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KF #20. Interpersonal Savvy Archives - How to be Awesome at Your Job

469: How to Keep Robots from Stealing Your Job with Alexandra Levit

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Alexandra Levit says: "Put yourself in a position to be the most effective person in a certain job... [that way] even if some of the jobs disappear, you're still going to be at the top."

Futurist Alexandra Levit explains what the “robot takeover” will really look like and how you can stay relevant despite it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The problem with how organizations automate
  2. Honest predictions about the future of the human workforce
  3. The essentials skills that make you future-proof

About Alexandra:

Alexandra Levit has conducted proprietary research on the future of work, technology adoption, the millennial generation, gender differences and bias, and the skills gap. She also served as a member of Business Roundtable’s Springboard Project, which advised the Obama administration, the U.S. Department of Labor, and the U.S. Department of Defense on current employment issues.

Levit also consults and writes on leadership development, human resources, technology adoption, entrepreneurship, innovation, career and workplace trends on behalf of Fortune 500 companies.

She is a frequent national media spokesperson and is regularly featured in outlets including USA Today,National Public RadioCNNABC NewsCNBCForbesthe Associated Press, and Glamour. Levit was named an American Management Association Top Leader for two years in a row and has also beenMoney Magazine’s Online Career Expert of the Year and the author of one of Forbes’ best websites for women.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Alexandra Levit Interview Transcript

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

Alexandra Levit
Thanks for having me, Pete. It’s great to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we usually start with a fun little warmup question. So, I’d love to hear from you, are the robots going to kill and enslave us all?

Alexandra Levit
Are the robots going to kill and enslave us? The answer to that would be no, at least not in the foreseeable future. There’s something called the technological singularity which refers to a point in time in which technology will become so advanced that we really don’t know how it’s going to transform our society. Our society will not look like it does today. So, all bets are off when it comes to that point.

But I think we can pretty safely say for the next 15-20 years that we can anticipate what robots are going to do and, really, they’re going to be good partners. They aren’t going to replace humans, they’re not going to enslave humans, they are going to work alongside us, and, hopefully, in most occupations, allow us to do things that are more strategic and more meaningful, and focus on the work that matters to us.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, thank you.

Alexandra Levit
You’re welcome.

Pete Mockaitis
I find that comforting. Way back when I was in college, we were talking about this and there were a couple of my classmates who were totally convinced it was going to happen, and he even used the evidence point, “Have you seen the movie Terminator?” I was like, “Well, I have but that’s a movie and I don’t think that’s a good evidence point.” So, 15-20 years we’re safe. That feels good.

Alexandra Levit
Yeah, I think your friends are not wrong to be concerned, and we can certainly talk about the reasons to be concerned and the reasons not to be concerned, but I think in the long run it is something we’re going to have to think about because these are very powerful machines, they’re getting more powerful all the time.

And so, while the growth I don’t think is as exaggerated as some people might think in terms of machine learning and machine’s ability to really replicate and simulate human emotions and consciousness, it’s not as fast as some people might think, but there’s really no reason to think it wouldn’t happen eventually. So, I’m going to agree with your friends but try to temper the hysteria a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I appreciate that. Okay, well, with that established and a little bit of a breath of relief.

Alexandra Levit
A little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s talk about what’s up with automation these days. There’s a lot of buzz and I’d love it if you could just sort of set us straight on, okay, what are some of the most striking data and stories that point to where automation is replacing workers and where it’s really not?

Alexandra Levit
Well, this is a great question, and I think the primary message I want to get across when it comes to automation is that you can’t just take huge swaths of your employee population and fire them so that you can automate everything. What I see organizations doing tends to be either too much or too little. So, too little means they bury their head in the sand and they really should be automating certain functions, and they’re not doing that because they’re behind the curve, which that’s not an unfamiliar situation for organizations, particularly when it comes to technology.

And other organizations aren’t being strategic enough about it. They’re just saying, “Well, just because I can automate something, well, that means that I should.” And, in fact, what we need to take is a far more measured approach. We need to look at specific tasks, and what the objective is, and then determine, “Okay, well, is this something where it’s a routine task, it’s something that needs to be replicated, it’s something that doesn’t require ethics or judgment?” It’s something that we have machines that can perform for us, freeing up our human workers to do different types of tasks that do require a little bit more abstract thinking, or creativity, or ethical concerns, or judgment, those types of things.

And what we need to do is look at it on a case-by-case basis. And we’ve seen kind of what happens when organizations don’t do that, when they just blindly automate things, and then there might be human workers there but they’re taught to just kind of stand blindly by while the machine tells them what to do, and the machine is not considering the nuances.

There have been several instances of this. The most famous one actually happened here in Chicago, where you and I are both are. It involved the United Airlines a couple years ago, where algorithm told them, “We need to get these flight attendants from one place to another. That’s the best scenario for business, that’s where we’ll make the greatest profit.” And because the algorithm said so, and the system was automated, the human employees just kind of stood there and were like, “Oh, okay.” And nobody really considered, “If we pull passengers off this plane in order to get these flight attendants on, what’s going to be the impact on our brand? What’s going to be the impact on our reputation, on our customer service?”

And the machine is not thinking about that because the machine is programmed that it only cares about profits. It doesn’t care about all these nuances. And so, we call the act of the human being watching over the machine, we call this the human in the loop. So, whenever you automate something, you have to have to have a human being who’s standing by saying, “You know, I get that the data is saying this, I get that this is what we’re automating, but we really need to take a step back and have some difference of opinion here.”

And that is really, really important to consider when you are staffing projects or staffing departments, yes, you might be able to, in fact, automate something and have an algorithm perform the task, but you still need the humans in the loop for oversight. It’s very, very important. And so, United is a great example of that, but I think most people, at least in the U.S., are familiar with that, unfortunately for United. That was very bad for them. And I think we’re going to see, Pete, more of that kind of thing happening because automation is not being planned carefully enough.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s intriguing in terms of some guidelines there, “Hey, the more that things require ethics, creativity, and judgment, the more we need a human presence, and the more it’s sort of like rote routine kind of repeat, repeat, repeat, that’s sort of the less we do.” So, could you kind of orient us to, I guess, there’s a lot of buzz with regard to some saying that automation is going to replace all these things, all these jobs are not going to exist. Like, what’s sort of the real fact-based in terms of some of the data and the stories pointing to, “Yes, right now, we are seeing these specific jobs disappearing at quick rates and these ones might be next”?

Alexandra Levit
Oh, I’m glad you asked that because there really is an important reality check here. And there’s been a lot of handwringing over the lost of jobs to machines. And when we look at it, it is something that we need to consider. But the numbers don’t really support that it’s happening in absolute crazy rates in all occupations.

So, for example, and a lot of consulting firms have done research on this, but I like the McKinsey research on it that says that about 60% of all occupations will be affected by automation in some shape or form. So, that means, chances are, two out of three, you will have automation touch your job. But, nevertheless, that’s not 100%. That’s still only 60%.

And then the other part of that is, of those 60% of jobs that are impacted, only about 30% of the tasks in that job will be automated, so that means that even if you’re within that 60%, you still have a whole bunch of things that you are going to be doing. So, you might have one task or two tasks that can be automated, but everything else you’re still going to be doing. And, therefore, your job isn’t going to disappear.

So, I think that’s a very, very important message that most jobs are not going to disappear entirely unless they are of the really rote routine factory-related jobs where you literally would stand there and put a widget on a conveyor belt. If you have that type of job, then you may have a problem. If you’re in the tech sector and you only know one program, for example, and that’s what you do, maybe you’re a database builder or something, and that’s all you do is build databases, and you don’t evolve your skillset, then you might have a problem.

So, it’s not just manufacturing and factory jobs, there are some knowledge-related jobs that could be impacted too. And that’s why, really, I encourage people strongly to take responsibility for upskilling and reskilling. Look at where your industry and where your job function are going and see the writing on the wall. And if you see that new software programs are starting to pick up steam, that things are getting automated, then you’re going to need to develop other skillsets, in particular, tech people who have not had to develop soft skills, like great communication, and ethics, and judgment, these soft skills that we’ve been talking about. Now is the time because those jobs are going to be in jeopardy.

The other thing though, Pete, is, yes, there are going to be certain jobs that will go away, as we talked about. It’s not as extreme as people say but it will happen. But what is also really, really important to remember is that there are going to be just as many jobs, if not more, created by technology. And there’s a couple of reasons for that. First of all, whenever you have a machine inserted into a process, we talked about the human in the loop, well, it’s not just one human. It’s somebody to design it, to build it, to figure out how to deploy it, to oversee it, to fix it when it’s broken. And, by the way, that last one, no one ever thinks about that. No one thinks about –

Pete Mockaitis
“Oh, reboot it. Oh, reboot it.”

Alexandra Levit
I mean, we just had that. I know. The more we rely on technology the more things are going to break and people are going to have to be able to fix it. So, these things are, really, a ton of jobs are going to be created. The other thing that’s really critical is that there are job categories that do not currently exist that will be created by technology. And, as an example, I always used to say, when I graduated from college, social media manager wasn’t a thing because social media wasn’t a thing. And now every department has its own social media person. Some entire firms are based on social media. So, that’s a good example that everyone is aware of.

And then, also, something that the importance cannot be overstated, somebody needs to explain what technology is doing to the rest of the human world, especially decision makers and leaders. So, those explainers, you need someone behind the technology who can actually, forgive me for using the word again, but to explain in very plain English what the technology is doing, how it came about the decision that it suggested, how did it work, kind of peering into the black box, if you will.

So, these are the types of jobs that will be created as a result of technology. And I think at the end of the day, we’re going to see really no net loss in human jobs. And we had the same concerns when the industrial revolution happened and when cars got on the road. Every time society changes, we worry about this, and it doesn’t happen because new jobs are created. So, overall, I think it’s a wonderful time for human employment. It’s probably the best time ever because we can really use our brains and do what we’re good at instead of doing things that are so boring and easy to repeatable.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. Boy, I like so much of what you said there not just because it’s happy news, but just because it’s kind of inspiring in the sense of, “Okay, there’s not much to fear with regard to this task being automated.” I think a whole another category of stuff is just that I think just about every human has a to-do list that’s longer than what they can do. And I’ve seen this now, so we’ve got sort of more staff now on this podcast. We got about three and a half people which is amazing.

Alexandra Levit
Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanks, listeners.

Alexandra Levit
Yeah, good for you.

Pete Mockaitis
And then plus me, and then plus contractors on top of that, so it’s growing. And, lo and behold, at first, I was kind of worried, I was like, “Oh, man, is that too many people? There are some exceptional talent, I didn’t want to like let go and sort not snap up and to have that work.” It’s like, “Oh, sure. There’s just all this stuff you haven’t been doing now we’re going to do. Let’s fix all these things that are suboptimal. Let’s go chase after these opportunities we haven’t chased after.”

So, I think that’s huge in and of itself in that the stuff that’s not getting done, that, “Oh, we’d kind of like to if we could get to it,” now we can get to it as well as opposed to a zero-sum game. Is it a job taken? There’s jobs to be done, if the machine is doing it, the human is not doing it, and the human is out of work, it’s like, “Well, no, there are more jobs to be done than there are humans to do them.” So, we got that going for us too.

Alexandra Levit
I think you’re right. And maybe if that was the case, maybe companies would be more strategic. Because, I have to tell you, when I go, and I’m a futurist, so I talk about future work and what organizations need to do to prepare, and when I go in, sometimes it’s so funny, people are like, “Well, you’re going to talk about flex work. Flex work isn’t futuristic.” It’s like, “Yeah, but are you doing it? And are you doing it well? I get that it doesn’t sound futuristic, but this is where organizations actually are,” and that’s that they’re behind. And so, my hope with what you’re saying is that maybe we won’t be so behind if we don’t have so much administrative work to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, totally. It’s like, “Hey, go figure out the flex work thing. We got a few hours to earn this week. Where does that happen?”

Alexandra Levit
Yeah, first, do that and then do these other things. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I don’t know, if this is neither here nor there, but there have been surprises. When I really try to rock automation, sometimes I’m sort of disappointed by the results in terms of, “Okay, there’s all these, for instance, platforms and AI, whether it’s IBM, or Google, or others kind of doing their darndest to transcribe a human speech to text, and maybe your accuracy is not bad, 98% or something, but that still means that in one minute of speaking we’re going to have to correct three plus errors, and often I find it’s way more than that. It’s maybe five to 10 times that.

And then, in practice, when I sort of tried a hybrid approach, it’s sort of like my human transcribers who are aided by technology say, “Yeah, it’s a little bit faster but I’m kind of making a lot of concessions in terms of I wouldn’t type it that way, but I guess it’s fine, with regard to capitals or commas or whatever. And it’s a whole lot less fun and rewarding to correct a bunch of things a machine did than to do it myself.”

And so, I don’t know, I guess I am not as bullish in terms of, “Automation is going to replace everything!” It’s like, “Well, they can’t even get the transcript right right now, and maybe they’ll be better in five years,” but I don’t know, that’s me just complaining.

Alexandra Levit
Well, no, Pete, I think that’s a great example of what we’re talking about earlier, and that’s that this isn’t going to happen as fast as people think. If we’re still dealing with transcription, especially transcription has been around for 25 years, in automated transcription. I remember when I first came out of college using a tool for that.

So, it’s just not going to happen as fast and things are not going to be as smooth. So, just like you’re experiencing, but on a wider scale. And, again, as we rely on more and more on technology for our everyday life, and we don’t know how to do things without technology, I think we’re going to be pretty hard up because then we’re helpless. And that is something that I actually get concerned about.

There’s a couple things that keep me up at night, and that’s one of them, that, all of sudden, we’re just not going to know to do anything because we’re reliant on technology for everything. So, I hope that doesn’t happen but I am concerned for sure.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, let’s talk then about the things that humans do well. You’ve highlighted six in particular uniquely human skills. And just thinking about it from the perspective of the listener, if we’re professionals, and we want to make sure that our knowledge-working careers are long and rewarding and fruitful and growing, and we note that technology evolution is sure, a real thing that’s happening, what are the skills we can nail to just be kind of bulletproof with regard to all this?

Alexandra Levit
Well, there are a few, and, of course, I talk about some of the softer ones, like having judgment, having intuition, having interpersonal sensitivity in problem solving, having empathy. I talk about those in Humanity Works but I’d like to highlight one in particular here because I think it relates to a lot of what we’ve been talking about, and that’s applied technology skills.

So, what that means is, I’m a part of a non-profit organization called the Career Advisory Board. It was established by DeVry way back in 2010. And what we’ve been looking at is, “Where are the really biggest skills gaps between what hiring managers are looking for and what people are bringing to the table?” And, not surprisingly, we identified this category of applied technology skills which are skills that help you use people, processes, data, and devices to make better business calls, better decisions.

And it means that not necessarily do you need to know how to program yourself, for example, but you need to know that software is out there and available to help you do your job better. So, you need to know what technology is feasible, and you need to know how to employ that technology, and how to make sure that it’s managed seamlessly, and how to do change management in your organization when you’re trying to roll out a new technology. So, these are applied technology skills, and every single person who works in the business world for the foreseeable future, needs to have these.

And why this so important is, traditionally, the people who focus on technology were in the IT group. Nobody else had to worry about it. And that is changing rapidly. Now, we have line of business, managers and all kinds of people involved in what technology should be rolled out, what application should be developed, what software should be deployed. And that is really an area where I think most people are going be caught completely off guard, that they are not marketable unless they have a really good handle on the technology that’s being used in their function, in their industry, and what’s really cutting edge, what are the top organizations doing.

And no one has really thought about this, if you’re not in IT. And that is, I think, going to be a steep learning curve. Unfortunately, for organizations, applied tech absolutely can be taught but it needs to be re-taught over and over again because, if you think about it, Pete, it’s going to change the technology over like one or two years.

Pete Mockaitis
It really has, yeah.

Alexandra Levit
So, it’s not an easy thing to do but it has to be done internally and people have to take responsibility for doing it on their own as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think that I’m just really coming to terms with that notion right there in terms of I think even just with this podcast, about a little over three years old now, it’s sort of like the stuff that was available when I started is completely different than what is available now.

Alexandra Levit
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And then even like application by application, it’s sort of like, “Oh, I heard that wasn’t any good.” And then their teams are iterating away on the thing. And then a year later, it’s like, “No, actually, that tool is perfectly usable now so you should certainly check it out again.” It’s a different landscape every year or two.

And so then, what are some of your pro tips in terms of, okay, the professional who wants to be ahead of the curve and be sharp with that, how does one acquire that knowledge in terms of just kind of regular daily, weekly practices to stay on top of stuff?

Alexandra Levit
Well, I think reading is kind of an unsexy but smart thing to do. Read not just IT publications, although you might think that that’s the place to go, but actually just reading like a Fast Company is really cool because they talk about technology a lot and they talk about different functions that are adopting different types of AI and different types of technology.

I think taking a crash course in data analytics can’t hurt anyone. I did this myself. I was talking so much about data analytics, which is one of the applied technology skills that we found that organizations are really clamoring for, and I realized I didn’t really know what I was talking about. So, I went and I took a free course from IBM on what is data analytics, what are some of the top software programs you use to do it, what does it tell you, etc. And I now know a little bit more. I could get more in deep in it, and may still, if it’s going to be relevant to what I continue to talk about and do.

But I think that the advantage today is that there’s really no excuse for not acquiring a skill because there are so many options. You don’t have to wait for your company to teach you. Organizations are kind of getting with the program in that they’re collating a bunch of online resources for their people, they’re partnering with websites like Degree.com to give their people certifications for different skill areas.

I see this movement is definitely happening here. But you don’t have to rely on your company being smart with this. You can be listening to this podcast today and say, “Oh, actually, I don’t even know what data analytics even is. It’s a buzzword, that’s all I know.” And you could go and find the IBM course yourself, and I think it was like an hour.

And I’ve got all the background that I need for now and just being to talk intelligently with your team about how that might be employed or if it’s already being employed. How is the data being collected? Is it integrated properly? Is it valid? These are all the important things. What programs are you using to look at it? And what decisions can you make as a result of looking at it? So, I think it’s easy to do, or at least easier than it ever was before.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, applied technology skills, data analytics is one. And what are the other big ones?

Alexandra Levit
Well, I think being able to program applications, application development. And the good news there is that, again, you used to have to program apps, you would have to know a lot of code, and you would have to be trained in that. And, now, just like you used to have to know HTML in order to build a website, and now you don’t. You also can get a software program that can help you build apps.

And what we see happening now in a lot of organizations is they realize that an app will help their customers, will help their workers, and so you’ll have one function working with IT to build that app out and it will come from the line of business as opposed to coming from IT, and that is a huge change. So, app dev, data analytics, an understanding of infrastructure, digital infrastructure, digital transformation, so what it means to move everything from a manual process to a digital process, and what’s involved in that.

Change management, I mentioned this briefly earlier, is not an applied technology skill, but it’s what I call an adjacent skill area, where if you’ve got applied technology skills and you’re working with technology, you’re going to need to do change management effectively because research from everywhere, essentially, has shown that between 60% and 90% of change initiatives involving technology fail because users don’t want to adopt it, it’s too difficult, it doesn’t integrate, it breaks, etc. So, you really have to be strategic about it. You can’t just roll it out and expect that everyone is going to say, “Yay, it’s new technology.” So, that’s an adjacent skill area that, if you have applied tech, you’re going to need to develop as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s a nice line up. Well, a quick follow up there. So, where do I go if I want to develop applications without knowing any code? That sounds appealing.

Alexandra Levit
Well, I can say it because I don’t work with this organization anymore, but I learned so much about app dev when I was working with QuickBase as a spokesperson for them. And that’s an example of a software program that allows you to build apps without knowing code.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, nifty. And so, I guess there’s things like, well, hey, one of our sponsors, iDashboards, is handy with regard to looking at all of the stuff without having to know code to make it all display beautifully for you there.

Alexandra Levit
And to prop them up even more. Dashboards are critical for getting all your data in one place and being able to analyze the whole of it instead of looking at it in silos. So, having a dashboard for whatever function you’re running it from, I tend to focus mainly on HR systems, but having that view of everything and having it be easy to read, and, again, you can translate it for other decision-makers and produce reports and statistics. Very, very powerful. So, if you don’t have one of those tools, and, Pete, they don’t pay me to say this, but, seriously, as a futurist, you need to have that view of your technology and your data in one place.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. All right. So, there’s a bundle of applied technology skills that are great to know to be sort of bulletproof with the future of stuff. And, now, let’s talk about some of those uniquely human skills. You’ve got leadership, team, creativity, innovation, judgment, intuition. I think that in a way it’s almost easy to brush these aside, like “Yes, of course, these are important and we all need to have them.” But what have you found are some of the sort of best practices for a professional to adopt to keep one or more of these skills sharper and sharper week after week?

Alexandra Levit
This is a great question and it’s something everybody needs to be focusing on. And I would’ve said 25 years ago that you need to be focusing on these things. And I think the most successful people in business have always focused on these skills. The difference is now it’s essential because you can’t skate by on being able to do a task anymore. You have to have those unique human elements that will set you apart from a machine.

And my favorite example, I actually talk about it in Humanity Works, this is absolutely my favorite example was what happened in Japan when they tried to roboticize their nursing. They did exactly what you’re talking about, Pete. They said, “Really, what do we really need human nurses for? Like, this is what our nurses need to do.” This is seriously what happened. Japan had a labor shortage in nursing, they didn’t know how to get more humans, so they’re like, “We’ll build a robot. It’ll be cool.”

So, they built a robot, they called it ROBEAR, was six feet tall, and essentially what ROBEAR ended up being able to do was serve food, move people in and out of bed, and do some of these rote physical tasks that nurses do. But Japan had to learn the hard way, “Oh, my God, like our human nurses do things like they come into a room, and they look into a patient’s eyes, and within a second or two they’re able to ascertain the level of pain that they’re in. They can walk into a difficult clinical situation and be able to, in their mind, assemble a group of experts from the hospital that they need to come in and solve the problem. They can sit down with a patient relative, who just got a difficult diagnosis, and sit with them and care for them and show empathy toward them.”

And these are all things that were kind of, as you’re saying, overlooked and became critical when, all of a sudden, they had this robot that couldn’t do any of that. So, most jobs, and this is what I said, this is not just a nursing thing, most jobs have these components. There are very few jobs where you don’t need to have any interpersonal skills and, in fact, some jobs are gaining the need for certain interpersonal skills.

My favorite example that I came across recently is in the supply chain, where in the supply chain it used to be a lot more, I don’t know, it was global in nature, it was less personal the way that it was rolled out in many organizations. And, now, what we’re seeing in the supply chain is it’s actually becoming more local and more regional and more relationship-based.

So, you might’ve been a logistics coordinator in the past and not really had to interact with other people too much. Now, you do. And so, that’s an example of an occupation where if you don’t have those interpersonal skills now, maybe you didn’t need them in the past, but you’re going to need them as we move forward. The world, in a way, is going to become smaller, not larger, as people crave that human touch.

And every time I’ve seen technology rolled out, it’s always got this high-tech, high-touch component. Everyone talks about that. It’s like, “It’s got to be high-tech, but we’ve also got to have high-touch because our employees, for example, don’t just want to go through onboarding where they’re in a portal, they take courses, their little avatar tells them where they need to be and who they need to meet.”

They want their manager to show them care and concern also. They want their peers to come by and say, “Let’s go to lunch.” This is never going to go away. And so, you have to include that stuff whenever you are implementing a new technology. And so, therefore, the people who are in jobs are going to need to have those skills.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we’ve got to have them, and no matter what. I’m with you there. And so, how do we keep them sharp?

Alexandra Levit
Yes, so how we keep them sharp, my favorite course in the entire world, I took it way back in 2000 but I’d still recommend it highly, is the Dale Carnegie course. I learned so much about how to be an effective human. It was unbelievable.

I learned how to be diplomatic, how to compromise, how to get people who you have no authority over to collaborate with you, how to change somebody’s attitude, how to combat anger and frustration in people, how to manage my own. It just goes on and on and on. And if your organization has a program like Dale Carnegie, or has Dale Carnegie, please take advantage of it.

I got to take that course for free and I can say that it shaped my entire career after that. It probably is the single most important thing I ever did for my own development. And those kind of courses are everywhere. If you want some additional suggestions, I can either, and people can email me, or you can even just do a web search for interpersonal skills. All of the massive open online course providers, like Coursera and edX and Udemy, they have courses on interpersonal skills that you can take, and empathy.

And, again, like all the other skills we’re talking about, these are relatively easy to get your hands on for either low or no cost. So, the first thing I recommend to people is see what your company offers because you might as well get it paid for. And if it doesn’t offer something, then create your own curriculum, it’s something that I tell people about all skills that they need to develop. It’s like, “Figure what’s going to keep you marketable and then make a plan to get those skills.”

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I think it’s kind of fun. I sort of enjoyed the charting your own course and choosing your own adventure in terms of, “Okay, Amazon, let’s see. What do you got in terms of books on this subject?” And then often you see there’s a couple standouts, like, “Holy smokes, this one has 2,000 reviews and is apparently the book about the subject. I guess I’ll read that one.” As well as, “Oh, and this one just looks like a lot of fun. Oh, and I can listen to this one by using audio.”

Alexandra Levit
Yup, that’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I think it’s kind of fun to, as you said, to think about creating or designing your own curriculum. And I don’t know where I read this, but I think it’s true. It’s like if you read the top five books in a field that you will know more about that field than like 90% plus of the people working in that field and just look like a genius.

And I’ve had someone on the show, and they mentioned, “Boy, whenever I had to pick up a new challenge, that’s what I did, and people were like, ‘Wow, this guy know so much about this area.’ It’s like, ‘No, I’m new. I just read the books before I started.’”

Alexandra Levit
That doesn’t surprise me at all, Pete. It really doesn’t. And they say it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert about something. I don’t know about that. Maybe to become like a world-class, like the top person to do something.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, like a violinist, yeah.

Alexandra Levit
I think you’re right. And I’ve done that too. I didn’t start off being an expert in all the things I talk about either. And with my first book, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College, literally, all I did was research a book about good traits to develop to become an effective professional, and I used Dale Carnegie and some of the other things.

And the second I published that book in 2004, there was no other book like it at the time, all of a sudden, I was considered an expert. And I’m like, you know, I’m really not an expert. I’m just a 27-year old kid who had a hard time and did some research and put together a book. But it’s amazing, like when you have a book or you read a book, it really is going to give you a surprising platform to talk about.

And I think you’re absolutely right. And the good news is there’s a lot of great stuff out there. And I still like the classics, Dale Carnegie, and of course Stephen Covey, who I had the fortune to be mentored by a few years ago before his death.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding. You had one-on-one time with Stephen Covey?

Alexandra Levit
I did. I did. It was so awesome. He’s so great and he really gave me a lot of great advice and great exposure, etc. But his 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, that was written decades and decades ago, and it still applies. And that’s the thing about these human skills, right? They are the human skills that don’t change, and the things that we struggle with don’t change either. So, we have to be mindful of both.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so powerful because I think of Stephen Covey, one of the words that leaps to mind is timeless. And we’ve interviewed a few FranklinCovey executives on the program and they’re all great so it lives on.

Alexandra Levit
It does.

Pete Mockaitis
And I think it gave me kind of a chuckle out of we’re talking about sort of the future and technology and automation, and what’s the answer? Read some books. And so that’s good. But maybe you can zoom into is there any kind of key memory moment sentence that Stephen Covey shared with you that really left an imprint in particular?

Alexandra Levit
He talked to me about, and I know this is in the book too, he talked to me about time management. And, at the time, when I met him, I was struggling a lot with I basically had three things I wanted to do in my life. I was working as a VP in PR, I wanted to get my business off the ground, and I wanted to have a baby. And I didn’t know how to do all of those things. And so, we talked about how I could prioritize the things that were the most important.

And so, thanks to his leadership and mentorship, I was able to decide I’m going to let the PR job go even though this was kind of risky because that was my primary source of income. I knew I had enough income from the business, and I knew I wanted to stay home with my son a little bit to see how I liked being a mom, and I knew I won’t be able to do everything.

And so, he really solidified in me the sense of balance and the sense of you’ve got to prioritize the things that are important to you, and you have to do it young. I’m so glad that I met him when I did, and I’m so glad that when I was 27, 28, I was putting the pieces in place to make a life possible where, to this day, my kids are 8 and a half and 11 and a half, I still have a lot of time with them and a lot of flexibility to do what I need to get done because of the way that I’ve structured my career. And so, I really have Stephen to thank for that in large part.

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

Alexandra Levit
I don’t think so.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, then let’s go. How about a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Alexandra Levit
Henry David Thoreau for sure, “March confidently in the direction of your dreams and you’ll meet with unexpected success.” Just always go after what it is you want especially in this world where the opportunities are there now. We aren’t stuck in certain occupations. There’s more movement even within an organization than it ever used to be. So, if there’s a skill you want to develop, if there’s something you want to learn, if there’s a type of work you want to do, go figure out a way to do it even if you don’t get paid for it. Our lives are going to be about the pursuit of meaning. And so, that’s why I like that quote from Mr. Thoreau.

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

Alexandra Levit
Well, I like psychological experiments. I was a psych major in college, and so I like some of those famous experiments where they’ve shown the bystander effect, I find fascinating, where if there’s an emergency, if you don’t put somebody in charge of solving the problem, everyone will just kind of stand there. And I see that happening in corporations every day as we speak, so that was an interesting one from social psychology.

We’re talking about human skills. I like the study with the rhesus monkeys where a rhesus monkey was given a cloth mother to love, and that monkey did better than a monkey that didn’t have any love at all. So, even having a fake monkey to love was something because all beings need love and affection. And I think we can’t automate everything because then we won’t have that.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Alexandra Levit
My favorite book right now is actually Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and I know that that’s politically charged so maybe I don’t want to say too much about it, but it’s about the pursuit of individualism, and I just find it fascinating.

And one thing that I’ve been trying to do lately, especially in the last three years since the election, is understand the other side, and understand where people are coming from, and what values and what ideals are at work to lead people to think a certain way. And so, I do feel that that book is one that I read recently and I’m glad that I did.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Alexandra Levit
A favorite tool. QuickBooks. For accounting it has been a godsend, a lifesaver. And unlike some of the technology that you and I talked about, Pete, for a small business, it’s so easy to use. It makes it so I don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on my accounting every year and taxes, and it’s so easy. It’s great.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite habit?

Alexandra Levit
My favorite habit lately is meditation. I meditate every night before bed for 30 minutes. I find that it really helps me sleep much better. It helps me be clear-headed in the morning. And, overall, I think it’s a nice thing to do. It kind of stops the situation where your mind is racing, you’re trying to sleep and you can’t calm down. It’s been great and I hope I keep it forever.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks, you hear them quote it back to you often?

Alexandra Levit
The biggest nugget that I’ve been sharing for 15 years, so, They Don’t Teach Corporate in College is the book that was published 15 years ago, it was my first book, and it’s the book that is going to be re-published in fourth edition in September, and the thing that people always talk about is that it doesn’t matter what you do, it’s who knows what you do, and do they value it.

And this perception is reality thing is something that really hit me hard when I was a young professional because I thought just churning out work like there was no tomorrow would be enough. I didn’t really care about what people thought about me. I just wanted to do a good job. But part of doing a good job is caring what people think about you and making sure that they have the right impression of you.

And that is something that people come back over and over and over again. It is so gratifying when people who are like 40 come to me and say, “I read your book when I was 25, and it changed the course of my career.” And, usually, they’ll mention something, really, it’s what I call the professional persona or the mature confident face that you project to the work world and the impression you try to get people of you. So, that’s probably the most common.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I think we have to have a couple sentences on the professional persona. This is so valuable. What’s the story there?

Alexandra Levit
The professional persona is the mature confident and together face that you present to the work world. And there’s a lot of talk recently, Pete, about bringing yourself to work and being your whole self. And I think that you can be the best version of yourself at work, and it’s not necessarily the version that you would share when you’re out for drinks with your friends on Friday night, or when you’re goofing off with your family around the Thanksgiving table.

It’s the more professional version of yourself, and I think you always have to be buttoned up, a little bit concerned about what comes out of your mouth, and what you’re displaying online, that shows who you are, and you just want your organization to be proud to have you as an employee and not have anything detract from that impression.

Pete Mockaitis
And this is a lightbulb for people in terms of like…? Tell me about that.

Alexandra Levit
I think, yes, especially for young people who they’ve been brought up to believe that they are unique and special, and that their perspective should be valued, and that they should be able to be themselves at work. And, again, I think, to some degree, that’s true. But the reality is that business operates in a certain way, it still does, and you have to be mindful of the culture of your organization, and people don’t think about that. It doesn’t even occur to them. They go in, they’re themselves, and sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. And for me it didn’t, which is how I learned about all this.

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

Alexandra Levit
People should be awesome at their jobs by looking ahead to future work trends, what is going to be necessary in your field, in your industry, and how you are going to get skills so that you are gainfully employed in the next three years, six years, nine years, even the next two decades, and how can you plan ahead. What kind of life do you want? And how can you get there? And you’re going to put yourself in a position to be the most effective person in a certain job. So, even if some of the jobs disappear, you’re still going to be at the top because you’ve got the best skillset.

Pete Mockaitis
Alexandra, this has been lots of fun. I wish you and the book Humanity Works tons of luck and keep up the good work.

Alexandra Levit
Thank you so much. It was great to be here, Pete. And I’ll see you next time.

464: How to Prevent Management Messes with FranklinCovey’s Scott Jeffrey Miller

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Scott Jeffrey Miller says: "Great leaders are great listeners."

Scott Jeffrey Miller shares powerful stories and principles for becoming the most effective leader you can be.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why making time for one-on-ones is truly worth it
  2. Three foundational principles for listening well
  3. How to flourish as a leader by practicing the Law of Harvest

About Scott 

Scott J. Miller is Executive Vice President of Business Development and Chief Marketing Officer for FranklinCovey. Scott has been with the company for 20 years, and previously served as Vice President of Business Development and Marketing. His role as EVP and Chief Marketing Officer caps 12 years on the front line, working with thousands of client facilitators across many markets and countries.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Scott Jeffrey Miller Interview Transcript

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Pete, my pleasure. Thanks for the invite.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah, I think we’re going to have a ton of fun. And I want to start at the beginning with your first leadership experience and the tale of having a bit of a management mess.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I didn’t say I wanted to. It’s the start of the book, right? As I, like most leaders, was promoted to be a leader without really any training. I was a fairly competent individual producer, the top salesperson at the time and, unfortunately, that’s usually the criteria for someone being promoted into a leadership position, is you were doing your individual contributor job well so you must be of leadership caliber which, of course, is absurd. So, I share, in this story, lots of horrifying scenarios, but do you want me to walk you through the first one?

Pete Mockaitis
I would. I’d love it. The more horrifying the better, please.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, that’s my specialty, Pete. So, let’s see, I was a couple of years into my role here at FranklinCovey as a salesperson selling leadership solutions to universities, colleges, school districts, and I got promoted to be over the team, like the team the day before me were my peers and friends. That’s never a comfortable position.

And I decided that I wanted my legacy to make sure that all of my colleagues, my new sales team, had an adequate understanding of our new solution, so I arranged and got the budget and organized the conference room to have a two-day professional development training, and really enculturate the new sales team—my new sales team—into our newest solution. Hired a consultant, first day show up, everybody comes in 15-20 minutes later. I was incent. I mean, after all, we are a productivity, time management company at heart so I was lit.

Pete Mockaitis
Putting first things first, let’s see, I’m sure there’s some habits and principles.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I’m sure we violated a lot of things. Well, they were just putting their first things first, not me. So, they kind of strolled in 15-20 minutes late and I was incent, I was productive, I was vigilant, I was probably pretty suffocating. So, anyway, we started the program, and then I was just really irritated all day long. So, that night I decide, “The next morning I’m going to show them there’s a new sheriff in town, quite frankly.”

So, I go, in my genius, in my leadership, finest moment genius, I go to the supermarket and I buy like 15 copies of the Salt Lake Tribune. The next morning, sure enough, everybody comes in 10-15 minutes late, and I am just like, “I will not be disrespected,” right, that’s my mentality. I walk around the room before the program starts and I throw down on the table in front of everybody the classified job ads from the Tribune and I say, with great flair, “If you want a job from 9:00 to 5:00, Dillard’s is hiring.” And then I gave them a highlighter to highlight the roles they want, which I thought it was inspiring and, “You should want to work here.” And, of course, it was idiotic and it was insulting and emasculating. And the horror story is that it took me a couple of days to understand that what I had done was just so immature and to the opposite of what a principled mature leader would do.

And the good news is, as I mentioned in the book, a decade later, I get married, literally a decade later, almost to a T, every one of those people who either quit on the spot, threatened to quit, threatened to sue me, threatened to have me fired, whatever it was, they’re all at my wedding, we’re laughing at the horror of it all. And so, the story ends well but it was just one of those examples of what I thought in my mind was a fine leadership example was just idiocy.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s so funny, I don’t know why that tale just brings up a scene from, well, I guess, the famous Alec Baldwin scene from “Glenngarry Glen Ross.” I guess you skipped some of the profanity and the demeaning insults but it’s dramatic in terms of, “Oh, I’m not messing around here. I’m laying down the law.” Well, Scott, if I could just give you an opportunity to have a do-over and rewind time, how would you have approached that situation today? You know, if folks are late, you feel disrespected, what do you do?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I would, well, I know what I would do. I’d sit down on the table in front of them and say, “Hey, guys, ladies, gents, so glad we’re all here. We’ve got a great two days ahead of us. I noticed that we’ve got a couple of things we want to tighten up. One is I noticed that this morning perhaps the start time wasn’t clear. I really want to make sure we establish a culture of respect and discipline, and you know how much we all like to be punctual, it’s kind of what our brand is. We want to model for our clients and for each other, that we live our content, right?”

“I mean, we are a time management consulting company, so I’m going to ask that everybody be really diligent on respecting the start and end times. So, if you’ll respect the start times, I’ll respect the end times. And if we need to start later and go later, I’m fine with that, but let’s just set down some ground. rules. And if we think that we should be a little more free on some things and tighter on others, I’m open to that.”

And I would’ve absolutely had it be a conversation, not dictatorial, I would’ve not made it as big a deal, at the same time, I would’ve said, “This is kind of important to me, because I think how we treat each other is how we treat out clients, how we treat the consultant today, as everyone are consultants to be treated by our clients.” So, I would’ve had a very comfortable dialogue, no theatrics, no grand gestures, no purchasing of classified ads. I would’ve gotten my point across just as well, if not better, with no theatrics.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig it. Okay. Well, while we’re here, I’m just going to follow up one more time. Let’s say, next day you got two stragglers, what’s the game plan?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
I would probably call them out maybe not in public. It would depend upon now the rapport that I had with the team. At the time, I didn’t have rapport. I was their peer literally the day before and now I’m sort of like the swagger. So, I think it depends on the scenario. I might have called them aside. I might have texted them and say, “Hey, I know you’re late this morning. I’m guessing something came up. Do me a favor, if you’re going to be late in the future, just give me a heads up so I might have held the program for you.”

I think, now, I would suspend judgment more and not jump to a wrong conclusion. I would assume good intent. I would assume they weren’t trying to flagrantly violate my new stature, right? So, I think as I have matured, I’m less suspicious. I’m more gracious and forgiving and give people a chance to rise to the occasion versus expect them to violate some petty rule that might be important in the moment but isn’t valuable long term to the culture of the team. At the end of the day, who cares if you start five minutes late in the grand scheme of a career, right? I think I just have matured and I’ve identified what’s really important and what’s kind of petty urgent.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, I imagine you’ve made a number of discoveries in terms of what makes effective leadership in your own career and being surrounded by the folks at FranklinCovey and putting together your book “Management Mess to Leadership Success.” So, could you maybe share, is there a particular insight or discovery that has been most transformational for you personally?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, it’s very clear to me. So, I’ve been in the firm for 23 years, and you would expect as an officer of the firm now, I’d be a great leader, right? And nobody is a complete mess and no one is a complete success. Leadership of people I don’t think came naturally to me. I think I’ve gotten much better over the decades but I was a star individual performer and I had to realize that the skills that make you a great dental hygienist or digital designer or salesperson rarely don’t translate over into leadership of people. So, there has to be a major paradigm shift.

You can’t be the star anymore. It isn’t all about you. It isn’t you hogging the spotlight. And so, I had to make a fundamental paradigm shift around what was important to me—and did I have the humility, did I have the confidence to let other people shine, and even sometimes shine past me, get promoted over me, earn more money than me? It takes a very secure, confident, humble person to lead people. And I think, for me, the biggest lesson on how to get there was, Pete, the value of relationships.

When Dr. Covey was alive, he passed seven years ago, our co-founder, he was constantly reminding me about the difference between having an efficiency mindset and an effectiveness mindset. And it’s something I have struggled with my entire life as it relates to relationships with people. And that is I’m a very efficient person. I like to talk fast, think fast. I mow the lawn fast. I rake the lawn fast. I’m at Home Depot at 5:00 o’clock on a Saturday morning before the staff even opens the doors to buy the flowers to plant them by 6:30. I like to get things done.

And that served me very well in life. I have no apologies for being an efficient human being. But when it comes to relationships with people, one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Covey is this concept of, “With people, slow is fast, and fast is slow.” So, what works well with me planting pansies and begonias in the garden does not work well leading people. I have to move into an effectiveness mindset.

It’s fine to be efficient with systems and even some meetings and even some conversations, but the vast majority of leadership is about building culture, respecting people, and that cannot be rushed. And I have to consciously slow down, check in, get off of my own timeline and my own agenda, and not try to “check people off my list.”

It is a challenge for me. It’s not natural. And when I rise to the occasion of slowing down, the result is always better. I start at kind of a mess and have to consciously think of success when it comes to relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I resonate with that and I do like efficiency and blazing speeds whenever possible. It just feels really good. And then it feels like there’s like a huge list of everything that desires or demands your attention. So, let’s dig into that. That is one of your challenges in the book, is making time for relationships. So, let’s dig into that, how slow is fast, and fast is slow when it comes to relationships, and here’s some stories and practices to bring that to life.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, first, I think it’s a mindset also, right? It’s, “Do you really see yourself as a leader of people versus a leader of strategies, a leader of budget, a leader of outcomes?” I think it’s just to check in to say, “Do I really care about the team that I lead, the division I lead?” The fact of the matter is, Pete, most of us recognize, in our careers, we tend to spend more time at work with our colleagues than we do awake with our family and friends.

And when that is the case for most of us, we want to slow down and really develop quality relationships with people because, as all the stats show, people don’t quit their jobs. They quit their boss, according to Gallup, and they quit their culture. And the leader’s number one job is to, in my opinion, retain and recruit quality talent above everything else, even above setting vision, strategies, systems, stakeholders, return to investors. Your job is to recruit or retain talent and it all comes down to, “Do you have a high-stress culture? Are you respected? Are you trusted?”

You may not always be liked as a leader. In fact, you probably rarely will be liked. But if you build rapport with your people, you make it safe for them to admit their messes, you admit your own messes, to really understand that your number one job is to connect with people and make them want to come to work, make them not want to accept the recruiter call which, by the way, they’re getting every day. If you don’t think your people are getting poached, you’re in a cave. It’s a war on talent right now.

And if people like their leader, they think you have their back, that you establish what I would call a pre-forgiveness environment. It was taught to me by one of my leaders, which is, “You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to screw up, so let’s just pre-forgive you. It doesn’t give you the right to now go out and just be a train wreck but you’re going to make some mistakes. No one wants to live in fear.” And I think, at the end of the day, have you connected and slowed down with your people?

I read once a great leadership tactic. And it was when someone comes into your     office, if you’re wearing glasses, take them off, put them on the table. If you’ve got a phone, turn it over and put it down. If you’ve got a laptop, close the laptop, and just like, almost artificially, overly check in to the person. Those subtle things are noticed and people will remember them.

It sounds kind of technique-y and it is, but I think it becomes a habit and a practice, and people feel that. People quit their bosses or people stay with their leaders because they feel inspired and validated and trusted and empowered. And those aren’t cultural buzzwords. Those are real things that people can taste and feel.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I dig what you’re saying here. That’s all ringing true and resonating. So, I want to hear a little bit, if folks are in a place, let’s talk about slow being fast with people. If there’s some leaders, more so junior leaders in terms of our listeners, it’s about 50/50 in terms of those who have direct reports and those who don’t, and those who unofficially are influencing without authority, project managing stuff, so that’s kind of the ballgame. We got some executives but more so early leaders in the listener crowd.

So, if folks are feeling kind of overwhelmed by all the things on their plate, all the goals and to-do list items that are there, and they’re worried that they “don’t have time” to a one-on-one with everybody, for example, how would you counter-argue that?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Well, they’re probably right. They probably don’t have time but they also want to have a team because your team will disengage with you. This concept that you talk about, which is this idea of challenge 20, hold regular one-on-ones. It’s really a chance to engage with your team. Again, if you believe that your number one job as a leader, not your only job, but your top job is to recruit and retain top talent, and that may not be a yes for you. You may not psychologically, philosophically believe that. I have come to absolutely believe that.

The CEO, the CFO, the chief marketing officer, right, even her job or his job is to recruit and retain talent because people are proud of their brand. So, I would set expectations carefully. Don’t go announce you’re going to have, all of a sudden, one-on-one every week with all 14 direct reports. You’re setting yourself up for failure. Calibrate expectations, talk about the value, understand the value of sitting down with your people, door closed, phone off, laptop down, glasses off, and using it as a chance to gauge engagement.

In fact, we say that one-on-one should be organized by the other team member. It’s their meeting, not your meeting. This is their chance to talk 70% of the time. You talk 30%. They ask questions, you clear the path. You listen about things going on in their life. Pete, everybody has got a mess in their life, everyone has got a bill that they can’t pay, everyone has got a challenge in their marriage or their relationship with their partner, everyone has got a kid that’s just causing them a nightmare, everyone has got a sick parent. Everyone has got something going on that is weighing on them, that’s distracting them, that’s weighing them down.

And the more they can trust appropriately in their leader to care, sometimes people just need a leader to listen and understand, “You know what, my teenage son has got a challenge, and I might be coming in late. I promise you I’ll make it up, maybe not in the short term.” You’d be surprised. Leaders are really forgiving, generally speaking, and they understand and they know, they’re not guessing what’s going on.

So, I don’t think you can afford not to take time with your people when there is this, especially with your star performers, when they are being recruited and poached like never likely in history. I’m shocked at the number of recruiters that are chasing me on LinkedIn. If my CEO knew it, he’d have me at lunch every day, or maybe he does know it, he doesn’t want me to stay. But that’s a good head’s up. If you fundamentally believe your job is to retain talent, you’ll do this.

Let me share one more point, I’m sorry I’m going long. My favorite leadership book every written is called “Multipliers.” It’s by Liz Wiseman. I can’t evangelize it enough. It’s a game-changing book. I think it’s arguably better than some of the books that we’ve written at FranklinCovey. Liz Wiseman was the former, basically, VP of Learning at Oracle for 20 years. She left, she’d become a friend of mine, and she talks about how multiplying leaders don’t have to be the genius in the room.

They choose to be the genius maker. They don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. They have the humility and the confidence not to always have the answer, always solve the problem, always trample over someone, that they really can create an environment where people can talk and share ideas, and share ideas that are half-baked or quarter-baked. You don’t have to choose your words super carefully.

That’s a leader that creates an environment where people feel safe to take risks and express their ideas. And I think that’s a great way to build relationships. You don’t have to be the smartest person in the room. You just have to be smart enough to hire the smartest people in the room.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yeah. So, I dig that and I’ve heard that recommendation before so it’s nice to have some extra oomph behind that book. So, I guess, tell me, if folks are having trouble making the time, where should we get it? How do we get the time?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah. Well, it kind of comes down to your own prioritization. I’d argue that no one is busier than me and I don’t wear that as a badge of honor, and I have got to deliberately choose to say no to other things. That’s really a chief leadership competency, right, is this discernment, “What are you going to say yes to? What are you going to say no to? Where does it come on your sort of value chain? Are you making high-value decisions on how to allocate your time?”

And, again, if you fundamentally believe that people are your most important asset, that your culture is your ultimate competitive advantage, which by the way I evangelize unabashedly, that culture is every organization’s only competitive advantage. It can’t be duplicated. Everything else can be stolen, copied, replicated, and good enough, but they can’t steal or replicate your culture. So, how you find the time is in your own mind. What are you going to say no to that has less return than the 30 minutes with Pete this afternoon?
I’ll tell you, the worst one-on-one, Pete, is not the one that the leader talks the whole time or hijacks the agenda. The worst one-on-one is the one you cancel because as soon as you cancel the first one, now you’ve given permission to cancel the second one as a slippery slope, and now you look like a fraud. So, that’s why I’d say don’t overcommit.

If you’re going to have one-on-ones, announce to your team, “Hey, I think a great idea would be for us to have one-on-ones. I know, I get it, it’s another meeting. No one wants more meetings. Don’t think of it as a meeting. Think of it as a conversation, a chance for you to check in with me. You can ask me questions. Are there some things that I can use my political clout to clear the path on? Are there some systems that you think maybe I’m overly-invested in and it’s time to challenge them? It’s a chance for me to understand what are you struggling with? What are you loving? What’s on the horizon for you? You can ask me questions around the company, the strategy, ‘Are we being sold? Are we being bought?’ I can’t tell you but you get the point.”

And say, “You know what, let’s try, for the one-on-one, 30 minutes once a month. If we find that, after the first couple of months, I’m able to keep them, you’re able to keep them, great. Maybe we’ll go more frequently,” but set expectations low.

I had a client once that, when they heard me give a speech, it was a publisher, he came up to me and said, “Oh, my gosh, it was the most genius thing, Scott. You so inspired me. I have 14 direct reports. I’m going to go announce…” “No, no, no, no, don’t announce anything. Do not announce anything because you’re going to set yourself up for major disappointment and you’re going to kill your brand. Sit down with your assistant and think out methodically. Can you really do 14 of them?” Because we get into this habit where we overcommit ourselves. The first one goes great, the second one goes really well, the third one goes pretty good, the fourth one is taxing, and then they’re like, “Oh, crap. This is just like killing my day, right?” So, ease into it.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That’s good. All right. Well, we talked about some high-value stuff. You’ve laid out 30 different challenges in your book. Which one or two would you say is just exceptionally high return for the investment of time, energy, attention you put into it?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know, when I wrote this book, which by the way now is a number one Amazon new release bestseller for three weeks in a row. I’m super proud of that because I think the world was ready for a different kind of leadership book, one a little more relatable, raw, and messy, so to speak, because leadership is messy.

We started out with 30, well, about 130 challenges, put them all up on the wall with sticky notes, that we thought leaders face. Of course, that’s a suicide mission, right, a book with 130 challenges. So, we narrowed it down to 30, and we organized them in kind of three tranches, Pete. The first eight are around kind of leading yourself. The next dozen or so are around leading others. And the third about dozen around getting results.

The one I think that is probably the most counterintuitive is challenge three, and that’s listen first. The reason I think it’s so counterintuitive is because by the time you become a leader, you had been well-trained on communicating. You’re always in convincing mode, persuading mode, you probably have a big vocabulary. You’ve mastered your message. You’re good at setting vision, convincing people. You’ve mastered the stage, and the microphone, on and on and on.

How many have had days and days of presentation training, lots of them, PowerPoint, keynotes? How many leaders has had legitimate training on listening? I’m in the business. I mean, I had probably four or five collective hours and 30 years on listening. It’s not called TED Listen, it’s called TED Talks, right? We’re constantly reinforced about the power of communicating. But I think great leaders are great listeners. It is a communication competency.

And I think we undermine ourselves because we’re always so used to solving problems, peeling the onion, asking great questions, and these things actually aren’t great leadership tools. There’s a place for that or there’s a place to get to the bottom of something fast and furious so you can solve it in an emergency or in a crisis. But, generally speaking, asking great questions is not showing empathy because your questions are usually based on your own paradigm, your own narrative, your own agenda, your own timeline, your own curiosity, your own need to know. And people will tell you what they need you to know.

So, I would really argue and advocate for people to be much more mindful of when was the last time that you listened to someone to truly understand as opposed to just reply, fix, solve, and move on. And I could go for a half an hour about listening. It is a total mess for me because I’m well-trained at public speaking, I host two podcasts, I host a radio program. Like you, I speak for a living, right? And I don’t like to listen because people talk too slow. I like to listen fast. I like to speak fast. I like to interrupt. I like to get to the bottom.

Ask my wife, my wife does not need me to solve her problem. She needs me to listen, validate her, and understand. My wife is very smart and very competent. She rarely wants me to solve her problem. So, I would just remind leaders to be uber, hyper aware of your listening skills, your propensity to interrupt, and can you psychologically bring the mental discipline in your next conversation to move off, well, how was it when you had that challenge.

What was it like when you faced that situation? And just constantly remind yourself, check back in, check back in, check back in. Listen. It doesn’t mean you can’t ask some questions. But the more you listen, the more the person will appreciate you and feel like you care about them. So, that was a long example.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dig it. Now, when you say check back in, you’re just talking about…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Mentally.

Pete Mockaitis
…inside your own head.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
You’re off in your own land.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Of course, you are.

Pete Mockaitis
And bringing it right back.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
That’s right. You’re thinking about your own experience with that same scenario or, “I’d never let that happen,” or, “Here’s how I would solve it.” You have to show enormous intellectual discipline to fight the battle of distraction, to fight the battle of, “Would you just stop talking and I’ll solve your problem for you,” right? But most people don’t want you to solve their problem. They just want to feel heard. They want to feel loved. They just want to feel listened to. And it may sound kind of touchy feely, but that’s part of leadership. It’s just sometimes validating people’s frustrations.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you said you could talk for half an hour about listening, but I’d love to go another five minutes. So, we talked about, you said, somewhat technique-y, but closing the laptop, or putting the phone aside, taking off the glasses, repeatedly checking back in and reorienting your attention away from your own internal dialogue back to them. What are some of the other kind of foundational principles and favorite practices when it comes to listening well?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yeah, I think I shared three things. One of them I’m going to repeat. One is you have to fundamentally believe that you care about what this person is going through or believes. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. It doesn’t mean you have to even like them for that matter. Just fundamentally, “Is what I’m trying to do right now to help them by just listening?”

Second, resist the temptation to ask questions because most of our questions are probing questions, evaluating questions, interpreting questions. Most of our questions are built so that we can get better context from our own paradigm, mindset, frame of reference, belief window, whatever you want to call it. Most of those questions are really selfish. They satisfy your need to know.

Here’s a good example. When someone says, “Tina’s husband died.” Honestly, most time, our first question is, “How?” Who cares how? Does it matter if he died by an overdose or hit by a car? It doesn’t matter. What matters is Tina is probably in pain. And so, that’s a little bit macabre, I know, but it’s an example that I use in the book, right? If you’ve read that chapter, you know I used an example about someone whose dog died, and how we ask all these questions to kind of satisfy our own curiosity.

So, I would really challenge people, “Is your expert machine gun-style questioning technique…?” which is mine, I think I used an example of like a kangaroo boxing with their feet when I’m at a dinner party, right? Question, question, question, question, question. I didn’t give the person enough time to answer the question. I’m onto the next question. And so, lower your questions.

Here’s the third. I think if people are all like me, we all have a propensity to interrupt because, according to the famous linguistic professor, Dr. Deborah Tannen from Georgetown University, all of us have some preconceived sense of how long the other person should be talking. Pete might think Scott should talk for 48 seconds and stop. Scott might think Pete should talk for 28 seconds. We all have this sort of built-in idea of how long the other person should be talking, so we start to move off of listening and want to interject and move it onto our timeline. But it’s selfish. It’s self-serving.

So, the next time you’re tempted to interrupt, which will be today, I want everybody to be mindful, close your lips. Gently, let your top lip touch your bottom lip, not so it’s visible, just close your lips gently. Because if your lips are closed, you cannot form a word and, therefore, you can’t interrupt. And count to seven, count to ten, and the odds are that during that time when you choose not to interrupt, the other person will either finish talking, land their point, or maybe even share something especially vulnerable, or the crux of the story, or divulge their fear.

And it’s in that time when you’re not interrupting that you might actually learn something especially important, that when it’s time for you to interject, you’ll have a more fuller picture of how you could help them. It’s actually a great exercise that I strongly advise everybody. Check in mentally, try to stay off the natural distractions to move off of your task list, “What’s for dinner? Are you on time for they gym? Do you have enough groceries?” whatever it is. Check back in mentally, you may have to do it four or five times during a conversation, and really resist the urge to interrupt.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I love it when you talked about closing your lips. That’s huge because…

Scott Jeffrey Miller
It’s idiotic, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, no, it’s sort of like it even changes your entire posture because a lot of times your mental state follows your physiology and your body posture and such. Are you raring to get after it and go for a sprint, or are you kind of chilling and laid back and relaxing, reclining? And, likewise, is your body poised to chime in or is your body poised to take it in? And then the difference, it can be a small as a millimeter or two, but is there a gap between your lips or are your lips, in fact, touching each other and closed? I love it. That is good.

Well, you got so much good stuff here, Scott. I like what you had to say about Wildly Important Goals. Can you share with us what are they, how do we identify them and get us all moving toward them?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Sure. So, in full disclosure, this is not my original content. In fact, all of these 30 challenges come from Franklin Covey’s leadership intellectual property. This idea was really popularized by Jim Collins in his book “Good to Great.” He coined this term, he called them BHAG, Big Hairy Audacious Goals. And Jim is a good friend of our CEO. In fact, I’m going to see Jim next week in Boulder for a meeting. And he really inspired us in our bestselling book “The 4 Disciplines of Execution” which is the number one book in the world when it comes to strategy execution.

And in our book, at FranklinCovey, we created a version of Jim’s BHAG, we called them WIGs, Wildly Important Goals. It’s quite simple but profound. We all have goals. But have you, as a leader, taken the time and the discipline to elevate what is truly more important than anything else? Meaning, like nothing can come at the expense of this getting done.

In fact, the same concept can apply in your personal life, in that as a leader, you have several roles. One of them, beyond obviously retaining and recruiting talent, setting culture, modeling trustworthiness, is communicating clarity around what is most important. And your job is to help to identify with your team, “What is going to provide disproportionate return to our shareholders, to our customers, to our profit, to our mission?”

Your job is to say, “Yes.” Your job is to say, “No.” Your job is to elevate things that have to happen. We call those the Wildly Important Goal. And everything cannot be a Wildly Important Goal. While you’re doing that, you have to make sure that your people understand that this is more important than anything else, but that you’ve taken the time, Pete, to communicate to them what is their role in achieving this goal, what types of behaviors. Literally, what do you need to see differently from them tomorrow to help achieve this goal because, likely, if it’s a Wildly Important Goal, you haven’t accomplished it yet. And everyone is going to need to learn something new or do something different tomorrow to achieve this new goal.

So, as a leader, don’t be afraid to sit down with Pete and say, “Pete, let’s talk about this. We’re going to move our customer retention from 18% to 19% in the next two months. Here’s what I think your contribution needs to be to this. Let’s look, like, what kind of training, what kind of support, what are you going to need to do differently so that you can contribute new and better behaviors to this? And, by the way, while you’re at it, don’t just tell everybody else what they need to do differently. Offer up what you’re going to do differently. And say, ‘You know what, team, I’m going to ask you all to stretch beyond your skillset, and I want you to know I’m going to lead the parade. I’m going to leave the comfort of my office and go out and meet with 10 clients in the next 14 days and really understand what do they need from us or whatever the solution is, right?’”

You lead out and show people that you’re willing to move outside your comfort zone. And then I think, beyond all of that, the goal has to be attainable. You have to structure it in a way that people understand, “Are they winning?” And goals should be structured, at least from our pedagogy, if you will, in a from X to Y by when format. “We will move customer retention from 18% to 19% by May 31, 2020” from X to Y by when.

And once people are very clear on that, “What is the goal? What is the measurement? What is my role in it? What is their role in it?” you’ve got to celebrate it. You’ve got to have it on the scoreboard, it could be hokey, it can be with cotton balls, it can be pompoms. I don’t care. The hokier the better. The less digital the better. People should look at it in a heartbeat and know, “Are we winning or are we losing? How are we at tracking towards goals?” These are kind of simple concepts.

As Dr. Covey used to say, “Common knowledge isn’t common practice.” He would always talk about The 7 Habits, “To know but not to do is not to know.” It sounds religious, maybe it is, I don’t know or care. But I think it’s a great methodology around setting Wildly Important Goals is more than being a visionary.

Let me share one final thought. I think there’s a type of leader, it’s often the high-endurance athlete, it’s often the uber successful leader who is a workaholic who’s relentless. And if they win, they lose. I’m going to say it again. If they win, they lose. Meaning, if they accomplished the goal, they’ve lost because the goal was set too low. And I think that is a cancer inside some organizations. As a leader, you should be setting stretched goals that require extraordinary effort that are aspirational, but they have to be accomplishable.

And when your team accomplishes them, you have got to invest and spend time acknowledging them, thanking them, rewarding, and celebrating. Set off the confetti, right? Spray the champagne bottle. Go bat, you know what, crazy. Don’t just say, “Great,” and then get back to the grind. People need to feel like you value accomplishing the goal as much as you did setting it and striving towards it.

I’m actually pretty passionate about that because I think too often leaders set goals that are too waffy and they crush the confidence of the team. People want to win. And if they can’t win working for you, they’ll go win working for somewhere else, someone else. Sorry, that was a diatribe.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no, I dug it all. And I want to get your take for those who are aspiring for leadership positions but don’t have them yet, and they want to be like you, promoted into a management role. How do you get that signaling, that conveying, earning that trust, that confidence, such that people think, “Yes, you are the one who should be a manager now”?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Can I take four minutes?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
First, ask yourself why, right? Why is it you want to move into being a leader of people? I think, like I’ve said before, people are too often lured into being the team leader for the wrong reasons. Lead or be led, right? “Either take the job or Pete, down the hall, is going to be my leader tomorrow. And that’s horrifying thought, right, I don’t want Pete being my leader so I’m going to step up the plate, right?”

I get it. I get it. But wrong motivation. Do you get your validation from seeing other people succeed? I think, too often, it’s the only way to get a career promotion is to move up into leadership. And I think it’s a system’s misalignment issue. I’m not here to tackle the OD industry but I think people should really question, “Why do I want to do this?”

Here’s the next thing. I think people try to harvest their careers too soon. That’s a broad statement. I said the word people. There’s an amazing video that Franklin Covey has in our “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” two-day work session. It’s an interview we did 25 years ago with this sort of unsophisticated but very smart potato farmer from Iowa, sorry, from Idaho. And the name of the video is called “The Law of the Harvest.”

And in this sort of 8-minute video, this potato farmer says something that changed my life, it changed my career. He said, “There comes a time when we plant potatoes that we have to rotate the crop, right? Some years we actually plant a money-losing crop, like alfalfa or whatever it is, and we lose money on it. But it replenishes the soil so desperately and so vitally that allows us to grow bigger potatoes the next year.”

And I think the metaphor is so wise for our careers. I think, too often, including in this younger generation—which I have enormous respect for, I mean, they’re going to be my boss in the next five years. I better shape up and not insult them, and I won’t—is that too often, I think we try to harvest as oppose to plant.

In my career, I have found that patience has rewarded me. Fertilize, water, weed, rake, hoe, fertilize some more. Don’t try to harvest too soon. I think, in most organizations, leaders will call you when you’re ready. Nobody wants to suppress people. We know you’ll quit. No one wants to suffocate people. We know you’ll quit. No great leader, no mediocre leader, is going to pass over you when the timing is right. If they do, you’re working for the wrong organization.

But I think the question you ask is, “How do you know?” We’ve all been in the role where we’ve had to kind of fake our way until we make it. I don’t know if that’s good or bad. I’m certainly a product of that. But I think you should surround yourself with wiser people than you. I’ve always practiced this concept, Pete, I call friending up. While my colleagues were playing beer pong at the lake house on the weekends, I was with the boss at his or her family’s house, picking their brains. I’ve always surrounded myself with people who are older, smarter, wiser, richer, better educated, better travelled, been down the same path. And that always kind of led me into a leadership role probably a little sooner than I should’ve been, but it certainly had me on the right track.

So, I would say practice the Law of the Harvest. Don’t try to harvest too soon, and surround yourself with leaders that are willing to mentor and coach you, and have been down the same path you’ve been in, have made the mistakes that you could avoid if you’re willing to listen and pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Thank you, Scott.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Probably not where you thought I was taking that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no. I can dig it. I can dig it. And we’re going to have a quick moment for some of your favorite things. Can you give us a favorite quote?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
My favorite quote, no surprises, from Dr. Stephen R. Covey, he said, “You can’t talk your way out of a problem you behaved yourself into. You can only behave yourself out of that problem.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Oh, my gosh, I love electric screwdrivers.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Scott Jeffrey Miller
You know what, I really get into the habit of apologizing without excuses. I’ve learned that the excuse-free apology is the only apology. So, I’ve gotten to the habit of simply saying, “I’m wrong. I apologize. I own it.” No excuses around it. No defending myself. No trying to make myself look better. Just owning it and apologizing with no attachments.

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Yes, so the book site is ManagementMess.com. you can find me there. You can follow me on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, you name it. I’m kind of hard to miss these days, but ManagementMess.com is the best place to learn about the book, and my future book is coming out, and how to bring me into an organization.

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

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Stop gossiping. The biggest cancer in organizations is leaders that talk about people behind their backs. Dr. Covey called it being loyal to the absent. Only speak about people as if they were standing right next to you, looking at you in the eye. Because when you are loyal to those who are absent, you build confidence and trust to those who are present.

There’s a person in our company who I have enormous respect for. And this person gossips and trashes everybody. And whenever I’m hearing her, I think, “Man, what do you say about me? That must be really brutal.” Because, of course, she talks about me. How can she not? Why would she spare me from that? Stop talking about people behind their back. Only talk about them as if they were standing right in front of you, looking at you in the eye. You will transform your brand, your reputation, and the culture of your organization. You can start small just on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
Scott, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much. And keep on the good work.

Scott Jeffrey Miller
Hey, Pete, I’m honored. Thank you, sir. Glad to be part of your podcast series. Thanks for the interview.

444: How to Upgrade Your Work Conversations with Stacey Engle

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Stacey Engle says: "If you have emotions around a situation, that's a good thing. That means you care."

Stacey Engle offers pro-tips for engaging in more meaningful conversations at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why pointless conversations are at the root of many business problems
  2. How to have more efficient team meetings
  3. How to handle strong emotions when communicating

About Stacey

As President of Fierce Inc., a global leadership development and training company, Stacey Engle is obsessed with helping Fierce clients stay ahead of the curve. A strong innovator, she’s always connected—to clients, emerging trends and new opportunities. Stacey’s forward-thinking approach to sales and marketing reflects Fierce’s commitment to enriching lives and creating community, one conversation at a time. She relishes her role in bringing people together to have the conversations they most need to have.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stacey Engle Interview Transcript

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

Stacey Engle
Well, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into this conversation. And I understand you’re excited about showtunes and musicals. What’s the story here?

Stacey Engle
Well, music does move me. There’s a joke in my friend group that if I could have a soundtrack of my life, I would definitely have one. I love music and, yes, I’ve been a part of that board and other boards and efforts with music and theater.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there any particular shows that are really near and dear to your heart, that you sing the songs often?

Stacey Engle
Well, I guess from, just being somewhat stereotypical in the community, when “Hamilton” came out, I was definitely singing full for the music there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. You know, I have yet to see it and I really want to. And I just somehow think I’m somehow going to get a free ticket from someone somewhere but it hasn’t happened yet.

Stacey Engle
You know, I’m all for manifesting in this universe, so maybe one of your listeners can help you out there.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have received unsolicited gifts from listeners which is appreciated—not that I’m soliciting right now for the record! —but it’s happened before, and I appreciate it each time. So, good stuff there. Well, now, I want to hear about your company Fierce. What’s the main gist of what you’re all about here?

Stacey Engle
Yeah, so we believe that the root cause of most business problems is pointless conversations. So, we are a company, a global training and learning company that helps people really have those conversations that lead to results.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued by the phrase “pointless conversations” right there because I recently had a guest who talked about, in building relationships, it’s great to, as he said, have a thousand conversations about nothing. But they’re not really about nothing. They serve to build the relationships. So, what do you mean by pointless conversations?

Stacey Engle
Well, what we mean is conversations oftentimes people do not realize they’re the most accessible tool that you have going through your day. So, as humans, we’re really navigating our lives one conversation at a time. So, when you aren’t thinking about the intent and the content of your conversations, and also your intention, you’re really missing the mark. And I think we’ve all had the experience of sitting through a meeting that we all knew that we weren’t talking about the real issue, or being with someone and not really feeling like you could share.

Stacey Engle
So, a pointless conversation is one that does not have intention and structure and a goal involved. So, when we think about pointless conversations, think about the team meetings that aren’t really discussing what really needs to be talked about, or the coaching conversation where you’re talking all around the issue. Those are pointless conversations. So, our goal is really to help people talk about what matters in a way that’s skillful, and in a way that’s intentional.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds very important, so I’m excited to have this conversation. And so, your company is called Fierce, and fierce conversations is a phrase you use frequently. In fact, there’s a book associated with it. What do you mean by a fierce conversation?

Stacey Engle
So, the definition is a conversation which you come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.

Pete Mockaitis
Come out of myself.

Stacey Engle
Yes, so coming out from the masks you wear, coming out from all the reasons why you don’t think you can say what needs to be said. Come out from those and make the conversation real. So, there are four objectives of a fierce conversation. One is that you’re interrogating reality. So, this idea of you’re getting curious about what’s going on. Two, you’re provoking learning. So, not just provoking someone else’s learning, you actually want to learn. You’re tackling to have challenges which means not putting off what really needs to be talked about. And then the fourth is enriching relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so, is it your philosophy that a business conversation should always do one or more of these things?

Stacey Engle
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that.

Stacey Engle
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re upping the standard here. I’m just imagining a lot of conversations right now and thinking about the extent to which these things occurred. What’s your hunch in terms of the proportion of business conversations that are checking at least one of these boxes?

Stacey Engle
Well, let me back up. So, the goal is that a fierce conversation is really achieving all four of those, so we’re going to learn something new. So, interrogating reality, provoking learning, we’re going to tackle a tough challenge and, what’s most important, is we’re going to enrich the relationship when we’re doing it.

So, that’s kind of the foundation of what is fierce, and that feels very theoretical, but the idea is let’s think of an example of just you’re going into a meeting with an idea. If you want that meeting to be a fierce meeting, you are going to walk in with the intention to get it right for your company, for your team, versus being right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that. Getting it right for people, stakeholders, as opposed to being right, like, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” or, “I’m validating the idea I had is great and, therefore, I feel smart as a result.”

Stacey Engle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had some previous folks associated with the Landmark education draw a distinction between, “Are you more concerned with being right or with things working?” And I found that helpful. And this is even more punchy, I would say, an articulation, being right or doing right for these people, or getting it right for people.

Stacey Engle
Right. Getting it right versus being right. So, that’s a mindset piece. And then there are really skills to make sure that you are really hearing from others, getting curious, because you only have one perspective. And your perspective is one, and it’s not the truth, so your goal in that meeting should be to hear everyone else’s perspectives, and to really provoke learning on everyone’s side, and tackle what we need to tackle. And then, in the end, enrich the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds like a lot more fun to be than your average business conversation. So, maybe, could you—I want to dig into the how in a moment— but could you perhaps paint a picture in terms of a case study of how a client organization of yours did some stuff, and they saw the conversations become more fierce more frequently and what sort of performance gains they saw as a result?

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. So, one of our near and dear clients, we love them, CHRISTUS Health, they’re a healthcare system comprised of about 230 hospitals and clinics, and they employ over 45,000 people. And, as you know, healthcare is very complex. They found themselves falling into the trap that many organizations face, which is becoming a culture of nice. And associates had really mistaken the value of compassion and the value of service with avoiding difficult conversations.

So, many leaders weren’t giving feedback because they didn’t feel it was compassionate    and they were scared to give that feedback, and nobody was really sharing those insights. And what was at stake there were many associates were not growing at the level that they needed to. So, through discovery, it was determined that a lot of these conversations were missing, and we needed to build this skillset.

So, Fierce was brought in at the leadership level, and we really helped them work proactively on feedback, on coaching, on confrontation, and really building a common language where these tools were accessible, and helping arise potential issues before they formed. So, CHRISTUS Health was able to achieve a 50% reduction in executive turnover.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stacey Engle
Yeah, we like that. A 36% internal promotion increase, so those associates were really developing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, all right. So, the results are there. That’s really cool. Let’s talk about how to do it. So, what are some of sort of the top things that we should start doing or stop doing to see some of these results?

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. Well, so we know six conversations that are often not as powerful as they could be in the workplace. I always like to start with three. One is that team conversation I was referencing. So, this idea of, “How do you have a more compelling team meeting? And is this actually answering more tactics?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there are six kinds of conversations, and so let’s have them.

Stacey Engle
Yes, so there are six kinds of conversations, and the three that I always love to share with our audiences, because we can really, really all relate to these. One is the team conversation, so the idea of, “How do I run a team meeting where people are really engaged and they are laying out reality without pointing blame? And sharing from their perspectives, how can we move forward on this particular opportunity or issue?”

The second is a confrontation conversation. So, this is when you and I know something needs to change. How do we best approach that topic in a way that does those four objectives? So, interrogating reality, provoking learning, tackling a tough challenge. And we actually feel like our relationship is enriched by having that conversation.

And then the third is feedback. So, feedback is a tool that we constantly need to use in our every day. And one of the pitfalls with feedback is many times people write the script of what, of the meaning of the actions. So, for instance, if I see someone talk over someone, I may think to myself, “This person is being rude or doesn’t really respect X person.”

And our feedback conversation is very much about not writing that script, so you stop at behavior, and you would have that conversation with someone, asking them, “What was going on?” versus putting the meaning, and then also what’s at stake attached to those actions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a really handy tip right there when it comes to the feedback, is to not interpret it for them what that means, and then assume and cause all kinds of problems. So, that’s great there. So, then when it comes to those team conversations and confrontation conversations, what are some key ways to have those go all the better?

Stacey Engle
So, confrontation is all about preparation. We have a 60-second opening statement. So, this idea that you really need to frame the issue or challenge in 60 seconds because the other person, when they’re hearing this, will most likely have a fight or flight reaction, so you want to lay this issue or challenge out in front of the person, and ask and invite the conversation. So, it’s all preparation and confrontation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stacey Engle
So, succinctly, being able to share. And one thing that often gets in our way is we wait, and wait, and wait until it becomes too much. And then we have so many examples of why X needs to change. And the reality is, in an effective confrontation conversation, you’re only using one or two examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great.

Stacey Engle
So, you can’t bring in all of your emotional baggage.

Pete Mockaitis
“And another thing…”

Stacey Engle
Exactly. I mean, we call it the dump truck, you know, like, “I’m just going to back up and unleash more and more reasons why this is true,” and it really can curtail that conversation. So, we want to stay succinct, we want to be thoughtful and prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, could you maybe give us an example of a 60-second opening statement?

Stacey Engle
That is a great question. Yes, I can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
And you must prepare for these conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Taken.

Stacey Engle
So, an example would be, “Pete, I want to talk with you about the affect your leadership style is having on the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Stacey Engle
“And I want to share two examples. One, I saw, when you were in that meeting, you rushed out of the room, and you ripped the flipchart off of the paper, and crumpled it up. And you seemed pretty upset. So, that’s one example. Another example is some of your team members have expressed concerns about cancelling your one-on-ones and canceling some of those conversations. So, this is very important, this, your leadership style to the success of the company, and a lot is at stake for both us. The contribution I have to the problem is I might not have brought this up as soon as I should have, and I really want to resolve it and support you. Tell me, from your standpoint, what’s going on?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I like it. So, we got those ingredients there in terms of, “This is what we’re talking about. Here’s a couple examples. This is why it matters. And I’m in the mix as well, it’s not all you, you, you. I’m in there.” And so, then it’s kind of open-ended with your final question. And what was that again? You said, “Tell me what’s going on.”

Stacey Engle
Yeah, “From where you sit, what’s going on for you? Because I want to resolve how your leadership style is affecting the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so, “What’s going on for you?” is nice and broad, and it’s not as accusative as, “What’s your problem? Why can’t you get it together?” It’s, “What’s going on for you?” and that could go anywhere from, “Hey, you know what, I’m going through a really rough time with I’ve got two kids, and I’m sleep-deprived, and I get kind of edgy in that kind of situation,” to, “Oh, I had no idea. I guess when I was an investment banker that was fine in that culture.”

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. And I would argue that it’s never really fine. So, yes, once you do the 60-second opening statement, your job is to really inquire about your partner’s views, to ask questions and get curious, and really dig in for more understanding. And then, what’s very potent, and when I talked about conversations need to drive results, there needs to be a resolution. So, we need to talk about, “What have we both learned? How are we both going to move forward and make an agreement, and then hold each other accountable to it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent And so, then how long might that whole conversation take?

Stacey Engle
It can vary and the goal is that you could have this conversation in 30, 45 minutes, even less, if you’re prepared. And it’s really, really powerful once you have this tool, and it is a common language in organizations because, I don’t know, de-stigmatizing confrontation is very important. The reality is we’re going to have challenges, things are not going to go as we wish, and confrontation is actually less needed once you have more of these other conversations like feedback, coaching, team.

So, confrontation is when feedback hasn’t worked. So, it’s not like you should be having confrontation conversations every single day, and there’s not a perfect equation depending on what situations you find yourself in.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. But that’s useful to know that it could be 30 or 45 minutes or less because I think some people fear, it’s like, “Oh, man, we’re going to be getting into it for a half day trouble.”

Stacey Engle
It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And, you know, it’s often pretty quick.

Stacey Engle
Well, and what I think is something I really like to challenge others is those missing conversations, the ones that you keep saying, “Well, this time it’s distraction, and the music is playing just right, and I have this much time on my schedule,” you keep justifying those missing conversations. Those are the most costly in organizations. They really are, because the reality is everyone understands that people are busy and time-constrained, so you need to be clear about your intention, also your timeframe. So, it’s okay if you only have 45 minutes, and if there needs to be a follow-up conversation, then that’s okay. But the goal is that you begin. Because there’s a lot of justification to not start, and that’s really ineffective.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, that’s pretty handy. Thank you for those. And how about on the team conversation point with regard to being more engaged?

Stacey Engle
So, we have a strong position that you should not have team meetings with so many people that not everyone can participate. So, a team conversation is all about addressing challenges, opportunities, together as a team. So, if this is true, we need every brain cell and every viewpoint necessary to make the best possible decision. So, for team meetings, we are not big proponents of having people who won’t participate be in the meeting. So, we want to hear from every single person. And if you don’t want to hear from that person, then they shouldn’t be invited to the meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I imagine then do some numbers pop up with regard to, “Hey, at this point, you’re at risk for having some non-participators,” if you cross the threshold of, I don’t know, six people who’s there.: Do you have a guideline there?

Stacey Engle
Yeah, so typically say six to 10 would be max. And this isn’t taking into account company-wide meetings and all-hands and communication meetings. We highly endorse those. But this particular team conversation is when we have an opportunity, we have a challenge, and we really, really need to solve something together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s one key tip then is to ensure that it’s not too big, it’s a manageable size, everyone can participate, have a piece of it. Any other tips for how to have great team conversations?

Stacey Engle
So, another tip for a team conversation is preparation as well. So, we make an analogy with a beach ball, so this idea that everyone sits on a different stripe in the beach ball. So, Pete, if you were in marketing and I was in finance, you may be on the red stripe, we don’t like finance being in the red, but let’s pretend. You may be on the red stripe and I may be on the purple stripe, and we may view an issue very, very differently.

And it’s very important that we have facts and preparation beforehand because the team leader needs to come in, and the goal is the team leader has prepped every single person with what the issue is and relevant background information so that that leader can really gain all stripes, like all perspectives. So, that preparation is important, and I just wanted to give that tip around the beach ball because it’s that visual metaphor of really thinking through everyone has a different perspective. And if you are going to walk into a meeting to get it right, not flaunt what you think we should do, you must gain each perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Oh, go ahead.

Stacey Engle
The one other tip is, at the end of the beach ball meeting, the piece that’s super powerful is each participant basically absorbs all the information that has been discussed. And then the task is for each person to say, “If I was the meeting leader, here’s what I would do.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
So, it really is so insightful to gain other people’s insights, not just from their particular perspectives, but also how they have interpreted and how they’ve assimilated all of the perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. And I’m liking what you’re saying with regard to just not assuming you’ve got the answers, and be curious in making sure we get all those perspectives there. I’m also curious when it comes to conversations where you do have an intention to persuade, and maybe this is a little bit of external-facing stuff, maybe it’s about sales or something. How do you think about those conversations?

Stacey Engle
Okay. So, our coaching conversation is a great sales tool. It’s all about mining for clarity and helping a coachee or someone you’re wanting to really help surface what the true issues are. And when you want to persuade or you want to connect with people, because I think a lot of persuasion or influence is really connection with a greater purpose or a different path. So, that coaching tool, you know, mining for greater clarity, and being able to surface what’s really going on, is amazing for persuasion and influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, because you got the connection and you understand what’s really going on and so you’re able to sort of make the connection all the more clearly associated with this service, or whatever will address this.
Now, you mentioned clarifying, which is something I want to cover because I saw that pop up a number of times on the Fierce website. What are some best practices in terms of asking great clarifying questions and getting to clarity in your conversations?

Stacey Engle
So, we make an analogy in the coaching conversation that questions are really the drill bits when you’re mining for water, and you’ll experience different layers. And the idea is that you want to have a whole cadre of questions that you use in different circumstances. So, when you’re asking, “What’s going on for you?” or something that’s very broad, our tip is to ask, “What else?” three times.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
So, the idea is most of the time when someone is sharing the issue. So, if you open a conversation and say, “What’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” the first thing they share, it’s often not the real issue. So, you want to help someone clarify for themselves, so asking more questions, asking, “What else? What else? What else?” is a discipline. Because it can be so tempting to give advice and to jump in or ask leading questions, like, “Well, have you ever thought of…?” So, clarifying is really about being intentional and having a practice to say, “What else? What else? What else?”

And then another tip for clarification is just repeating back, which many of us I feel were taught when listening. But the reality is many of us are not great listeners, and having reminders or cues, so if this is an issue for you that you like to jump in or you don’t ask as many questions, it’s great especially if you’re on a video call or a phone call to have a visual cue, to even write on a Post-It note, “What else? What else? What else?” just to remind yourself to really dig deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, we talked about the drill bits analogy, and reminding, and “What else?” I guess I’m imagining “What else?” can often shift us laterally or to the side, but you’re saying, “What else?” can also get you deeper into the given matter.

Stacey Engle
Both.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, “What else?” is one great one. And what else would you recommend in terms of great clarifying questions?

Stacey Engle
Well, sometimes when you ask someone, this happens a lot in meetings, if you ask someone, “Well, what do you think?” sometimes people will say, “I don’t know.” And we really encourage you to say, in not a snarky tone, “What would it be if you did know?” or, “Go there with me for a moment. I really want your input.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that because “I don’t know” usually means “I haven’t thought about it,” or, “I’m not yet comfortable telling you what I really think about it.”

Stacey Engle
Exactly. So, that’s a great practice to clarify and also to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Any other great clarifying questions?

Stacey Engle
I think when you’re helping someone work through an issue, it’s very important to have emotional attachment. And people will really have different reactions and emotions to talking about emotions in the workplace, so questions regarding, “What do you feel about this?”

So, for instance, “When you consider all of these outcomes that are occurring, what do you feel?” That’s so important to ask because we are emotional. We make decisions emotionally and then rationally. Like, we rationalize our emotions. So, asking, “What do you feel?” in situations really can help move an individual and move a situation forward.

And the big clarification there is not saying, “How does this make you feel?” which is a very victimizing spin to that question. You really want to ask, “What do you feel?” because you want to keep accountability for all of the emotions that a person experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. As opposed to the thing is making you feel this way, so it’s just, “What do you feel?”

Stacey Engle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
The response, okay.

Stacey Engle
“What do you feel?” versus, “How does this make you feel?” We always want to put people in positions of power and not victimhood around situations they’re in. So, that phrasing, “How does this make you feel?” is more of a victim statement instead of owning the answer to, “What do you feel?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I like the distinction. It’s very helpful. And I want to talk about emotions here. So, a lot of what makes these conversations tough in the first place are those emotions, you know, you’re scared, you’re angry, you’re confused. These things are there. And so, how do you recommend to sort of, internally with your own personhood and brain and feelings, do what you need to do to have those conversations?

Stacey Engle
Well, the conversation itself is key. Preparation, the idea that you really sit back and frame, “What do I want to accomplish here? What am I trying to say?” and writing it down, or speaking out loud, however you need to work through those emotions or anger or resentment, you need to figure that out. And having tools, like a framework, whether it’s fierce conversations framework or other conversations framework, those tools really help you work through those emotions and give you confidence that all of us need to have these conversations. This is the human experience, and no one is going to die.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Stacey Engle
So, although, we may, because of emotions, our bodies may go there, it may feel like someone may die. But the reality is there are so many marriages that have been saved by having the conversations that need to happen, so many lives and companies, their trajectories completely changed because they had that conversation that really mattered.

And sometimes we can’t even predict what those conversations when they will happen, what those conversations will exactly entail, so that’s why it’s so important to just, if you have emotions around a situation, that’s a good thing. That means you care. That means there’s something at stake. And being able step back and reflect on that, that’s key.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig that a lot. So, no one is going to die, we have some comfort there. And, indeed, the conversation can be saving. And we had Kim Scott talk about radical candor earlier on the show, and that’s kind of her story. It’s like, “Oh, boy, if I had this conversation earlier, I wouldn’t have to be firing this person right now.” There’s a lightbulb there associated with the benefit of going there.

So, let’s say, okay, you’ve done your work, you’ve kind of taken some time to think through your goals and maybe a framework, and then you’re just about to step into it. Any sort of pro tips for the presence or the emotional management so that you deliver it well in terms of you’re not kind of angry or timid or kind of anxious and putting out vibes that impede the effect of this conversation?

Stacey Engle
Well, one tip is absolutely to prepare it. That preparation should mean that you’re grounded at least going into the conversation. That’s square one. I think being transparent with the person that this conversation is a hard one for you is important. Oftentimes, we like to just, I don’t know, what’s the phrase, fake it until you make it. There’s a certain level of necessity, I understand, for those scenarios. And when it comes to conversations that are super important and central to your success or central to your happiness, being able to step in, say, “My intention here is to explore this with you. It is not easy for me.”

And when you learn our frameworks, we often encourage leaders. So, for the listeners out there, when you’re trying a new framework, or you’re trying something new, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I’m trying this.” And just that humanity, I think, really can help squash the nerves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And are there any other kind of magical phrases that you find yourself saying often or you recommend often? We’ve covered a few, like, “What else?” What are some other things that you find can be said frequently and sure are helpful when you say them?

Stacey Engle
Well, from a leadership perspective and even a peer perspective in your career, there can often be times we’re taught as coaches to have checklists and check in with our team members, so, “Are we getting these things done? Have we followed up on these items? Are we investigating something new?” whatever is on your checklist.

Checklists are great. And, in today’s labor market and in today’s current state, it’s very important to not rely only on a checklist. So, one question that we really love is to ask, “Given every single thing that’s on your plate, what is the most important thing you and I should be talking about today?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Any others?

Stacey Engle
Well, oftentimes, there’s a slant to action, which I love. If you do StrengthsFinders, I’m an Activor which means I do like starting things. And one question, instead of saying, “What are next steps?” you can ask, “What is the most potent step you should take?”

So, that sounds very similar, but this idea of helping someone sequence, and say, “Okay, given what we just talked about, what is the first potent step that you need to take or we need to take as a team? And then, what’s next?” So, just helping break down the sequence of that can really be effective. That’s just a tip.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, as we wrap up, I’d love to hear, are there some things you recommend not saying, or conversations that ought not to be had?

Stacey Engle
Well, we’d like you to delete “but” from your vocabulary.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stacey Engle
We want to say “and.” So, when you think about the team conversation, or multiple perspectives, the idea is we want to say, “This is true, and this is true, and this is true.” When you use the word “but” it often discredits. So, “I like your idea, but we already looked into that.” Or, “Oh, that’s a great way to think about it, but Stephanie is already doing this.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Stacey Engle
It’s a mental shift. So, really deleting the “but” and replacing it with the “and” is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that works frequently as I think about that, “Hey, thanks so much for mentioning that, and Stephanie has already started looking into it.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m encouraged.”

Stacey Engle
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “All right.” And the same point is made, you know, associated with, “All right. So, I don’t have to do anything else because Stephanie is running with it, and I’m feeling better about the exchange.” That’s cool. Well, Stacey, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stacey Engle
Well, I think oftentimes people will say that they don’t want to have the conversation because it will take too long, or, “We don’t have enough time to have the conversations you’re talking about.” And I just really want to make the case for the quality of conversations versus the quantity. So, this idea that we can be intentional and know that there should be a beginning, and a middle, and an end to a conversation. And that it’s a tool that can get us to the next level in our career. It can shift something for us. That idea, it’s very important to pay attention and engage.

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

Stacey Engle
So, I love Anais Nin’s quote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

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

Stacey Engle
So, I tend to refer more frequently to questions than studies. So, one of my favorite questions is, “Given everything on your plate at this very moment, what’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” And through that I hear a lot of studies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Stacey Engle
A goodie and always a favorite Tribes by Seth Godin.

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

Stacey Engle
So, Headspace. By meditation, having the right mindset is key, and that’s been a challenge for me, so it’s great to have a tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Stacey Engle
Working out every single morning, even if it’s for 15 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with clients and listeners?

Stacey Engle
You get what you tolerate.

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

Stacey Engle
So, our website is FierceInc.com and my handle is @staceyengle.

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

Stacey Engle
I do. My call to action is to write down three people in your life who are central to your success or your happiness and decide what conversation you need to have with them, and by when.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stacey, thanks so much. I wish you and Fierce all kinds of luck and many meaningful conversations.

Stacey Engle
Thank you, Pete.

438: How to Earn Fierce Loyalty Through 3 Key Principles with Sandy Rogers

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Sandy Rogers says: "The deepest need of the human heart is to be understood. I mean, how good does it feel when people really get you?"

Sandy Rogers shares the three core principles required to earn the devotion of both customer and colleague.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 3 core loyalty principles of responsibility, empathy, and generosity
  2. How indifference can destroy loyalty
  3. The importance of weekly team huddles for reinforcing new behaviors

About Sandy

Sandy Rogers is the leader of FranklinCovey’s Loyalty Practice. He was previously Senior Vice President at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. During his 14 years there, Sandy managed the turnaround of the London, England operation and led the teams that developed Enterprise’s marketing strategy and system for improving customer service across all branches. Before Enterprise, Sandy worked in marketing at Apple Computer and at P&G. He is a graduate of Duke and Harvard Business School.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sandy Rogers Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sandy, thank you so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Sandy Rogers
Thank you Pete, thrilled to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to chat with you. And you’ve got many claims to fame in your life, but the one I thought was most interesting off the top of my head was that you led the teams that came up with the legendary “pick Enterprise we’ll pick you up” slogan, what is the backstory here?

Sandy Rogers
Oh, my gosh, well, I have the great fortune of spending most of my career at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, actually left Apple Computer to go work with Jack Taylor at Enterprise. And one of my early Jobs was to lead the marketing part of a business, the idea of picking customers up came from one of our local general managers, and Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise, when he first heard it, thought, “That sounds crazy, I don’t know how you’re going to be able to pick people up.”

But sure enough, in true Enterprise fashion Jack empowered the local teams to go run experiments, try and figure it out, perfect it, the idea of pick up then spread across the organization. And so, when I came in as the marketing guy, we were looking for a way to share a message that would get people’s attention.

And there was a lot of push to talk about our friendly service and our great employees. But back then, other car rental companies were talking about their great service.

Pete Mockaitis
You got OJ Simpson, running through Airports

Sandy Rogers
Everyone was talking about we try harder and so I thought talking about service, the way to prove you have great service is actually to deliver great service, but not brag about it. And so instead, we did some research. And we looked for things that nobody was talking about.

So, you need something that’s unique, but we also wanted something that customers felt was really important. And in all the different things we tested, pick up jumped to the top of the list because nobody was talking about pick up in the car rental industry. And when consumers heard, “You’ll pick me up?”, it was a great message. And so we started with that, “Pick Enterprise we’ll pick you up,” we worked with a terrific ad agency in New York, and created that commercial with a brown paper wrapper car and it became a very memorable way to communicate this wonderful service Enterprise still provides today.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right and I’m curious, like, what proportion of customers end up actually requesting to be picked up?

Sandy Rogers
On my gosh, I’ve been out of the business for 12 years. So, I don’t have the latest—

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll grill you with hard data questions at the top of the interview, Sandy.

Sandy Rogers
But a lot of them do, a lot of people— Enterprise started in the home city car rental market. So, when people had an accident or they brought their car into the dealership or service, Enterprise was the only player in town who would pick you up and bring you back to the branch and get you into a car.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy, I’ve done it before.

Sandy Rogers
Oh, good. Well, I hope you had a good experience, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It was, it was very pleasant. Thank you. Cool. Alright, so that’s the history of Sandy Rogers. But let’s talk about some of the current stuff, you’ve got a book, Leading Loyalty. I want to hear, as you’re putting this together, what was maybe the most surprising and fascinating thing that you discovered, as you were executing this?

Sandy Rogers
We have worked with a wide range of organizations, I mean, small, big. And what really surprised me is these principles that we have uncovered through all the research we’ve done about empathy, responsibility, and generosity, that these principles are not only applicable in earning the loyalty of our customers—and everybody wants fierce customer loyalty—but they’re also the exact same principles we need to earn the loyalty of our coworkers, our colleagues, our family, our friends, our kids, our spouse.

And so, the deeper we got into this, and the more stories we heard, these principles are applicable to earning the fierce loyalty of every important person in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really good. We got the empathy, responsibility, and what?

Sandy Rogers
And generosity is the third one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And principles are like gravity. I mean, they’re irrefutable. They act on you whether you agree with them or not. And so, if you don’t obey these principles of loyalty, you’re not going to earn the loyalty of other people. I mean, there’s no shortcuts.

And sure, people talk about frequent flyer miles and discounts and point programs but Pete, we’re talking about the loyalty that’s fueled in the heart. It’s when you tell your friends “oh, I got to tell you the story about this thing. It was unbelievable.” It’s that heartfelt emotional connection that that we’re trying to fuel with this book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I dig that, well, could you share with us maybe a story? You got some heartfelt tales that you’ve collected, and you’re doing your research and talking to folks that maybe, so I can get a picture of you of a loyalty transformation. We had some lack of empathy, responsibility, generosity, and loyalty and then we saw things turn around.

Sandy Rogers
So, Pete, I was with the CEO of a large baby retail chain, and we were talking about empathy. And he stopped me, he said, “Sandy, I got to tell you a story. You may have heard it because it’s been all over the internet. This man comes into one of our stores, he’s carrying a load of unopened baby items, and he explains to our team that he and his wife had just experienced a miscarriage. And our team told him, ‘Sir, I’m so sorry about that but with a receipt you can’t return these items.’”

And the CEO just covered his face, he said, “Sandy, I don’t know how I could’ve possibly allowed a policy like needing a receipt get in the way of doing the obvious human thing for this poor man.” And you know what’s interesting about this story, Pete, two years later, this chain went bankrupt. They closed all of their stores. And they certainly had their financial challenges, I don’t know if it was from a lack of showing empathy, but I do know this, to earn the fierce loyalty of our customers, we have got to have empathy for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, yeah, that’s powerful. And, boy, that really is an illustration in terms of, “At what point are your policies ironclad?” Every policy needs to have a breaking point somewhere below this extreme, you know.

Sandy Rogers
So, let me tell you one where we had a policy at Enterprise that was ironclad, okay? Do you remember where you were on 9/11?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. I was in my senior AP Rhetoric class with Mrs. Judy Federmeier when we got the word. I was like, “What?” Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
It was one of those moments. I was at the headquarters at Enterprise in St. Louis. Can you imagine what it was like at an airport rental branch that day? All the planes were grounded. At the Dallas Airport branch, in Washington, D.C., our branch manager has a branch that is teeming with people desperate to get home. All of our competitor car rental companies at Dallas Airport had closed and their managers had gone home, you know, check on their family and everything.

But our manager decided to stay open, and he couldn’t reach anybody on the phone because all the phone lines were jammed. And we had a policy, a firm ironclad policy back then, no one way routes. If you rented a car at the Dallas Airport branch, you had to bring it back to that Enterprise branch. Pete, he couldn’t reach anybody. He gets on a chair and stands up in front of his huge crowd of people, and he said, “Everybody, could I please get your attention? This gentleman here is going to Atlanta. Is there anybody else here that needs to go towards Atlanta or in that direction? Can you all please take this car? I’ve open up the soda machine, help yourself to a soda and a snack. Take the car, get yourselves home safely. I’ll figure out how to get my car back.”

He said, “Ma’am, where are you going? You’re going to St. Louis? Okay. Who else here needs to go west towards St. Louis? Please take this car, get yourselves home safely. I’ll figure out how to get my car back later.” This branch manager, Pete, scattered his cars to the winds. He sent them all over the country. He completely violated our policy about no one way routes.

And when we heard this story three days later, the founder, and the CEO, and the whole senior leadership team at Enterprise was never more proud, because although this team had completely violated our policies, they did exactly what our customer mission is all about. They showed incredible empathy for these customers. They took responsibility for the real job which was to get them home to their families. They were incredibly generous because imagine the cost of getting all these cars back, but we were never more proud.

And so, when I think about this story, are the people in your organization, whether you’re in a small two-person shop, or a large company, are you given the ability to be empathetic with your customers, to take responsibility for their real needs, to be generous? Because this is the secret, not just to customer loyalty, this is the way we earn fierce employee loyalty.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.

Sandy Rogers
We started measuring customer service at Enterprise around 1994. About the same time that we were doing the research on what to advertise with pick up. And because we knew that to grow the business faster, customers had to walk away with a feeling that “wow! I love this place”.

Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise said, “It’s simple. When people walk out of our branches, they’ve got to feel like this is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

So, in order to deliver great service, we decided we had to measure it. When we first started measuring service in 1994, Enterprise, we were pretty good overall, but there was huge variation across the chain.

And that’s often the challenge with organizations. I mean, you always have people, there’s pockets of greatness, but you see inconsistency from one location or one team to another. And so, we told everybody, this is the one of the most important things our mission is built on customer service, let’s get busy and improve it.

And over the next two years, we had zero percent improvement, everybody was focused on doing what they always did, which was running a great business and then Jack Taylor, the founder, inspired everybody and said, “No, I’m really serious about this.”

And so after this meeting we had in 1996, from that point forward, the decision was made not to promote anyone who’s customer service score was below the company average. And that, Pete, changed everything.

Over the next 10 years, all of a sudden, now everybody had skin in the game, we had a metric that clearly identified who needed to get better. And by not promoting the below average performers, over the next 10 years Enterprise went from delighting 67% of its customers to 80% of its customers. And that variation I talked about across the chain went from 28 points to less than 12 points.

Company sales in this 10-year period tripled from $2 to $7 billion. And Andy Taylor, the CEO at the time, this was the profound dedication and impact of improving our service across the whole chain. Fred Reichheld at Bain [& Company] created the Net Promoter Score based on this story that I just shared at Enterprise.

Pete Mockaitis
You know when I worked at Bain, I’ve done a case at Bain using the Net Promoter Score. I think I even read the book, The Ultimate Question.

Sandy Rogers
Yes.
Chapter Four in The Ultimate Question is this story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so well, fun fact. Cool beans. So, there we have it, we made a commitment, this was how it’s going to be, you can’t get promoted if you’re below average, and we saw tremendous results in terms of people more satisfied, revenues growing. So that’s really cool in terms of, you’ve got transformation, and then I’m imagining then, in terms of what constitutes a great customer service and great customer experience, there were some particular practices that invoked some more empathy, responsibility and generosity from the staff?

Sandy Rogers
No question. And so, by unleashing our teams to go out and be creative, and to figure out, “How are we going to make more of our customers happy? How are we going to make our operation more consistently excellent?” These wonderful ideas spread from the bottom up, and Enterprise had tremendous success.

But Pete, we’ve worked with a wide range of organizations over the last 15 years. And these principles hold true in every case. The customer has to feel like you have empathy for me, that you’ve taken the time to understand my hidden story, that you’ve taken responsibility for the real job I’m trying to get done, not just selling me your stuff, but you’ve taken the time to really understand what I’m actually trying to do or accomplish.

And three, they treat us with generosity in terms of the time it takes for us to do business with a firm, they respect us. And so those are the principles that we bring to life because we think they’re essential in every business, whether it’s a small bakery or it’s a large conglomerate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to now talk about some of the specific practices, then, for human beings, we’re working with each other, we’re trying to facilitate some more loyalty, whether that’s with an external customer, an internal customer, a colleague, a friend, a collaborator. What are some of the key ways that you go about doing empathy, doing responsibility, doing generosity?

Sandy Rogers
The first step is we’ve got to adopt a loyalty leader mindset. Our mindset affects our behavior. And so, we choose to be a leader. It’s not what’s on our name tag, you know you’re a leader if you look over your shoulder and you see people following you.

So, this idea that, well, no, this is something my boss has to do or the CEO has to sign off on, no, everybody in the organization from the bottom to the top, has to choose to be a loyalty leader and take personal responsibility for living these principles more often.

So, let’s trail down into empathy. So, the first one is empathy and empathy is our ability to identify with and understand other people’s situation or feelings, and we know what it means. Now everybody has empathy, you don’t have to teach it. If you see somebody poked with a needle, we flinch and say, “Ugh.”

So why don’t we see more of it in the workplace and our everyday interactions? Well, we’ve got to talk about it, and we got to get into the practices. So, the first practice in showing empathy is to make a genuine human connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And so often what we get from the companies we do business with, it’s not a genuine connection, it’s some kind of scripted thing that they’ve been taught to read to me on the phone after I’ve waited 15 minutes on hold, to simply tell the cable company that my internet is not working, and I’ve got an interview coming up and could you please fix it?

I don’t want to hear the script, I don’t want to hear the fake empathy. Because I know it’s a script they’re reading to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
And so we talk about making a genuine connection, even if you’re the third person in line, and I’m the host at a restaurant, and you just want to put your name down for a table, just with eye contact, I can let you know I see you, I care about you. I mean, I can give you the feeling that I’m going to take care of you. I’m so sorry you’re having to wait.

And once we make that connection, the next practice is I’ve got to listen to learn the story. We all have a hidden story. Sometimes, the hidden stories are obvious. If we’re driving down the road and we see a lady standing with her small children by a car with a hood open and steam coming out, and we get the story in a glance, right. We know what’s going on.

But so often, people will come into our workplace, whether they’re a customer or a coworker, and they’ve got a story that’s hidden from you. And for us to have empathy for that person, we’re going to have to genuinely connect so they know that this is not just a fake, “Hey, what’s up?” and when you know I don’t really want the answer. But no, “Really what’s going on? How are you?” And then I’ve gotta take the time to actually listen to their hidden story.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Sandy Rogers
And I’ve got to listen not just with my ears, I’ve got to listen with my eyes and with my heart, too. I love the Chinese character for listen, it contains the symbols for all three, ears, eyes, and heart.

The deepest need of the human hearts to be understood. I mean, how good is it feel when people really get you? So that’s the idea. You can’t have empathy if you don’t know my story and you’re not going to hear my story unless I believe you’re genuine and you actually are listening to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sandy, I’d love to get your take from the human experience of, all right, you’re busy, you got a lot of things going on, you want to be empathetic but you could just forget, in the hustle and bustle and the taking care of business and your metrics and KPIs and hustling to the next thing because there’s a fire to put out, but there’s humans in your midst.

How do you recommend folks kind of center, ground, reorient their brains and their ways of being to really empathize with folks in that moment?

Sandy Rogers
And that’s what’s so hard about this because what we’re talking about here is common sense. People say, “yeah, I’ve learned this stuff in kindergarten” and you did. And hopefully, it’s ingrained in your psyche, these principles that start with empathy. But just because it’s common sense, unfortunately, it’s not common practice.

And the reason it’s not, in so many of our interactions is we’re busy! We’ve got revenue targets, expense reduction goals, I got a list of stuff, I’ve got to get done by five o’clock today. And so, in the whirlwind of our busy daily lives, we lose sight of the power of the simple practices that we’re teaching in this book.

And so, we’re teaching people things that they already know but we’re asking them to talk about them for 15 minutes a week, in a little huddle, the team comes together. And in those huddles, the most important thing you do is you celebrate the people on the team that are doing what you talked about last week.

So last week, we talked about listening to learn the hidden story. I got to tell this quick story about Pete, and you know, it’s fun, and people laugh and we high five, and that’s amazing. And then we talk about the next principle or practice, and how do we actually apply that in the work we do here?

It’s easy to talk about this stuff in theory, but yeah, how am I supposed to be generous to these customers that are yelling at me all day, right? So, we talk about it. And then we each make a commitment to go apply this and come back next week. So, we can celebrate what worked and talk about what didn’t work. And we don’t have to have all the answers. We’re just going to create space in the whirlwind of our busy lives, to talk about the things that actually make a difference to how we’re feeling when we leave work every day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I’m sure that everyone’s context is a little bit different and by making that time, you’ll come up with the particulars that seem to be really effective in those realms. I’d love to hear when it comes to asking the questions, have you found that there are some particularly useful, valuable questions in building up the empathy?

Sandy Rogers
Well, sure, what brings you in today? What’s going on? Open ended questions, not yes/no questions. I mean, the classic yes/no question is that, the wait person who comes over, everything okay? It’s just like, you know, or how about you’re checking out of the grocery store, find everything, and the checker has their eyes on the work and doesn’t really listen to your answer about what have you found everything at the grocery store that day?

Now you kind of ask questions, and then leave space. And oftentimes, ask again. For example, one of the best ways that companies can improve their service: don’t wait for the survey to come, ask people walking out the door, “What, if anything, could we’ve done to better serve you today? I’m Sandy, I’m the manager, I’d love to know, no, really, I’m serious anything? Was there anything we could have done better?”

And when people understand that he’s sincere, that he actually wants to hear, then you get into a conversation, and you can learn their story. You can also learn about how to fix your business right now, if there’re any issues rather than hearing about it or reading about it in a bad Yelp post in a couple hours from now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, so we talked about empathy, how about responsibility?

Sandy Rogers
So once you’ve taken the time to understand my hidden story, you know how I’m feeling. Now we’ve got to take responsibility for helping people succeed to reach their goals. And with responsibility, there are two practices. As I mentioned earlier, first, we’ve got to discover the real job to be done. And what does that mean?

Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School writes that people hire products and services to do a specific job for them. People are hiring your podcast to do a specific job for them, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And I hope I’m nailing it.

Sandy Rogers
And I think you are! So, guy comes into a hardware store, “I’m looking for a wrench.” “Oh, they’re right over at aisle 14.” That’s not taking responsibility. No, instead, “Come with me. The wrenches are this way. What are you working on?” “Well, I got this old fence in my backyard and there’s these rusty nuts and bolts I gotta pull out so I can get rid of the fence.” “Well, will work any of these?”

“Yeah, they look like those hexagonal ones right over there.” “Oh, sure, to grip the rusty edges of those nuts so you can pull the bolts out and get rid of your fence, you’re going to need a set of box wrenches, they should do the trick.”

You see Pete, that’s taking responsibility for the real job. Getting rid of a fence. It’s not to sell the guy a wrench.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I find that that’s so handy. But I think that I I’ve often had that situation where maybe I’m just sort of thinking about novel things or outside-the-box sorts of things. It just seems like I’m often asking for something that’s not exactly what they people do like I want a CRM, but I don’t really want to sell anything to people using this software. I’m just looking to keep track of ABC and then, and folks are just sort of, I guess, perplexed, like, “oh, well, let me show you the cool features we have.”

Sandy Rogers
Of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Sort of like, “Okay, well, I guess, I could look at those but that’s not really what I’m most interested in.” And so, I guess I have those exchanges frequently, on sort of, like the customer side of things.

So, I dig it in terms of like, “What are you trying to accomplish?” I think that’s one of the best questions ever.

Sandy Rogers
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of, hey, as a as a consultant, if you’re trying to crack a case for a client, as a coach, if you’re trying to help someone, because they have one specific question, you take a step back and ask, “what are you trying to accomplish”? And then it opens up everything, or just, as a worker getting an assignment and getting better clarity about what we’re really going after? So that’s a great question in terms of being able to surface the responsibility and do it all the better. Any other favorite questions there?

Sandy Rogers

Well, and that’s such an important question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”, and then lead with a need. So, before we jump into, “Oh, my gosh, let me tell you about our CRM system, and all the bells and whistles,” lead with their need.

So, let’s take an example. You go into a store and you’re looking for a treadmill or something. If I’ve taken the time to really understand why you’re buying a treadmill, or why you’ve come for that, I can lead with a need.

So, “Pete they help you do well and the upcoming half marathon that you’re gonna be doing with your team, this elliptical machine, I think makes the most sense, given some knee trouble you’ve had or this comfortable pair of running shoes should fit the bill.”

But it’s, it takes discipline to not just sell our products, which of course we’re excited about, and sales are good, but if we want to earn the fierce loyalty of our customers, we’ll take the time to not only understand how they’re feeling so we can have some empathy but we can take responsibility for “What is this guy really trying to accomplish?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, so if someone is not too communicative like, “need a  treadmill”, he’s like, “okay, great, what makes you interested in a treadmill today?” I don’t know, any tips for those who are almost like a seek and destroy, get in get out mode, whether it’s a colleague or a customer. Any tips for slowing it down and getting the real stuff?

Sandy Rogers
It’s got to be conversational. It’s got to be natural. It can’t look like you know, some script or some spiel which you’re spilling out. It’s just “Hey, talk to me. I want to help you, I want to get you the treadmill, you’re looking for what’s going on? What brings you here? Why a treadmill now”?

And when people are trying to figure out, is this a genuine inquiry here? I mean, should I bother to spend time and actually tell this person my story?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
And if we’re sincere, though, they’ll actually tell you. One of the stories we heard is somebody comes into a store and “I’m looking for shoelaces.” “Why do you want shoelaces?” I mean it seems obvious to replace the laces in my shoes. But it turned out this person actually wanted shoelaces to tie the birdcage to the roof of their car.

I mean, it’s an odd admission, but just an understanding that, opportunity to teach this person about bungee cords and there are other solutions besides shoelaces to tie down bird cages.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that. That’s good certainly. Okay, well, so then let’s hear about the third key, the generosity.

Sandy Rogers
Well, and so at the end of responsibility, not only do we have to discover the job but then we got to follow up, how did that go? And if there’re problems, one of the most powerful ways we can earn loyalty is to take responsibility for any problems somebody has.

And we teach people what we call the five A’s. We got to assume that the person has good intent. So, imagine you’re dealing with an angry customer. If you’re going to turn that detractor into a promoter, you got to first assume that their intent is good, they’re not here to rip us off, we’ll get to align with our emotions, get on the same side of the table, we need to apologize with no defensiveness whatsoever. We got to ask, “what can I do to make this right for you” and assure them of what I’m going to do and do it?

And so, we practice these five A’s, we talk about it, but getting good at follow up is quarter responsibility in earning the loyalty everybody wants. Okay, so now we get empathy and responsibility. Sorry Pete, go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. So that’s sort of if they’re coming in to you, in terms of they’re saying, “Hey, this thing went wrong.”

Sandy Rogers
Well, and we don’t want to wait and find out. When I was running the London, England operation for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I would get some pushback from our branch managers that had low customer service scores and weren’t getting promoted. And they said, “Well, how am I supposed to know how to get better? I’m only getting 25 surveys a month.”

And I said, “Well, hold on, how many renters do you see every month in your branch?” “Oh, 700 to 1000.” “What would prevent you from asking as many as you want, what can we be doing to better serve you? How does your rental go? I’d love to know.” You could get 1000 surveys a month if you want them and rather than waiting for the results, you could fix whatever issue you’ve got today before it affects other customers.

And it’s not just the negative. Now, here’s the positive, you will find out in most cases that the rental was great. Susie did an amazing job. Imagine how it’s going to feel to Susie to be able to go back into the branch and say, “I just want to let you know, you blew those guys socks off. They just loved what you did for them.” “Susie, great job”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s also your opportunity to be like, “Thank you so much. If you could share that on the official survey. It would be great.”

Sandy Rogers
Oh yeah, that is it— Now, I tell you one thing at Enterprise, if you do that, you will get fired.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And I know that doesn’t always happen at the car dealers where they badger to give the high scores. But early on Andy Taylor and his leadership team made the decision that if you talk about the survey, or talk about top box and all that stuff, we’re going to treat it like taking cash out of the cash box. Because it completely undermines the customers confidence that we actually care about customer service.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely, because they are like, I think about the Uber driver, “Give me a five-star rating.” “No, I’ll give you the star rating that you deserve.” But I’m just  intrigued here, but it’s also inappropriate if someone says, “Hey, this was awesome.” And they say, “Hey, thank you. If you’d like to share on the survey, then we’d appreciate it.” That’s also forbidden?

Sandy Rogers
Yes, and you know what, just say thank you. That’s great. Tell your friends, leave it at that. But don’t mention the survey, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, I think that that’s a useful distinction because many are tempted or inclined to do exactly that.

Sandy Rogers
It will then it just tells the customer that, well, this guy really just cares about his survey results. Say “Hey, if you had a great experience Pete, please tell your friends and we’d love to serve them too.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool, gotcha. All right. So then, you were gonna say some more about generosity?

Sandy Rogers
Yeah. So, we’ve got empathy, responsibility and the third core principle for earning loyalty is generosity. Generosity is giving from our heart, more than is necessary or people expect, it’s kindness. And to be generous with other people there are two practices, we to share our insights openly, generously share our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, concerns, and we need to surprise people in unexpected ways.

And so we’ve a chapter on each of these things, on generosity and sharing insights, and then surprising with unexpected extras. Because those two things have to occur in order for me to feel like you’re being generous with me and my time.

Pete Mockaitis
So can you give some examples of insights?

Sandy Rogers
Sure, well, we share insights with our customers all the time. Imagine you go into a store, and you’re looking for a speaker for your TV so you can have better surround sound and you’re awed by the beautiful display and you find one, you take it to the register, and the woman working at the register says, “Well, does your TV support Bluetooth?” And you say, “Well, actually, I don’t know”.

Well, “What kind of TV do you have?” “Ah surf.” “For your TV, that speaker is not going to work, you’re going to need a little wireless transmitter, it doesn’t cost hardly anything, let me get it for you.”

See, that’s incredibly generous sharing insights, it’s reducing the effort that you’re going to go through to get surround sound to work with your TV. Now that cashier could have done that or not, it was incredibly generous that she chose to spend an extra 10 seconds and help you out.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s good.

Sandy Rogers
But we share insights with each other too. You and I may be coworkers in a business and you notice I have some opportunities to be more effective and how I’m working with our customers. But today we have a lot of confidence about sharing our feedback with our thumbs online. But we want to make sure that our millennials and Generation Z has the same confidence, providing feedback face to face.

And so, we talk a lot about that in the book too. And how to have a coaching conversation, how to recognize what people are doing well, how to declare intent, how to have people walk away and say, “Wow, I mean, that was incredibly generous, that Pete shared that with me,” right? But we’re going to practice it and because there’s a way to do it, that is natural, and shows that the feedback is loving feedback and not criticism.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And how about these sort of extra little tidbits? What are some of your favorite examples there?

Sandy Rogers
Well, surprising with unexpected extras, and Enterprise is the master at this, all these branches had to get better, right? And so, they ran a jillion experiment, a cold bottle of water on a hot day, going to the body shops and dealerships and bringing them ice cream, or donuts, or just little ways, little experiments.

And so one of the things you want to do in huddle 10, week 10, you get your team together, what is something that we could do for our customers that we’ve never done before that would delight them, something that we could do ourselves, we don’t even get permission from head office.

And then vote on the best ideas and then go do it.  Run a little experiment and see what happens. And it’s incredibly engaging for your team. And it’s wonderful with customers, hotel guests, housekeeper notices that they’re out of toothpaste, and leaves a little tube of toothpaste with a note, it looked like you were running out, so I left you this.

I mean, imagine what the guest feels like, that little extra didn’t cost anything for the hotel. And it not only made the guests feel great, the housekeeper felt great, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s cool. Could you share perhaps a couple examples of these principles coming to life in terms of colleague to colleague?

Sandy Rogers
Oh my gosh, well, to earn the loyalty of our coworkers, the same principles apply. And when organizations are—they want to engage their employees, one of the challenges that people like Gallup report is that the lower you go in the organization, the lower the employee engagement, the higher the turnover. And we know that the difference between a good and a great experience often comes down to how the people on the frontline are treating us.

Whether it’s face to face or on the phone or online. And so, recognizing that the frontline is the lowest paid, and oftentimes the least trained, and has lots of challenges with retention, it is vitally important that the leaders are living these principles.

My friend Shep Hyken, often says, “The customer experience rarely exceeds the employee experience.” So, we have to first earn the fierce loyalty of our teammates, of our employees, they’ve got to be excited about coming to work, they’ve got to say, “I’d recommend this place to work to all my friends,” and then that carries over to how the customers feel, which then drives the sales that we all want, and finally, the bottom-line profits—but it’s kind of happened in that order.

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

Sandy Rogers
What I would say is, this is basic stuff that you did learn in kindergarten, but you got to create space, you got to create 15 minutes a week, almost every mission statement I’ve ever seen mentions customers and how important they are. I mean, it’s hard to argue your customers aren’t important, right?

But if they’re so important, and they’re the cornerstone of the mission statement, then we ought to be able to carve out 15 minutes each week to celebrate the people who are living these things that are creating our customer promoters.

And to also talk about what these principles and practices mean, and how to apply them, what the challenges are, to be generous, to be more responsible, to have empathy, to follow up. All these things we’ve been talking about, that it sounds great, but let’s talk for a few minutes about how I can actually do that on this team.

We’re on the calls, we’re in a call center, we’re on the phone all day. And I’m being held to this two-minute timeline for the length of calls, how am I supposed to do this? And so, we want to create space to have these conversations to help organizations get better.

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

Sandy Rogers
One of my favorite quotes is “no risk-it no biscuit.” It’s a very simple, but I find that what gets in the way of us, all of us in doing these things that make sense is there’s a fear that, “oh, it may not work or it may not be received well.” We’ve got to make the choice to go out on a limb to try these things, to run these huddles.

We’ve had so many organizations, at first maybe have questions about, “Well, will our people really do this?” We had a chain of auto repair stores. And they said, now let me get this right, you’re expecting these guys that work under the hood of cars and trucks all day to get together and talk about empathy, and generosity, and responsibility?

And I said, “Well, let’s see if any of them are interested.” And a group of 20 said, “We want to go do this, let us go do this in our stores.” And over six months Pete, we were measuring their customer service scores while they were running these huddles, they increased their customer service scores by an average of 10 points. Three of these 20 stores increased their scores by 20 points.

And they said, “You know what, this is the most fun 15 minutes of our week. We were celebrating each other, and we were talking about how to bring this stuff to life.” The simple idea is put everyone into a position to enrich other people’s lives. These principles allow that to happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now, could you share with us a favorite study something that you found enlightening?

Sandy Rogers
Tell me what you mean by a favorite study?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, like an experiment or bit of research.

Sandy Rogers
Just sort of think, I think some of the research that’s really come to my mind are the things that we have learned, the link between customer service scores in growth and profitability in the business. We often get asked to quantify what on the surface, sounds obvious, if we get better customer service, of course, the business will grow faster and will make more money but CEOs often say, “yeah, prove it.”

I remember one chain that we were working with, they had 3500 stores, and we were measuring their employee engagement, and also their customer service. And the CEO said, “Well, I’ve done a little analysis of my own and I’m not seeing a strong correlation between the employee engagement scores you’re giving me and the customer service scores you’re giving me across our 3500 stores.”

And I thought, “Uh-oh, well let’s see what’s going on here.” And one of the guys on our team, said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s add another question to the employee engagement survey to find out if those store teams actually know their customer service scores.”

Because Pete, here’s the theory, people play harder when they’re keeping score. I mean, look at the kids on the playground, as soon as you start keeping score, the game gets a lot more fierce and interesting, right?

If the people in the store don’t even know their customer service score for the store, they’re not really playing the game of improving customer service, right. So, we found out that of all those stores, 40% of the store teams had a very clear idea of what their customer service score was, 60% had no idea what it was.

And guess what? The correlation between employee engagement and customer service was excellent in the stores that actually knew their customer service scores. But in the stores that were clueless about their customer service scores, of course, there was no correlation between employee engagement and customer service because they weren’t really playing. Yeah, you could love your job, but not be focused on customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sure. Like “This guy keeps getting in the way. We’re having some great jokes. This guy keeps interrupting, this customer over here.” Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Sandy Rogers
Oh, my gosh, I am rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you heard of that book?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very much.

Sandy Rogers
I remember reading it, like 1990 and, or whatever. And I am rereading it now because I find so many of those, habits, incredibly important in the effectiveness of our team.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? Sorry, re-wind.

Sandy Rogers
Like be proactive. I mean, I just think that’s, I know Stephen Covey starts with this idea of being proactive, and, carrying your own weather and not looking to blame other people for what’s going on in your domain. But it takes good reminding every day to go back to the Viktor Frankl insight from the Holocaust that the ultimate human freedom is that gap between stimulus and response, and you get to decide how you feel about how other people are treating you. And that’s a very powerful insight that’s worth revisiting. But you’re asking you about our favorite tool?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Sandy Rogers
Gosh, what tool, could I not live without, Google Maps. That’s how I find my way everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and how about a favorite habit?

Sandy Rogers
A favorite of the habits of Stephen’s habits?

Pete Mockaitis
That could be Stephen’s or yours.

Sandy Rogers
I think sharpening the saw, I think this idea of constantly learning outside of the domain that we spend most of our lives, to get other perspectives. And I love when Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots between what he— he said for example, we have these movable fonts, because of some class he dropped into, when he was just taking classes after he dropped out of college and just connecting the dots between different things. It just, it helps us to be more effective in the work we do every day, it also makes work everyday more interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your book or with clients that really seems to connect and resonate with them and they repeat it back to you?

Sandy Rogers
I think the gist that people come back to us with is this idea about putting people into position to enrich other lives. And it’s really around trusting them. Think about the organizations today that don’t trust their employees.

They say, “You know what, we’re going to give you a script, we’re going to put you on a time clock, you have to live in this tiny little box.” Rob Markey at Bain talks about giving your people freedom within a defined framework. I mean, that’s certainly what Enterprise did. But boundaries were well defined. But we gave them a lot of freedom within those boundaries. And I’ll give you some examples.

American Express completely changed how they managed their call centers, when they said, “We’re going to throw out the scripts, we’re going to throw out the time clock, your job is to create promoters.” And it not only made the card member happier and made the employees a lot happier! I mean, now this job is fun.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos totally has that insight. You think: make them happy! Okay, and he’s got the crazy story that somebody calls up and looking for a pair of shoes that Zappos doesn’t even sell but they fulfill the sale anyway.

Southwest Airlines, “Hey, look, these are the rules. You have to buy FAA guidelines, tell people about these things.” Now, if you choose to sing it, or do it as part of a comedy routine, hey, more power to you.

So, I think one of the real keys to earning that fierce employee loyalty and customer loyalty that everybody wants is we got to trust our people. We got to let them use their natural gifts and abilities within a broad framework. You got to have guidelines but within these guidelines, go for it and have fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And Sandy, if folks want to learn more, get in touch, where would you point them.

Sandy Rogers
They can certainly come to www.franklincovey.com, and they can come to my LinkedIn page.

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

Sandy Rogers
My final challenge is take a look at these principles. Try it. Say “I’m going to invest 10 or 15 minutes a week, I’m going to run this play. I’m going to run this for 11 weeks and see whether I feel differently about the work I do and whether coming to work every day is more fun, whether it has more meaning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well Sandy, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for taking this time and sharing the good word. I wish you much luck and loyalty and fun in all your ventures.

Sandy Rogers
Pete, thank you so much.

401: Finding, Creating, and Maintaining a Great Work Culture with Brian Fielkow

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Brian Fielkow says: "Don't mold yourself to a culture that doesn't fit. You've got to understand what fits."

CEO Brian Fielkow walks through creating and maintaining a good work culture then reveals how prospective employees can find out if they fit a new workplace’s culture.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why customers pay for culture
  2. Brian’s definition of a healthy work culture
  3. How to discover if you are a cultural fit at the interview stage

About Brian

Brian Fielkow, J.D., is the CEO of Jetco Delivery, a multimillion-dollar Houston-based trucking and logistics company with 200+ employees that was named a “Top Workplace” by the Houston Chronicle, highlighted on the 2015 Inc. 5000 list, and given the Gold Safety Award by the DOW Chemical Company. Brian is also the author of “Driving to Perfection: Achieving Business Excellence by Creating a Vibrant Culture.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Brian Fielkow Interview Transcript

Brian Fielkow
She’s well known in Hawaii and she’s starting to make a good name on the mainland. But the song, Island Inside Me, I wrote for my wife for our anniversary.

I just have these lyrics going around in my head, but I’m not a songwriter, I can’t sing, I’m not a musician. I connected with Anuhea. We put this song together sort of as an anniversary gift. It took off. It was a pretty cool experience. I don’t think I’ll have that experience again, but to have that song. Every once in a while I’ll hear it on Sirius-type stations. It’s kind of neat.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, well, could you sing perhaps the refrain or the chorus or a segment for us?

Brian Fielkow
Oh, you don’t want me to sing anything, but I know she’s got it posted. I know it’s available. It’s again, Island Inside Me, but if I sang it, I think we’d lose all of our listeners right now.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, fair enough. We’ll play it safe this time.

Brian Fielkow
Play it safe, yup.

Pete Mockaitis
You have a deep expertise when it comes to culture matters. You have some real hands-on experience instead of only doing research and writing books. Maybe could you orient us a little bit to where you’ve come from and why culture has become an issue that really matters to you so much?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I have kind of an interesting career. It’s not one that you could have ever planned coming out of school. I began my career practicing corporate law in Milwaukee. Maybe six or seven years in, I went to go work for my favorite client. They were in the recycling business. It was a wonderful opportunity.

We built that business while I was there for a good six – seven years. We sold it to Waste Management. I worked at Waste for a couple years. Then I bought my current company about 13 – 14 years ago, Trucking and Logistics. I’ve seen large Fortune 500 companies, I’ve seen entrepreneurial companies, everything in between.

It was interesting when I got into recycling coming out of the law business, I noticed that what we were selling were bales of cardboard. A bale of cardboard is a bale of cardboard, but we were commanding a premium. It took me a while to figure out why would anybody pay us more for what’s in the truest sense of the word a commodity.

It didn’t take me long to realize that other people would promise an order of a thousand tons and they’d ship 700. There was so much gamesmanship in the business, but we did what we said. People were paying us a premium for peace of mind. They weren’t really buying our cardboard; they were buying our peace of mind. That was a lesson I got very early on post law.

It kind of woke me up to the fact that every one of our businesses with rare exception to some degree is commoditized. I got really interested in de-commoditizing what we do, not having it to compete as much on price. Yes, the price is important, but if we can get to a situation where a customer appreciates our value proposition more than just the core product or service you’re offering, you can command a higher price.

Over the years I learned that what people are really paying for is your culture, kind of how you do things, what makes you different, that secret ingredient that nobody else can steal.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Your culture is what they’re paying for. It’s how you do things differently, your secret sauce. Is that how you define culture in those ways or do you have a particular definition that you run with?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, let me give you how I define it. There are books and books on culture and the theory behind it. I’m not a fan of the theory because we’re practitioners and we need to know now. I’m going to keep it real simple and say that in simplest terms, you’ve got the beginning of a healthy culture when you’ve got the right people and the right processes working in harmony.

In a healthy culture, you’ve got the convergence of people and process, that’s what yields consistent and hopefully excellent results for the customer. You could have the right people and no process and every day is a new day. You could have the right process and the wrong people and forget about that. I’ve learned over the years that it’s getting the right people, the right process working in harmony.

It’s also rooting your company in a well-defined set of values. We have so many arrows coming at us in the business world, so many different priorities that sometimes we forget that there’s this adhesive that binds us together.

I can’t tell any business what their values should be, but once you’ve established your values, you’ve got to live by them. You don’t compromise your values. That’s something that your team needs to understand, your customers understand. It’s the adhesive that binds your company together through good times and bad, where priorities, on the other hand, they change by the day. We have customer issues. We’ve got service issues.

But those priorities never, ever compromise our core values, who we are and what’s important to us and what’s important to our team. Once you’ve done that, you’ve got to walk the walk. You’ve got to live and breathe your values. Whether you’re in the C-suite, whether it’s your first day on the job, you’ve got to agree that these are the rules that we’re going to play by.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting you said you cannot tell another company what their values should be. I guess I’m imagining there are some that would generally be a recipe for good things and some that would be a recipe for bad things and a whole lot that it’s sort of – it’s a matter of finding the right fit in terms of the people and the processes and the industry and kind of what is your focus as a business.

Could you give us an example of some values that are unique because I think a lot of organizations will say, hey, integrity of course is a big value. I think sometimes they live it and walk the talk and sometimes they don’t, but it doesn’t really seem so distinctive when you hear that integrity is a value.

But it seems like in your practice, integrity is defined as doing what you said you were going to do when you said you were going to do it really was a differentiator there. Could you give us some examples of different values and how they come to life?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. Let’s talk about integrity for a minute because you’re right. That can sound over used. What company in the world doesn’t say integrity is a core value?

But now look around and if you watch football as much as I do, you’ve seen the Wells Fargo ads, established in 1860-something, reestablished in 2018. Why? Because they had integrity issues that really hurt their reputation, opening up fictitious accounts. It was a pretty big deal. Wells Fargo had to do work to repair its brand because of integrity.

It’s something you take for granted, but then you realize that if you let it slip and don’t focus on it, it could slip intentionally or unintentionally. Something even as simple and common place as integrity, if you as the leader aren’t living it and are kind of looking the other way, one lie will breed a thousand lies.

If I’ve got a problem with a customer, I’m not going to make something up. I’m going to tell the customer what happened and how we’re going to fix it. Even though the customer may be upset, hopefully over time, the customer will respect me more because people can smell a lie a mile away.

If my team sees me behaving in that manner, they’re going to follow my lead. On the other hand, if my team sees me acting with integrity, they’re going to follow my lead. Especially as we’re starting to work with younger and younger employees, people just don’t want to work in a company where the values are adrift. Integrity.

Another great example is respect. Again, people use respect too loosely, in my opinion. When I say respect, what I’m talking about is treating people like human beings first and employees second. That’s the ultimate respect. The ultimate form of disrespect is anonymity, “Hey, you’re number 100. Go do your job. Punch in, punch out,” not knowing a thing about that employee personally.

As my company is growing, I can’t know a thing about all my employees but my managers better. There needs to be something in the culture that makes sure that my managers know their employees like I know my direct reports so that everyone is accounted for and that the ultimate form of respect, like I said, is making sure that people’s overall human needs are met and that nobody, no matter if it’s their first day on the job, feels like all they’re doing is punching a clock and if they didn’t show up, it wouldn’t matter. That’s just a horrible situation to be in.

Respect is a value. Those are some of the things that we do that promote respect regardless of what it is you do because you’re an important member of the team regardless.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, okay. I would love to dig in a little bit in terms of thinking about values when it comes to finding fit with regard to career planning. How do you think about that game—I’d say both in terms of zeroing in on what values matter to you and then assessing whether a company really has it? Because I think a number of cultural pieces in terms of how things are done in a given organization really can vary and vary fine and suit different people differently.

For example, I think that some folks would say, “Oh yeah, we’re all about collaboration and so we’ve got an open office floor plan and we’ve got bays with ten employees in each of them, so they’re always kind of seeing and interacting with folks. We’re always on Slack and doing that.” Then some folks would say, “That would drive me insane. I need my quiet time to really focus and go deep in creating stuff.”

That would be sort of a natural mismatch when it comes to sort of how you prefer to do your thing and how the organization is doing their thing. How do you think about navigating this whole fit and research game?

Brian Fielkow
Such a great question because whenever I see forced fun, I run away. I go in the opposite direction. For me, having a slide in the middle of the office and having all those amenities, that’s all well and good, but that’s not culture. People mistake that kind of stuff for culture. Culture is not campfire fun and games stuff. This is a hardcore business proposition.

If kind of the slide in the office fits your culture and it’s in the context of an overall healthy culture, it’s fine. But if you’re using those bells and whistles to get employees in and then once they come in, they realize you’re in a toxic environment, that doesn’t work.

To me, there’s some subjectivity to it. There’s definitely a component of individual taste. Maybe I prefer a company that’s more formal. Or maybe I prefer a company that’s more casual. Maybe having a social life with my coworkers is important. Maybe I don’t want it at all. Maybe the company is extremely hierarchical, has a well-defined org chart. Maybe the company is more loosely defined.

All that’s okay and none of that is indicative of whether the company has a healthy culture or a poor culture. It’s how the company chooses to operate. It’s its own personality. That’s where you’ve got to find the fit. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer there.

But when you want to talk about how do I find the right culture, regardless of whether it’s hierarchical or loose, whether we’re wearing suits or whether we’re wearing shorts, that’s the key is to dig beyond the surface, dig beyond the slide. It’s not one-size fits all.

I think the best advice I could give somebody is when you’re doing an interview, you definitely – you’re going to speak with the hiring manager. You might speak with human resources. But the real people you want to talk to are prospective peers, prospective coworkers.

We do that with pretty much all of our job interviews. Again, it doesn’t matter the level that we’re hiring for. We want to be sure that peers can talk unscripted and what it’s really like to work here. We want to make full disclosure. We want to make full disclosure about our company. We’re proud of it, but we know that just like any other company, we’re not a fit for everybody.  We’d rather know that before we make a hiring decision or before you would agree to join our company.

There’s nothing like a peer-to-peer interview where you can ask questions. “What’s it really like to work here?” The company’s recruiting brochure says X, Y, Z, but six months later is that really what’s happening? Do they have a good-looking recruiting brochure or are they really delivering the goods?

The absolutely best advice I can give is do your homework on the company. Understand what the company is all about. Understand its culture. But peer-to-peer man, that’s really where you’re going to learn what it’s like to work there.

By the way, if that peer-to-peer interview goes well, now you’re new coworkers, they know you before you start. They’ve got a vested interest in integration. They’ve got a vested interest in bringing you in and helping you succeed.

If they say to the hiring manager, “Wow, thumbs up. Let’s bring this person in,” that opens the door and creates a pathway for success in a way that just a traditional interview and “By the way everybody, here’s your new coworker who you’ve never met,” that doesn’t work quite as well.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious if that organization – if you’re interviewing an organization and they don’t have the wisdom to … process, do you have any pro tips in terms of how you’d go about proactively having those conversations and some of the key things you’d want to say when you’re in the midst of them to learn what you really need to learn?

Let’s say that I’m interviewing at an organization. They did not give me the benefit of engaging in these conversations peer-to-peer, so it’s a little bit more on me to be proactive in terms of finding these people, having these conversations. How shall I find them and engage them and what should we say when we’re talking?

Brian Fielkow
Well, a lot of companies may not offer the ability to interview a peer. First thing is you just ask. Say, “Hey, could I interview somebody in the department that I’m – can I meet with somebody in the department that I’m interviewing to work in?” A lot of times the companies may say yes, but if they say “No, that’s not our practice. We don’t do that,” okay, let’s respect that.

But I would still ask the hiring manager questions like “What are your company’s values? Give me a feeling for when those values were challenged. How did the company respond?” Just like they’re going to ask you those questions. They’re going to ask you, “Tell me a particularly difficult problem or difficult situation. How did you address it?” You better be prepared to answer that. Well, I think it’s a fair question for employers too is, “Tell me your story.”

If you look at an interview as a two-way street, not just the hiring manager interviewing you, look at it as a conversation. You’ll be able to develop the feel just almost organically in a conversation. If it’s that tight and that rigid and you don’t have that opportunity, the company is telling you something about its personality.

I’m not saying that’s bad. I’m just saying that’s probably not a place I’d want to work. That’s not kind of how we bring employees in. I want an open door, full disclosure. But if companies don’t do that, with social media you can still network and find people who work there and talk to them informally or former employees, talk to them. But you can also have that same conversation with your hiring manager.

I love it when people come in, they’ve done their homework on the company and they challenge me with questions. That tells me that I’m dealing with somebody exceptional, who understands that the interview is a conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that point on social media. LinkedIn is so cool with all the filters that you can dig in and search for folks that way.

Brian Fielkow
People used to call LinkedIn the boring version of Facebook or Instagram, but LinkedIn is the encyclopedia for how to network. I use it all the time. It’s such a valuable tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And I really love that question you asked in terms of “Tell me about a time a value was challenged,” because I think a lot of times you’re probably going to get total blank stare response, like “Uh, these are just the words we repeat. I can’t think of any real experiences to share with you right now.” That tells you something right there.

But now you’ve got me curious, Brian can you tell me about a time in your company that you had a core value that got challenged and how did you live it out?

Brian Fielkow
Sure. In 2015 – ’16, we’re in trucking and logistics in Houston. That was a rough time. The energy markets collapsed and business was really challenged. We had to make some very difficult decisions.

In doing so, it wasn’t like memos from the C-suite; we brought our employees into the process. When we had to make the company smaller and downsize, we met with our employees. We treated them with respect. We made sure that everybody knew what we were doing, why we were doing.

What it did is it created sort of a foxhole mentality that we’re not working around our employees. We’ve not sugar coating like, “Oh, everything’s okay. Don’t worry about it.” We brought them in and we fought the war together because we were so transparent and open with them. You’ve got to be prepared to share good news and bad news.

In doing that, for example, safety in our company is a core value. We don’t compromise it. Well, no matter how rough business got, no maintenance got deferred. Every single vehicle was maintained regardless of the company’s financial performance.

I’ve seen other organizations where “Oh, business is bad. Let’s figure out where to cut. Well, we can cut maintenance.” No, if safety is a core value, you don’t cut, you don’t defer maintenance. You keep running your business.

I can use that time when this company was really challenged and really stressed by a rough economy. People in other businesses were losing their jobs left and right in Houston during that time and we just took a very contrarian approach that we’re taking our employees with us. Even though we couldn’t take everybody with us, and we did have to let people go. It was done, like I said, with dignity, with respect and then with complete transparency to the rest of the team.

That’s created kind of I think an unparalleled level of camaraderie as the company has rebounded, recovered, and grown so well in the past couple years.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. That’s cool. Well, could you share some other perspectives when it comes to zeroing in on determining if a culture is a fit for you?

Do you have some extra perspectives and tips when it comes to determining if an opportunity has a good cultural fit for you?

Brian Fielkow
Yeah, I think that you’ve got to be careful not to conform yourself to become somebody that you’re not. Don’t mold yourself to a culture that doesn’t fit. You’ve got to understand what fits.

In our situation, in a healthy culture, you’ve got to have employees who are technically excellent and who are in line with the company’s values. You get yourself in a lot of trouble when you look the other way.

I’ve got a technically excellent employee that’s walking all over everybody else, just a horrible team player. Well, I have to either coach that employee back in to working within our values or they can’t be part of the team no matter how technically good they are.

A lot of times we look the other way when it comes to technically good people even if they’re destroying the morale of the company. As an employer, you’ve got to stand up to that and be sure that you’ve got people who are value aligned and who know what they’re doing.

Well, similarly, for the employees, you can’t really fake it. I’m assuming you got the job because technically you met the criteria, but in a healthy culture, I hope that you’re yourself, that you don’t force anything. In a healthy culture you’ll be challenged.

Hopefully that culture will make you a better employee and a better person and hopefully you’ll do the same. You’ll make the company a better company and you’ll improve your coworkers. But if it doesn’t fit, you’ve got to know it.

I’ve seen too many times where people jump at the money. They jump at the money. “Oh, somebody wants me, I’m going to accept the job,” without asking these questions of “Am I going to be happy?” You may make money and you’ll be miserable. Life is too short.

That’s why interviewing for culture and being aware of culture is just so critically important because we’ve all had maybe in our careers, the Sunday night blues, kind of that horrible feeling that Monday is coming and I’ve got to a place that I really don’t want to go. I’ve had that in my career.

Because I’ve had that in my career and I understand it so well, part of my job is to make sure that we don’t have the Sunday night blues, that people are excited to come to work because they’re treated right, because it’s a place that they know they fit in. But if you don’t fit in the place and it’s not right for you, you’ve got to know when to get off the bus too.

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

Brian Fielkow
I like to always say that at the foundation of the culture is what I call the three T’s: treatment, transparency, and trust. If you’ve got that and if you work at a company – look I’m in the trucking business. I’ve got a lot of people who told me, “Well, geez, I never thought in my life I would get into the trucking business. How did you as a corporate lawyer decide to do it?”

First of all, I love the industry, but it’s an industry that a lot of people might not necessarily just automatically gravitate to. But it almost doesn’t matter what you do as long as you love the job, you love the people. I think treatment, transparency and trust, whether you’re in a medical office, trucking business, law office, doesn’t matter.

Treatment, like I said before, you’re a human being first, an employee second. The ultimate form of poor treatment is anonymity.

Transparency, is just making sure your team is engaged. The best way to engage your team is to explain the why. If you give me a memo and you say, “Brian, just do it,” my personality is going to be to rebel. I’m not going to do it because you told me to do it. But if you say, “Brian, look here’s why we’re doing it. Here’s the why. It’s not a democracy. I’m not asking for your vote. But here’s the why,” I’ll be a lot more inclined to participate. I’ll be a lot more inclined to support. Just make sure you take time to explain the why.

As an employee, if you don’t know why, ask why. If somebody says, “Well, never mind. It’s none of your business, never mind,” that’s a little tip, isn’t it? But the key to an engaged workforce is for everybody to know their mission, know the company’s mission, know their role. Why?

Then finally trust. If there’s no trust, let’s forget about all this. In a company where trust is lacking, where people say one thing and do another, you’re operating on quicksand. You’re never going to have employee satisfaction where there’s a lack of trust among coworkers, lack of trust where leadership doesn’t trust the employees, employees don’t trust leadership.

Treatment, transparency, and trust are the three critical elements that I would look for in any business. I don’t care what the business does, as a sign of a healthy culture.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something that you find inspiring?

Brian Fielkow
The problem with my favorite quote is it’s too long, but I’m going to just read a little bit of it. It’s Teddy Roosevelt’s quote that we’re all here in the game and there’s people on the sidelines. They’re always going to be throwing stones at you.

It says, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust, sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

I love that quote. I just love it because you’ve got people throwing stones at you your whole life. Just forget about those people and go out there and be your best.

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

Brian Fielkow
I’d like to if possible move to a couple books that I’d like to kind of recommend.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Brian Fielkow
My favorite book, if you took all my books away, would be The Advantage by Pat Lencioni. I think that’s the one book that everybody needs to read in college, coming out of college. I go back to that book all the time. It really lays out the basis for healthy organization and your role in the healthy organization. Really, I like anything that Lencioni writes, but The Advantage is my favorite.

Another book that just came out last year that I’m really into is called The Motivation Myth. Because I’m not terribly into – as you probably can guess by now – I’m not into a lot of the motivational, feel-good speakers and those kinds of books.

What The Motivation Myth does is it takes the concept and turns it on its head and says it’s not like you have to have the motivation then you do the job, then you’re successful. The motivation comes from the journey itself.

The book argues that it’s those small steps. It’s the victories. It’s getting knocked down, getting back up. The motivation comes from those incremental successes. The more you have, the harder you work, the more motivation you have. Motivation isn’t like a prerequisite. Instead, motivation is one of the things that comes from doing something you love.

The book also argues that quit trying to be like some of the celebrity CEOs. They did what worked for them. You’ve got to figure out what works for you. Spend less time emulating and spend more time figuring out what your own formula is. I just love that as opposed to just, “Hey, do what I say. Follow my advice and you’ll be successful.” I just don’t buy that. I buy, you figure out your own formula and that’s the key to success.

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

Brian Fielkow
Trying to maintain a semblance of work/life balance. I’m not by any stretch nine to five, but I listen to my body rhythm. I listen to how I work. I’m up at crazy hours of the morning because that’s when I work the best, but unless something is really important, you’re not going to find me here – later in the day, you’re not going to find me here necessarily on a Friday afternoon.

What I’ve learned over the years is that we’ve all kind of grew up in this eight to five world or seven to five or whatever it is, but hopefully as technology evolves and as employers become more and more progressive – this isn’t true for every job obviously. If you’re a doctor or a nurse, you’ve got to be with your patients. But for a lot of jobs, the more you can listen to your body clock and know when you’re productive and kind of know when you’ve got that momentum, the more effective you’ll be.

I could do something in a half hour that would take me five hours if I picked the wrong time and the rhythm isn’t there. Listening to your body, kind of knowing how you work. Some people, as you know, are night owls. Some people, again, like me, are up before the sun. But being able to know that and capture it, I think, is the secret to optimum production and success.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Tell me, is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your employees and folks who are reading your stuff?

Brian Fielkow
When I’m talking to audiences, I do a lot of keynoting, there’s a couple things. First of all, take your frontlines with you. I use that all the time and it resonates. I don’t like doing keynotes and just kind of closing and leaving. I like to do keynotes and then saying, “All right, what are the takeaways? We’re not here to talk about theory. What are the things that you’ll implement the minute you get back to the office?”

A lot of my keynotes, a lot of my presentation revolves around frontline engagement because I think that as a country, we’ve broken our contract with our frontlines. The more we engage our frontlines, the better. Take your frontlines with you. Bring them in.

In my company our drivers are – we have an elected driver committee that’s part of how we run the company. We’ve got our drivers in management and operational decisions. Take your frontlines with you is very – people use that a lot.

The three T’s. If imitation is the ultimate form of flattery, I’ve heard other speakers use the three T’s, but I think I may have invented that one.

Then there’s 20/60/20, which people quote a lot. This is a story when I was at Waste Management. I got to Waste Management at a time when there was a CEO, a brilliant CEO, Maury Myers, was brought in to turn the company around.

He brought his management team into the room. It was a large room. He had a large team. And was kind of rumored to say this, something like this, “20% of you know where we’re going and you’re with me. You know that we’ve got to make changes. I appreciate that. 60% of you, you’re scared. The ship is changing drastically its course. I’m going to work 24/7 to win you over.

The remaining 20% of you have made up your mind. You don’t like me and you don’t like the direction that we’re going. Here’s the commitment I’m going to make to you. This will be the smoothest transition you’ve ever had out of a company, but make no mistake, you’re out.”

20/60/20 means don’t find yourself in that bottom 20. Figure out how to continue to rise in your company. You’ve either got to align with the company’s direction and values or leave. From an employer’s standpoint, you’re not there to bat a thousand, simply not. Part of your job is to weed out the people who are kind of a drain on your culture, a drain on your performance.

I’ll tell you people in my company will use 20/60/20 a lot. We all know what they mean. The three T’s, 20/60/20, take your frontlines with you really are essential things that I talk about not just when I keynote, but when I run my own company.

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

Brian Fielkow
I would point them at my website, which is BrianFielkow, so B-R-I-A-N-F-I-E-L-K-O-W. com. They can also email me, just Brian—B-R-I-A-N @BrianFielkow.com. I’m easy to get in touch with and glad to kind of continue this conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Brian, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you all the best in making your culture all the more vibrant and excellent and business growth and all that you’re up to.

Brian Fielkow
Thank you so much for the time. I really enjoyed this conversation.