked that question,” then it’s probably time for you to step back and be a little more observant, number one. but you can come out and ask, “Hey, I’ve been doing it this way for a while, Pete. Is that working for you? Would there be a better way than that? Hey, when we had that exchange, I didn’t feel like it went super well. It felt maybe I was misinterpreted. Can we talk about it? I want to make sure what I could’ve done differently or better.”

So, we can do all those kinds of things, of course. We should be asking for feedback, Pete, to help others get better. But there are other tools, too, like whether for you and your organizations, it’s Myers-Briggs, or if it’s DISC, that’s what we happen to use. But some sort of a tool or assessment or model that gives us all a sense of where people are in general is helpful. We don’t want to put people in boxes but those kinds of tools can be helpful too.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And then how do you think about politics in the world of remote leadership?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, people think, sometimes people think about politics as a negative, right, “Well, I don’t want to play office politics,” or they think, “Well, I’m remote, some people are in the office and I‘m not, so I can’t play those games.” So, I don’t think you want to make that such a negative thing. The human condition is that we make decisions based on who we know and what we know about them. So, I think building relationships and trying to keep our conversations in a positive vein, and not getting into all the gossip stuff, of course, is very helpful. But I wouldn’t cast a pall over the word politics. We can be seen, we can be effective, we can be influential without it being scummy. How about that?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Thank you.

Kevin Eikenberry
I don’t think I ever said the word scummy on a podcast before, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
We break ground. We’re innovatives over here. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Kevin Eikenberry
No, you’ve asked great questions.

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

Kevin Eikenberry
James, the book of James, chapter 1 verse 2, “Consider it pure joy, brothers and sisters, because…” now I’m going to paraphrase the rest “…because through trials and challenges, we have the chance to grow in the Church.” So, I think especially now, that when there seems to be challenges around us, if we consider it all joy, to say that there’s good that will come, we must look for it. And even in the challenge is opportunities for us to grow.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you give us a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, I’ll just mention one that was in The Long-Distance Leader and also will be in The Long-Distance Teammate. Bettina Buchel wrote a piece that talks about richness versus scope in communication. The idea is that the richest communication is the face-to-face, nose-to-nose, across the table conversation, right? But that is not much scope, it’s just two people right now, that’s all there is. Scope is something like a mass email. It has a tremendous amount of scope but not much richness. And so, using the idea of richness versus scope and trying to balance those to help us pick which communication tools might help us is a useful model.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Kevin Eikenberry
Okay. I knew this was coming and it’s an impossible question. I read probably a hundred books a year and so, on one hand, I would say the one I’m reading now, but instead I’ll give you three.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Kevin Eikenberry
And they’re all old, right? The Bible, Think and Grow Rich, and How to Win Friends and Influence People would probably be where I’d go. All of them have had, and continue to have impact on me. They all are examples of timeless principles that we can continue to apply even if context changes.

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

Kevin Eikenberry
You know, I knew you were going to ask me that question, and I’m going to say, I’m actually going to say LinkedIn, and maybe because, I’ll say it for two reasons, number one is I’ve been fortunate and blessed to have the chance to work with them and have some LinkedIn Learning products, and so I love it from that perspective. But here’s the thing, of all of the social media channels, at least for what I see. There’s a much higher ratio of useful versus noise. And I think maybe people overlook it a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
I agree. And how about a favorite habit?

Kevin Eikenberry
Reflect. We have a tremendous amount of opportunities to learn from what we have experienced, both what has gone well and what hasn’t, and most of us don’t take near enough time to reflect, not only on what happened, but what to do with it now that it has happened.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And is there a particular nugget that you have shared that really seems to connect and resonate, and gets quoted back to you often?

Kevin Eikenberry
I think I say this a lot, that there’s a big difference between deciding and doing, and the difference is action.

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

Kevin Eikenberry
Well, they could certainly go to LinkedIn. They can go to KevinEikenberry.com. We’ve got a number of websites related to the various books and all that stuff. But if you can remember how to spell my name, you can find us. I hope you do. I hope you let us know how we can help.

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

Kevin Eikenberry
Yeah. When you were a kid, your parents asked you a question every day, and if you’re a parent, you’ve asked this question of your kids regularly, but when was the last time you asked yourself this question, “What did I learn today?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Kevin, thank you. This has been fun. I wish you lots of luck in all of your long-distance leading.

Kevin Eikenberry
Thank you so much, Pete. It was a pleasure to be with you. Thanks for having me.

573: How to Leverage Your Time by 6000% through Effective Delegation with Bill Truby

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Bill Truby shares the simple trick to getting better results when delegating tasks.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The biggest mistake leaders make when delegating
  2. The most crucial thing you need to delegate
  3. The only four reasons why people fail to follow through

About Bill

Bill brings the background of common-sense learning (being raised on a cattle ranch), a B.A. in Theology, an M.A. in Psychology, the experience of a MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist), and nearly 30 years of business practice to the table.

These multiple perspectives and backgrounds synergize to bring amazingly simple, yet powerful tools to leaders and managers – tools that have been proven over and over for nearly four decades.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Bill Truby Interview Transcript

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

Bill Truby
Well, my pleasure, Pete. I’m thankful to be able to talk with you, and I guess it’s been a while since we’ve began to connect, and now we’re really voice to voice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am thankful too because I remember I’ve discovered you in my very first batch of guest recruitment. It was in the For Your Improvement book by the Korn Ferry folks. It had a nice bibliography of folks and books and resources associated with each skill I thought I might focus in on. Yours is one. I looked, I liked it, didn’t work out. But four years later, well, here we are. I’m glad that we both stuck with it.

Bill Truby
Well, I embarrassingly apologize, Pete. There was a lot going on in life back then.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me too. And I didn’t really follow up much. it was like every, I don’t know, year, “Hey, Bill. I still want you.

Bill Truby
Well, I am thankful too. And, yeah, it’s the way things are meant to be, I suppose.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so we’ve got a lot of fun to get into when it comes to delegation. But I want to hear just a smidge about… you grew up in a cattle ranch in Texas. And my experience with ranches is limited to the Nickelodeon program “Hey Dude” I watched as a child.

Bill Truby
Oh, you poor soul you.

Pete Mockaitis
So, tell us about this.

Bill Truby
Well, I tell you what, I attribute most of who I am and how I am to my cowboy background. And I didn’t grow up in Texas but I have roots in Texas. If you look at a map of Texas, about two hours north of Abilene, you’ll see a little town called Truby, Texas. And there’s a little book written by the Arizona Historical Society about the Trubys and the Coxes. The Trubys were the cattle ranchers, the Coxes were the sheepherders. And if you know about American history, they were at war, when guns ruled the land.

I mean, it was late 1800s and the Trubys and the Coxes were both bull-headed and they were shooting at each other, and the local sheriff finally rounded up the most offending Trubys and the most offending Coxes and put them in jail. And in those days, you couldn’t convict them till the circuit-riding judge came around, which he finally did.

Well, the judge finally said, because cowboys are loyal, and apparently sheep herders are too, and people were lying for their family of support and their family of choice. So, finally, the judge said, “There’s no getting the truth here. You’re free to shoot it out.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, wow.

Bill Truby
Yup. So, everybody left the courthouse. The book talks about it. And Trubys, apparently, were smarter than they looked because they left, and they went to New Mexico, and that’s where my dad was born, and he was raised on a little ranch there and a sod house. And then he moved to northern California where I was born and raised on a cattle ranch in Humboldt County. And I end this little story by telling you that the Texas Historical Society allows you to adopt a small town. So, I adopted Truby, Texas. I have a town.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, there you go.

Bill Truby
But, apparently, Trubys weren’t worth much because it only cost me 25 bucks to…

Pete Mockaitis
Well, what are your responsibilities if you’ve adopted a town, you’re the father? Like, do you have to pay for things?

Bill Truby
Yeah, I have a certificate. That’s it. That’s it. And there’s 24 people that lived there so they had to split that last dollar, Pete. So, that’s the beginning of my heritage, and a lot of things I learned though, Pete. Hard work. Honesty. Integrity. My word is better than a contract.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Well, let’s hear your good word when it comes to effective delegation. it’s a universal skill. We need some more, great wisdom, on how to do it well. you’re one of the guys. So, your book has a compelling bullet that says “Effective delegation can leverage our time by 6,000%.” That’s quite a figure. It’s kind of specific. Where do we get it?

Bill Truby
Well, that book, first of all, was written long ago. And one of our claims to fame long ago was the ability to teach people how to delegate effectively, and always get follow through, or if you didn’t, you were able to fix it with one or two times, and it’s powerful. So, our co-author at the time, I’ve written some other books, but I did a co-author at the time, and he did some research on some of our folks that used the tool and multiplied their time that they used to take to fix delegations that just didn’t work well, and did the old math. I don’t know how he did it, but it was a pretty impressive number, but I know intuitively, and I know empirically that over 40 years of doing this is it just proves this tool. It works. It always works.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I imagine, you know, 6,000%, 60X, I mean, if you’ve got 60 people and you’re delegating well, then that would do it and work out there. So, I want to really dig into a whole lot of the particulars, for what’s the system and how we can utilize it. First off, I think maybe could you frame it up for us? Like, I think we probably all know delegating is handy as opposed to trying to do everything yourself, and yet it seems hard. So, can you share what makes it hard? What’s holding us back? What are some of the mental blocks? Like, why don’t we just do this?

Bill Truby
That is an excellent question, and it’s excellent because it sets the premise. If we don’t delegate, then we have to do it ourselves. The only way that a leader, the only way that a father can leverage his or her effectiveness is by working with people and through people. So, it’s absolutely imperative that we delegate in order to be successful. We are self-limiting by self-doing. If we try to do everything ourselves then we are limited by the capacity that our energy and that our time extends to. That’s it.

So, the only way that you can play a beautiful orchestra is by not playing one instrument but leading and directing the delegation of a variety of instruments who all play the same song.

But your question, “Why don’t we do it?” Well, that’s a multifaceted answer. Some people are just too controlling. They will not let go. Other people are trying to make it perfect and they don’t think anybody else can so it’s a self-esteem issue. There’s a variety of issues, Pete, that cause people to not delegate. But the number one consistent theme that I’ve seen throughout all my years of teaching people to delegate is simply they don’t know how.

They’ll try to duplicate themselves. They’ll try to get people to do things exactly the way they would do it. They try to micromanage. They try to just give them a little, few pieces of information and tell them to go, and they don’t give them all the information. So, our tool has been built to cover every eventuality of delegation, and, thereby, make it successful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Exciting. Well, so then you got a lot of reps of experience, a lot of clients and students who’ve picked up on this. Could you share with us maybe an inspiring case study of someone who was having some trouble delegating, but then they saw some really cool things happen on the other side just so we can get a taste and feel some inspiration for it?

Bill Truby
Sure. There’s a man named Mike Solano who owns a $14 million hardware billing supply enterprise. He has a rental center, two billing supplies, two hardware stores, etc.

Now, this man worked six to seven days a week, every day spending eight to ten hours a day. He was overwhelmed because he wanted everything to go well, and he was successful. But he was overwhelmed, tired, weary. He was not going to be able to keep up this pace. Now I want to say something right now, Pete, about delegation, and that is delegation is a tool. What you delegate is also very important because you just don’t delegate tasks. You delegate roles. You delegate departments. You delegate businesses.

So, Mike learned this tool. He used it at the core of all of our other processes and teachings and tools that we use to run a business, and this was the core, and now Mike works two to three days a week if he wants to. His delegation process has empowered people. People have a sense of ownership. People have a sense of accomplishment and achievement and they enjoy going to work doing their role, their job, and reaping their results. And he’s allowed them to feel that kind of ownership.

We teach people, we teach leaders, we teach managers that you need to lead accountable people and not hold people accountable. That’s a core concept that we teach always. If you hold people accountable, you’re the one holding the accountability. If you lead accountable people, then they’re the ones holding the accountability. And that’s a whole other subject.

But Mike’s people have learned to be accountable and he doesn’t have to hold them accountable, and this tool is the core of how this process works.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Okay. Well, so then lay it on us. What is this tool, this process? How do we go do it?

Bill Truby
Well, when your listeners go to the delegation flowchart link and download it, they’re going to see what I’m talking about, but it truly is a flowchart, Pete. It starts at the top with what you do and then it flows down the page, and it teaches you what to do at each stage of the delegation process.

And at the very top, there is the point that you need to delegate. Accountability. Notice you’re delegating accountability. You’re not delegating just a task. You’re delegating accountability and you’re including responsibility and authority. Now that’s an important point. Sometimes people try to delegate by giving people a task to do but they don’t give them the authority that’s associated with the responsibility.

And here’s one of the first points. Sometimes the person doesn’t have literal authority. For example, there’s a safety officer in a big company. The safety officer doesn’t hire and fire, but the safety officer is charged with going through the facility and making sure people are doing safe practices and following safe protocols.

So, what happens if Mr. and Mrs. Safety Person says to John or Jane Doe manager, “Hey, you need to stop doing that”? If safety officer doesn’t have authority, that person doesn’t have any teeth in their words. So, how do you give the safety officer authority? You give it to him or her as vicarious authority, no different than air traffic control.

I’m sure you’ve flown a whole lot, Pete. When I listened to the pilots, air traffic control says, “United 73, descend and maintain 10,000.” I have never once heard a pilot say, “You’re not my boss.” And, obviously, they follow the instructions of air traffic control because of two reasons. One, there’s benefit. They’re not going to run into another plane. And, number two, FAA and the United Airline, or Delta Airlines, or whatever company you’re looking at, have given the air traffic controller vicarious authority to give orders to the pilots.

So, what that looks like is John or Jane Doe’s CEO says to the company, “People, Martha or John, this is my safety officer. When he or she is asking you to do something, it’s as if I’m asking you to do it.” So, that’s the first mindset that needs to be delivered in the context of delegation. We’re delegating responsibility and authority.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. So, responsibility, authority, accountability, and so it’s sort of like the whole enchilada. It’s like, “You own it. It’s yours.” And that’s really handy in terms of there’s not a lot of excuses that emerge in that, that’s like, “Well, I just did this because that was what was on the process sheet I was supposed to follow,” as opposed to, “Well, no, you own this sort of domain so, yeah, you’re going to follow the process but you’re also going to kind of exercise some judgment to do what clearly needs to be done to make it work out well.”

Bill Truby
You’re right, Pete. And that’s a very insightful way of putting it. The person who it’s been delegated to feels ownership of that enchilada. But the most important point is that other people know that he or she has that enchilada. If they don’t know, then that person is limited in their ability to carry out the task or the project. So, that’s the first mindset.

Many things that we teach, Pete, have to do with mind shifts. It’s sort of like leading accountable people rather than holding people accountable. That mind shift alone changes a ton of behaviors and beliefs and attitudes. So, that’s the top of the flowchart, delegate accountability, including responsibility and authority.

And at that point, you create what we call a contract of expectations. There’s never an assumption. The person being delegated to never walks away with a question. It’s a two-way communication, and this is where our communication tools come in, but you must create a clear contract of expectations. The core of a contract of expectations, or CoE as we call it, is a, “What? By whom? By When?”

Pete Mockaitis
Who will do what by when?

Bill Truby
Correct.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
Included in that is the purpose and context. Because if I just asked you, Pete, “Go do this,” and you say, “Okay, I’ll do it,” and you have no purpose or context, then you cannot be creative in the obstacles that may come your way. If you know the reason, the why, the purpose and the context where it fits in, then you can be a little bit more creative in your work as you encounter the unknown, which is always the case.

Pete Mockaitis
That is so valuable and really worth, I think, underscoring because a lot of times we don’t know the why behind the request, and we just sort of kind of do it. But I think I’ve been on both sides of things in terms of being the doer of the task and not really knowing, it’s like, “Well, I could go either way but I don’t know. Is this in my thing? So, my instructions are I’m just going to make a note and kind of keep on rolling.”

And then, as a leader, when I have been so wise as to share the purpose and context, to be surprised and delighted with people that I’m managing, say, “Hey, I bumped into this and so I did that.” And I think, “Well, that is perfect. Thank you.” It just feels so good, like I don’t have to say anything, and it came back even better than I had imagined it could have from my just process instructions, so this is really cool.

Bill Truby
Purpose and context has many psychological benefits. It increases ownership. It shows respect. It feels like you belong, that you’re included. But, more importantly, if the percussionist in an orchestra doesn’t know the song, all he can do is play the music. And if you don’t play the music in the context of the song, you might play too loud, you might play too soft. Same with a violin, same with a piccolo, same with a French horn. We must understand the purpose and context of the notes that we’re playing in order to make it effective in the long run.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely.

Bill Truby
So, this is the first thing that happens in the delegation process, it’s preventative. So, there’s this clarity of what, by whom, by when. There’s a purpose and context. If it’s a long project, then you clarify when you want reports, and you always ask the person to do it. You don’t tell. This is about leading accountable people.

Pete, if I said, “Pete, go do this or that,” then you’re just a puppet, you’re just a person that’s doing a job. If I say, “Will you do it?” and you say, “Yes,” now we have a contract and you own it. So, when you don’t do it, if you don’t, I don’t say, “Didn’t I tell you?” I keep the accountability where it belongs. I say, “Pete, didn’t we agree?” And where does that put the accountability? Right on you. Okay, so that’s the first step.

So, we build all of this, it takes a few minutes. Obviously, it could take hours depending on if it’s a large project but there’s clarity, there’s absolute clarity, no assumptions ever. Clarity, clarity. Pristine, clear communication and an agreement. Now, when you do that, one of two things happen. If the person follows through, and if you look at the delegation flowchart, you’ll see on the right side of the page there’s a box that says, “Follow through.” And when a person follows through, then the arrow goes down to what we call a continuous improvement celebration.

Obviously, the type of celebration depends on the extent of the delegation. If I asked you to go get lunch for the team, that’s different than solving world hunger. So, the celebration is congruent with the task. And I don’t know if we want to get into all the details of a celebration at this point but just to earmark the four parts, there’s the party factor because everybody wants to have fun. There’s the recognition and appreciation, people need to be recognized and appreciated. There’s the learning what went well, what didn’t go well. What didn’t go well so you can fix it. What did go well so you can repeat it.

Because if something went well and you don’t know why it happened, you’re not good, you’re lucky. And then you transfer that knowledge to other people in the company, or other friends, somebody else who could benefit. So, that’s the right side of the flowchart, follow through, and then the last thing you do is to have some kind of a celebration, which gives closure and recognition and that motivation to want to be delegated to again.

Now, the left side, is when somebody may not follow through. This delegation process always works but what happens when somebody who doesn’t follow through is that you follow this chart and you’ll fix it typically one time. There’s a circle that goes on. So, if there’s no or limited follow through, there are four reasons. You know, Pete, I’ve never heard anybody talk about this, I’ve never heard anybody write about it, I’ve never heard anybody speak about these four concepts. But there’s only four reasons why someone won’t follow through, only four.

And I’m talking about anybody. Your friend, your neighbor, your spouse, your kid, your employee, your employer. Human beings have four reasons why they won’t follow through. A wise delegator will search for the reason in the order that I’ll give them to you right now. The first is, and they all start with lack of. The first is lack of awareness. They weren’t aware.

Now, typically, we’re communicating when we’re delegating, and humans aren’t the greatest at communicating. And so, if it’s lack of awareness, it’s often some glitch that occurred in the communication process, “Oh, I didn’t know you meant that.” We could use the same word success and you could think of different criteria for success than I do. So, the first is lack of awareness. And you never demand, you always ask questions, “So, what was your understanding of the task?” to see if there was awareness.

If there was awareness, the second reason a person won’t follow through, or can’t follow through, is lack of training. They thought they knew how but they didn’t, “So, did you know how to do this?” The third reason is lack of resources. They didn’t have enough time. They didn’t have enough equipment. They didn’t have enough staff. They didn’t have enough money. Something was lacking that wasn’t prevalent or wasn’t known at the beginning of the delegation process. And the only other reason a person won’t follow through is lack of accountability.

So, lack of awareness, number one; lack of training, number two; lack of resources, number three; and lack of accountability, they’re just not doing it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, let’s define accountability there in this context. So, is it they don’t feel like or what do you mean specifically by accountability here?

Bill Truby
They just didn’t do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
It’s just the outcome wasn’t there, “You didn’t bring lunch.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I guess, well, call me a stickler as a former strategy consultant about when you lay out, hey, there’s four reasons, I get really excited about a mutually-exclusive collectively-exhaustive categorization set because I’m a dork that way. So, lack of accountability, they just didn’t do it. That almost feels like an everything-else bucket, I guess, in a way, you can maybe subdivide that. Like, there are multiple reasons why they just didn’t do it. They didn’t feel like it. They weren’t motivated, and they don’t care. Yeah, can you unpack the lack of accountability a little more?

Bill Truby
Sure, and I love all those big words you used to identify this set. That was awesome.

Bill Truby
Okay. Remember what we delegated at the beginning of time, at the beginning of this delegation process. We delegated accountability. Well, there’s an obvious finishing of that sentence. The accountability to do blank. So, you and I are climbing a mountain, and I delegate you the holding of the rope to belay me as I climb.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Bill Truby
If you do not adhere to that accountability, you just don’t hold the rope, I don’t really care why because at this point, we’re not talking about the why. We’re simply talking about the outcome. Period. So, if you don’t hold the rope, there’s danger. If your hands hurt, if you’re sad, if you sneeze, if you don’t feel like it, those are all beside the point. When you’re out on the football field, and the ball is thrown to you, it doesn’t matter how you feel, your job is to catch the ball. And if you don’t go up to catch the ball, then you have not been accountable to what you’ve agreed to be accountable about.

So, it’s really not a catchall. It’s specifically focused on the task that was delegated. In some ways, I suppose the four reasons are the why, but they’re all about behavior and resources to do the behavior. They’re not diving into the emotional or psychological or relational reasons.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. I guess what I’m driving is, what I love about the first thing is lack of awareness, “Oh, okay. well, we’re going to have a clarifying conversation, we’re going to have some more detail, and we’re, okay, good, good, good. We’re all on the same page. Solved.”

Lack of training. “Oh, I’m so sorry. Well, here’s an instructional, a tutorial, a class, a course, whatever. Okay, now you know. Okay, good to go.” Lack of resources, “Oh, shucks, you’re right. We’ve got to free up some things from your plate or get some more people or budget under your purview, so that’s solved.” But how does one solve a lack of accountability?

Bill Truby
This, again, insightful, Pete. That’s fantastic, because if you’ll look at the chart, you’ll notice that the first three items, awareness, training, and resources, are typically one-time things. Once you find that that’s the case, then you provide the fulfillment of what was missing, awareness, training, or resources. And then you re-negotiate the contract, it goes up, you re-negotiate the contract by saying, “Okay, let’s look at the contract of expectations again, and re-enter your delegating process, your process of doing what I’ve delegated you to, given your new resources, or your new training, or your new awareness.” So, that one is a one-time loop. One-time loop.

Now, the lack of accountability, that one is fixed by using a separate tool. Now, first of all, I want to make sure that we understand that lack of accountability is binary, they either did it or they didn’t. And if they didn’t, they agreed to, so the first thing we do is to ask the question, “Didn’t we agree?” Right now, we’re working with a $440 million 2500-person nonprofit dialysis company. That entire company is using this particular process to fix people who are not performing effectively, who are not being accountable.

And, HR, if you call HR, the first thing HR will say is, “Have you asked them if they agreed to the contract of expectations?” So, we keep the accountability where it belongs. And, quite frankly, that’s respectful. If I take your accountability away, and say, “All right. Now I’m just going to demand this, and I’m going to make you do what I’m wanting you to do,” then you’re a slave, you’re not a fellow human being.

So, how you fix a lack of accountability is through this process. Number one, “Didn’t we agree?” and the person says, “Yes.” Then, secondly, “Then what happened?” We don’t ask why, “Then what happened?” We give a chance for a person to give their reasons. Then, third, “Then let’s re-negotiate the process here. Will you do A, B, and C by X, Y, and Z with J, L, and K outcome?” So, you’re basically revisiting the contract as well, but this time the person is simply agreeing again.

Now, let me get a little more practical. Let’s say that you asked somebody to do something, they didn’t do it, they weren’t accountable, so you ask these questions. Then they don’t do it the second time. Now, it’s your wisdom that has to determine how many times you loop. If it’s very, very important, it may be one or two times. If you’re trying to grow something, somebody, maybe it’s 12 times. But you will never ever, you can never ever, and this is the beauty of this tool, you can never ever, ever say, “Oh, well, that’s Johnny.” Because if we do that, everybody around us knows that we broke the contract and we perpetuated Johnny’s behavior, we’ve allowed it to happen to other people, we destroy our own ability to delegate if we break the contract ourselves.

So, whatever your wisdom says, one time, two times, 12 times, there comes a time when you say, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, what happened?” “Well, A, B, and C.” “Well, let’s agree this time that if you don’t do it, that…” and then you have to default to your discipline process, “…that you’re going to be getting your first verbal warning.” Let’s say it’s a verbal written writ and termination. So, the person says, “Okay.” So, if the person doesn’t follow through, they know before you do, that they’re not following through so they’re managing their own discipline process. So, they come back, “Didn’t we agree?” “Yes.” “Well, then you remember, too, I’m giving you a verbal warning. Let’s agree that if it doesn’t happen again, you’ll be getting your first written warning.”

So, people either step up or step out. And here’s the good news, Pete. Most people step up. We don’t lose good people. They step up. They just needed boundaries, they needed clarifications, kids need boundaries, our employees need boundaries, friends need boundaries. And when we put a boundary in this tool, a person steps up or steps out. And so, that’s what you do when there’s no or limited follow through, you find the reason, fix it one time with the first three, use wisdom to fix it for the fourth reason, the lack of accountability, and then one or two things happens. The person follows through, which happens most of the time, or the person doesn’t, and they’re terminated from the team, they’re demoted, they’re not allowed to be on the team anymore.

And so, the delegating of the task always works. The person who is in the process of being delegated to sometimes might change if they’re not willing to step up.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, this is really stretching my brain in some great ways, so thank you. I guess I’m wondering if, let’s say, they do the work but the results are not as grand as you’d hope. I don’t know, maybe in terms of like the quality, like, “Oh, I asked you to write up this document, and the writing is lackluster.” Or maybe it’s a higher-end result, like, “Hey, you were supposed to run this business division and generate $10 million in gross profit this quarter, and you got 8.” So, I guess, in a way, they do the work but they don’t get the results. How do we play that game?

Bill Truby
Well, two things. One, we must look at the delegator first, because you’ve got to be sure and have a clear contract of expectations at the beginning. So, lackluster of a writing material is a bit fuzzy. So, it’s up to the delegator to be clear and precise in communicating what needs to be done. The $10 million is rather clear and precise. So, the first thing, we’ve got to look at the delegator to make sure that the delegator is clear in his or her communication about the contract of expectations.

And then, secondly, part of the contract of expectations at the beginning, I mentioned just briefly in passing, if it’s a longer timeline, you want to get reports. And so, the $8 million at the end of this stretch of time should not be a surprise. The first benchmark, the first waymark, if the person was not on track, there’s a communication that goes on with the delegator and the delegate as to what’s going on. And one of two things happen. Either the goal begins to be adjusted or it is strengthened by some other resources to allow that goal to be reached.

So, the delegator in both cases, the lackluster in the writing or the diminished return on the 8 million versus 10 million, is involved in the process of guiding and helping along the way. But the key thing is the delegator is not doing it. The delegator is leveraging him or herself by delegating to the person who’s trying to play the violin, “Oh, you’re not playing that note quite right. Here are some techniques that you could use. Go practice those and then come back.”

I will tell you this, that through the delegation process, we do find that some people just are not bad people, nor are they unwilling people, but they don’t have the capacity. It’s up to the leader and manager to understand this over time. I didn’t mention this earlier but I have a master’s degree in psychology, and I was a marriage and family therapist in the early ‘80s for a couple years. And I’ve always needed to know the intent of a person not the behavior of the person.

In fact, my dad taught me that on the farm, he said, “Billy, always know why people are doing things. Don’t just look at what they’re doing.” So, I look at the why when a person isn’t following through, and it could be those four reasons, like I said. But we’ve entered into another little dimension here. If a person doesn’t have willingness or capacity, they won’t do it. In fact, they can’t do it. Even relationships. Relationships can only be successful if both parties have willingness and capacity. And I’m not talking just about a married couple. I’m talking about business and customers. Both sides of the equation, both people, have to have willingness and capacity.

So, in our process of delegating, everything might be going well but then we realize, “This person, no matter how great they are, no matter how talented they are, no matter how willing they are, they just don’t have the capacity,” and that’s where we have to adjust who we’re delegating to.

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

Bill Truby
The core concept of everything we teach is to be other-centered. I want to just highlight that. That’s embedded in this. It’s clearly seen in leading accountable people. It’s clearly seen in asking the person to agree. It’s clearly seen even in the disciplining process if a person has lack of accountability. But I believe that the most successful businesses, the most successful leader, the most successful delegator will do so in the context of where the other person is coming from, how to communicate to them.

We’ll communicate to a 12-year old differently than we will a 48-year old. We’ll communicate to a person with a different skillset differently than a person who has a limited skillset. So, the delegation process is a tool. It’s like a shovel but you dig differently in sand than you do in clay. So, we exercise our interaction with the other person using the same tool, we exercise it a little differently based on that other person’s needs and wants. And that’s how we make them successful is that we’re always other-centered in our application of this tool.

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

Bill Truby
I suppose my favorite quote in all of my life has come from my dad, and I’ve illuminated it earlier. He always said two things, “Billy, always understand why the person is doing what they’re doing. And that understanding breeds empathy, acceptance, and the ability to lead them.” Then he also said, “Billy, if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

And what that meant, I grew to learn over time, is that I deal with what I can do and I don’t take your stuff. And that gives respect. And that particular quote has caused boundaries that are freeing. It enables me to not have to run to the rescue. It’s like, if it’s not mine, I’ll care but I won’t carry. I’ll love but I won’t take it back from you. So, that’s a roundabout way of saying my dad gave me those two quotes that I live by, and they are very, very meaningful. They’re very deep in my soul.

He said, “Always know the why, and then you’ll understand the person. And if you can’t do anything about it, it doesn’t exist.”

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

Bill Truby
I love the book Thinking Fast and Slow. Daniel Kahneman wrote it, and it tells you what goes on in your brain, very fast when you encounter something, and then what happens after you think about it. And that research has literally changed my life on how I teach, on how I think, on how I do what I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And, tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate, and people quote back to you often?

Bill Truby
Well, there isn’t necessarily one, but I will tell you this little story. There was a man in one of the large companies, 8500-person company, that had this Christmas party, and this man went as Bill Truby, though nobody knew he was Bill Truby.

And he was dressed in a tie and shirt and overcoat. And people said, “So, who are you?” This was a dress-up affair masquerade-type thing. He said, “I’m Bill Truby.” And they would say, “What do you mean?” And he’d open up his coat, and in there were 3×5 cards that he called Trubyisms. So, apparently, I say things all the time that people remember and, yeah, I don’t think there’s one, Pete. I think that there’s things.

I make them up. I go to a company and I’ll “efficiefy” them, and then people start using that word, “Okay, we’re going to get efficiefied.” “And I’m here to bring you to a state of efficiefication,” so I don’t think I’m stuck on one.

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

Bill Truby
TrubyAchievements.com. And this delegation flowchart can be found there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Bill, this has been a treat. Thank you for sharing the good word, and good luck in all you delegate.

Bill Truby
Thank you, Pete. I really appreciate you hanging in there for four years so we can meet each other. I do appreciate what you’re doing and I’m glad that I could help support it.