Tag

KF #34. Builds Effective Teams

388: How to Not Suck at Managing with Aaron Levy

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Founder of Raise the Bar, Aaron Levy, shares four key habits that improve team performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why must managers suck
  2. How and why to listen better
  3. Examples of powerful questions

About Aaron

Aaron is the Founder and CEO of Raise The Bar, a firm focused on helping companies address the problem of millennial turnover.

Aaron is an ICF Associate Certified Coach, a Thrive Global contributor, an 1871 mentor, the Co-Director of Startup Grind Chicago and a member of the Forbes Coaches Council. He has educated, coached, and consulted over 5,500 business leaders, helping them to define goals, create action plans, and achieve sustained success.

Aaron is on a mission to transform the manager role – by empowering each manager with the tools, skills, and training to be leaders of people who unlock the potential of their team.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Aaron Levy Interview Transcript

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

Aaron Levy
How are you doing Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, doing well, doing well. I think the first thing we need to cover right away is your morning habit of listening to Disney music. What’s the backstory here?

Aaron Levy
I have just always been a fan of Lion King, Beauty and the Beast, the Disney classics. For some reason it puts me in a really good and happy mood. My wife kind of … will take the iPad around the house as I’m blasting some Disney music or lately it’s also been Queen. Anything that has good, high energy that just is fun to listen to in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Are there some particular Disney tracks that are at the very top of your list?

Aaron Levy
Oh, you’re getting particular here. There is. There’s The Lion Sleeps Tonight, which is one of those where it’s like the soundtrack of Lion King a little bit. That’s a fun one in the morning.

Pete Mockaitis
Particularly the high-pitched pieces.

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I would sing or hum the tune for you, but I’m pretty tone deaf, so I don’t think anybody listening would really understand what I’m talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so let’s hear now about your company, Raise the Bar. What’s your story here?

Aaron Levy
How far back do you want me to go? Do you want me to give you a little bit of the background of it and why we started it or just the high level?

Pete Mockaitis
I’d like to know your current problem that you’re tacking and how you do it.

Aaron Levy
Yeah, so that goes back just a slight bit. It goes with the idea and the curiosity I’ve had around why when people know better don’t they do better. Why is there this gap between knowledge and action? It’s something I’ve always been fascinated by.

It’s the same reason why only 8% of people ever accomplish their New Year’s resolutions. It’s not because they don’t know what to do. It’s because they don’t actually do it. That was something that I spent the early part of my career studying the science of why do people do what they do, of how do they move efficiently and effectively from knowledge to action, and why do some people do that and other people not.

As I started to see that throughout my career and as I started to play out and look at the research and say how does it work in real life, how do people actually move from knowledge to action? I had the good fortune of working with thousands upon thousands of leaders in our first organization. In doing that what I got to see is what really works and what doesn’t. More importantly, I uncovered what filled me up, which is helping people unlock their potential.

Pete, the reason I’m giving you kind of this long-winded thought process is because what I started to see around me when I got clearer on my purpose in life, which was to help people unlock their potential, was a bunch of my friends not doing that, a bunch of people around the world not doing that. I saw that in terms of people jumping from job to job to job.

It didn’t really matter how much money they were making, if they were at a really cool fast growing start up, if they were in San Francisco or Chicago or if they were working with their best friends. They were either planning to leave their company or already leaving their company.

What that told me and what I saw there was two things. One was this group of individuals who are not satisfied, who are not fulfilled, who are not tapping into their full potential and organizations who want their employees to be at their best. If your employee is at their best, you’re succeeding. It’s good for you as an organization. I saw this two-sided problem.

What I started to realize is what’s the one biggest factor or point of leverage within any organization to impact the engagement and potential and growth of an individual employee? That’s the manager position. Unfortunately, most managers suck.

The reason most managers suck is because we promote them because they’re good at what they do, but not because they’re good at leading people. Those are two very different skillsets. What we do at Raise the Bar is we say that doesn’t have to be the case. We help empower managers to be better leaders of people by giving them the tools, and skills, and training.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so that’s a bold statement, “Most managers suck.” I guess depending how you are assessing/measuring that, I think it’s defensible with the data and the research. Let’s hear a little bit about that research in terms of, that’s the missing link and the driver behind attrition and great managers are the key to getting great retention. Can you share some of the research behind that?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I would say the first thing, there’s studies by Gallup that talk about how one in every ten managers actually have the tools, skills, and training to lead people. They’re soft skills. They’re skills like listening, asking powerful questions, holding critical conversations.

We think leadership is innate. Someone either has it or doesn’t. Do you think someone learning how to model on Excel is innate? Do we think someone learning how to financially project or forecast is innate? No, it’s a skill. Now, it’s a hard skill. That’s one of the things that we talk about. We train on soft skills.

That is kind of when we first think about the defensibleness of that statement that I made of most managers suck. Again, it’s not their fault. They just don’t have or aren’t given the skills. Harvard Business Review has this report where 69% of managers are actually uncomfortable communicating with their employees.

Pete Mockaitis
I saw that. That just still blows my mind. I read the whole thing.

Aaron Levy
Yeah, right? We could dive – these are just stats – but we could dive so much deeper into it. The three primary drivers – I did a lot of my initial research on what’s really going on here. Why are specifically the Millennial population, which is the largest population of the workforce. They’ve over 50% of the workforce now. In the next ten years they’re going to be close to 60 or 70% of the workforce.

We started to say, what’s the driver for this generation? What are the drivers that keep them in the workplace? What I started to hear in every leave story – because I started gathering the leave stories from people – why are you leaving, why did you leave, why are you planning to leave – it was one of three or all of three factors, which is one, “I want purpose or impact in the work I’m doing.”

It doesn’t mean I want to be doing humanitarian work across the globe. It means I want to know that the work I’m doing actually makes a difference towards this organization’s larger goals, just want to know that I’m making some sort of a difference.

The second one is “I want to feel connected to my team, to my company, to my boss.” Both of those have ties into the research and science of Richard Ryan and Ed Deci and their theory on self-determination theory. In that there’s the need for relatedness, connection to people around you.

Then the third thing that people are looking for, and Millennials specifically, is growth. I want to feel like my company cares deeply about my growth and development. If you just look at it from a logical perspective, who has the biggest influence on your individual growth from the organization? Who has the biggest influence on your level of connection to your team, to your company, to your boss? It’s your boss.

That’s the person that holds your growth and can be your coach. That’s the person is usually – and every organization is a little bit different – but I would say most of the time is directly responsible for your growth and development plans, for your performance reviews, for all of the things that are involved around your growth, your connection to the company, and showing you how your work makes an impact.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m sold. Then in terms of how to not suck, you mentioned four essential habits to be better leaders: the motivate, the evaluate, the communicate, and the serve. Can you orient us a little bit to how did we come up with these four and how do we do them better?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, there’s nothing crazy special about these four. What I call these four, I call these actually the traits or the outcomes that great leaders produce. A great leader if you look – you can look at all the leadership books that are out there, all the thousands of books. It’s kind of what we did when we looked at the science and the studies. We whittled down into what do great leaders – what are the traits of a great leader? What makes a leader great?

You say, well, their ability to motivate people. They can really motivate people. They’re masters at evaluating people, situations, environments. They can determine who to plug in, where, what to do, who’s on the right project, who’s on the right team, what’s going on. They communicate directly. They realize that in order to lead, you actually have to serve others. Leadership is an act of service.

Those are great outcomes. Those are great traits of leaders, but, Pete, you don’t go into work on Monday, you don’t just say, “I’m going to go motivate today.” It’s not an action that you do.

What we’ve done is we’ve said okay, if those are the powerful traits of leaders, where most people focus their energy and attention, what we’re going to focus our energy and attention is what actions done over and over again lead to motivation and how can we focus our energy on the actions that happen every day that you produce every day that will lead to somebody feeling motivated?

That’s the act of listening with intention/attention. To ask powerful questions, you actually or to evaluate you first need to ask powerful questions. To communicate directly, you actually need to set up the foundation for psychological safety and give clarity so that direct communication can occur. To serve, you actually need to hold critical conversations.

What we focus on at Raise the Bar is, what are the actions applied over and over again that become habits, which will enable you to lead powerfully in any situation/environment? Whereas most people focus on, okay, let’s motivate and let’s talk about the processes and the toolkits that you can use to motivate, as opposed to what are the skills, what’s the underlying skill that helps people feel motivated?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, let’s talk about those underlying skills for getting people to feel motivated. You mentioned the listening with intention and attention. How’s that done?

I love the point you brought up about it not being an innate skill. I’m thinking about my little one-year-old at home here and thinking about other – it might be a skill you just expect people to have by the time they get to you, but that’s not the same as it being innate.

Much like I might expect him to be able to do algebra, be able to set up and solve for X when we’re trying to figure out how many calls we have to make or whatever to achieve a sales outcome, but it’s not innate. They had to learn it somewhere. I think a lot of us have not learned this listening and that motivates skills. How is it done and how do we learn it?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I’ll try and be as quick as possible because this is done over a whole month module that we do. Here’s a couple of things that I love that you said out of that.

One is we assume it’s an innate skill, but it’s not, like algebra. Algebra you’ve practiced. You’ve had someone look over your shoulder and give you tips on what didn’t work and what worked. You’ve gone home and you’ve done homework and you’ve messed up and you’ve taken tests on it.

When was the last time you took a test on listening? When was the last time you had a conversation recorded and analyzed by a peer or a coach or a teacher? For most people in the world, the answer is never. For a very few, where negotiation is a part of their job and they have to, where coaching is a part of their job. I’m a certified coach, so I had to do that.

I sucked at listening too. I’m still not great. I’m getting better at it hopefully because I’m practicing it on a daily basis. But most of us think we’re good listeners. The same thing as if you ask a room of 100 people how many of you think you’re a good driver and everybody raises their hand. Not everybody in the room is a good driver.

If you ask the people how many of you think you’re a good listener, most people raise their hand. But when you ask them when was the last time you’ve practiced the skill of listening, when you’ve had it assessed, when you’ve really dove into the science of listening, most people haven’t.

The first thing that we have people do or one of the first things that we have people do once they get this awareness that “Okay, maybe I have some area to grow here,” is we have them look for what we call their listening blind spot.

What I mean by a blind spot is it is a habitual thought or behavior pattern, something that your brain has been doing over and over again thousands upon thousands of times and it is what your normal, natural tendency is when you show up in a conversation.

For example, my listening blind spot is I’m listening to make a connection. Anytime I’m talking to somebody, I’m trying to say, “Oh yeah, you’re from Michigan too. I have my sister from Michigan here.” I’m trying to make connections to everything. That was really great for me in my career to connect me to people and endear me to others, but that also holds me back from being a powerful listener.

Others, plenty of my clients have, “I’m listening to find out if I should be paying attention.” “I’m listening to solve the problem.” “I’m listening to figure out the next step that I have to do.” “I’m listening to see if this person needs help.” We’re all listening for some reason and that is your blind spot. Until you’re aware of it, you can’t do anything about it.

We often tell people to really get clear on what your blind spot is because that blind spot is something that’s going to hold you back until you’re aware that you do it. Change – this is where we focus on the science of behavior change. Change doesn’t happen unless you’re aware.

What we first do is build awareness around how do you typically listen so that you can notice it and in future situations look at it from afar and say, “Oh, okay, I’m doing it. Crap, I’m doing it again. Okay, well, I noticed I did it. Now let me do something else.”

Pete Mockaitis
I think some listeners will be like, “Well, what else is there?” if I’m listening for connection when you need to make a connection and listening to solve a problem when we’re solving problems. What would be the ideal if these are our blind spots and not the optimum?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, that’s a great question. We think okay, that’s moving us forward, but what you’ll see is you’re not actually with the other person in the conversation. Rarely are you actually sitting and listening with attention to what the other person is saying and with simply the intention of having them feel heard or of supporting them.

Instead of trying to problem solve when you’re with somebody, instead of trying to listen to solve something – oftentimes I come home and my wife will tell me something and the first thing I’ll do is try and solve it. That’s not what she wants. She just wants to be heard. She just wants to know that I’m here and listening to her. That’s some training that I’ve given myself over the years is actually just sitting there without any need to move forward and just being.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a nice – that has an emotional resonance to it. There’s no need to move forward and to just be. Then how do they get the memo that you – that they’ve been heard, that you really understand where they’re coming from and why whatever it is matters to them or what they’re worried about or excited about? How does that get conveyed?

Aaron Levy
When was the last time you had a really powerful conversation with a friend or family member?

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll say Christmas Eve.

Aaron Levy
Wow, that’s close. Good. Did you feel heard?

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Aaron Levy
It’s as simple as that. You notice when you’ve felt heard. There doesn’t need to be a sign post. There doesn’t need to be anything else. When someone feels heard, one, they’ll share more. They’ll open up more. They’ll give you more.

Even in a work setting, when you don’t fill the quiet space with your talk and you actually let someone fully answer a question, what happens is they get to get their thoughts out. Because as human beings we think at 1- to 3,000 words per minute. We listen at 1- to 300. Listening is inherently difficult.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. The other interesting thing is we think at 1- to 3,000 words per minute and we speak at about 1 to 200 words per minute. The  process of getting something out of your brain and then out of your mouth to sound the way you want it to sound, doesn’t work well for all of us, which is why we need some more time to get it out, which is why we need to give people the opportunity to share their thoughts and ideas. You’ll see they feel more engaged, they feel more heard.

For the salespeople that are listening to this, if you ever just shut up and listen in a sales conversation, oftentimes they’ll say “That was a great conversation.” You’ll say, “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t say anything.” Yeah, that’s what happens is people feel like they’ve had a really good conversation because they finally had a chance to feel heard.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s interesting you’re saying it’s not about doing the “Uh-huh. I see. Oh.” It’s not about chiming in with those little ‘I’m listening’ thingies, so much as they just pick up on it when it happens.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Here’s the other thing is we do an activity. It’s hard to take us through it right here, but we do an activity that helps people trigger a way to be and a way to show up with intention, with attention. We kind of trigger that individual.

What happens I would say 95% of the time with the leaders that we work with is we don’t tell them the verbal cues to give, we don’t tell them to talk or to not talk as a listener, we don’t tell them how to sit. Yet, as I walk around the room once we’ve triggered this, to a T, almost every single person that’s listening is facing the other person, is looking at the other person in the eyes or looking at their face.

They might even be talking a little bit as a means to continue the conversation, but not as a means to fulfill their agenda. They’re there with the other person’s agenda in mind.

What really happens is those cues can show you things, but don’t just follow those cues as markers, actually show up and be there with the intention of hearing the other person, of being with the other person, of – for me what I talk about is if my purpose in life is to unlock people’s potential, then the intention I set is hey, I’m here to unlock somebody else’s potential.

That might mean shutting up and letting someone speak. That might mean interjecting. But that means fully being here and being focused and not thinking about what’s going on around me, not thinking about the next conversation I have. I put all distractions away. I put my phone on silent. I’m just there with the other person.

Pete Mockaitis
Aaron, I’m afraid I cannot let you off the hook. Let’s take a crack at to the extent that it’s possible in this medium, what’s this exercise?

Aaron Levy
Okay. The first and most important thing of this exercise is getting really clear on what is your, what we call your commitment to the world. That is a much bigger question than most people want to answer in a podcast, in a workshop, anywhere in life because they think it’s this big hairy, scary thing.

But the truth is that each of us have a purpose, each of us are connected to it whether we know It or not. It’s not something that we have to go out and find. It’s actually something we have in here. There’s this great quote by Seneca that says, “You can have all the wind in your sails, but if you have no harbor to sail to, then you’re going nowhere.”

What we focus on very early on is getting really clear on “Hey, what is your commitment to bring to others, to bring or the world?” For somebody it might be to bring the truth. For somebody else it might be to show others what integrity looks like. For me, it’s to help unlock your potential. When you get that, when you actually connect with that, what happens is you feel like you have this much stronger connection and dial in to who you are and why you’re here.

What you’ll find and what you can look for and how to find that is to think about what are some of the most proud moments of your life, what are some of the most significant experiences, what are some of the things that piss you off the most or even what was a conversation where you felt you were really at your best with somebody else?

Oftentimes those all tie back to a couple common themes. It might tie back to sharing love with others. It might tie back to bringing honesty to the world. It might tie back to speaking up for people who can’t speak up for themselves. But it’s usually something subtle and simple.

When it resonates with you, for those of you who are listening, so you’re just thinking about it, I know it’s not an easy task to just listen to a podcast and come up with your commitment. When you do or when you come on to something, it’s like there’s a resonance in your whole body. When that happens, that’s what we actually…then before a listening conversation we trigger.

We practice connecting with the neural pathways that say this is my commitment and we build signs along those neural pathways so that you can more easily trigger that before a conversation with somebody else.

Pete Mockaitis
You said build signs, what’s that mean?

Aaron Levy
We’ll go a little bit into the science of human behavior. When we talk about building a new habit, in your brain it’s creating a neural connection, but what it really looks like is going into a ten-foot high field of grass and walking through the grass and paving a path. Not paving a path with a road crew and construction crew, but paving a path by walking down that grass and matting it down.

But it’s not going to happen if you do it just once. You have to hundreds of thousands of times. The more you walk down it, the more easily findable that path is. Instead of just walking down the path and matting it, what we do is we put signs. We say, “You’re going in the right direction,” or “Nope, you’ve lost your way. U-turn.”

We put signs and markers along the way so you’re able to identify, “Hey, am I taking the right action or the right path to know if I’m going in the right direction.” We do that with people by saying “Hey, this is what it feels like to be connected to your commitment.  This is what it feels like in your chest, in your body, or this is a word that you can connect to it.” What we’re doing is putting three words, ‘unlock your potential’ that’s a sign for me to connect to what I do and why I’m here.

Did that give you some explanation? I know we’re kind of getting deep into – I don’t always in conversations like this dive this deep into the science of behavior change and commitment and purpose ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh Aaron, you know just what to say to make a podcaster smile. Well, good. I appreciate it. It’s good. We’re talking about all right, you connect to your purpose. You take some deep reflection and maybe a little bit of time to arrive at what’s inside. You land at hey, well, what’s really meaningful to you and what really upsets you. You’re there.

Then I’m hearing you want to get to that place, connect to that sort of state of resonance, like, “Oh yeah, I’m jazzed about my purpose.” You want to get there just before a listening session.

Aaron Levy
Correct. The thing is, this is practice. If you want to get there before a conversation where you know you’re going to want to show up and listen, whether it’s a one-on-one you have an employee, a conversation you’re going to sit down and have with your partner, anything where you know.

There’s plenty of other situations where you’re listening but you’re not prepared for it or you’re not thinking about it. What we’re not trying to do here is we’re not trying to say be a better listener in every single situation ever once you’ve practiced, once. Just do it better everywhere. We understand that you don’t learn how to ride a bike by just riding it once and you perfect it. You fall a bunch.

What we try and do is say let’s set yourself up for success by having a couple conversations a week. Maybe one or two where you know, “Hey, I want to show up kind of in this state. I want to remove all distractions. I want to know what the purpose of this conversation is.” I want to know the agenda or the desired outcome of the conversation from my perspective and the other’s perspective.

That way I kind of removed all of those distractions of where are we going, of what do I have to do next, and you’re able to show up with that person. You do that a couple of times really well and you start to get those signs. You say, “Oh, this is what somebody else says,” or “This is how they show up,” or “This is how a conversation can go when I’m really listening.” Then we put those signs up.

The more signs you put up, the more you take the path, the easier it is to go back to it so that eventually the more you practice, it becomes habitual and you’re just doing it as opposed to having to think about doing it. But again, what we start with is the couple of actions that done over and over and over again will lead to habit.

Pete Mockaitis
I guess what I find interesting is let’s say your purpose is to give voice to the voiceless for example. That gets you fired up. You’re like, “Yes. This is the thing.” That’s a great way to feel and great way to be. But that is also helpful in a context of listening. I don’t know. Can you connect the dots for me here?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, yeah. Oftentimes people will say when we talk about this or we think about it, because right now we’re thinking about it, we’re not being with this idea. We’re thinking about, how does this apply?

Oftentimes a leader will say to me, “Well, if I want bring the voice to the voiceless, then oftentimes what I’ll do is I’ll be speaking for them or I’ll be taking what’s going on with them and trying to share it right away or trying to dig into it as much as I can.”

I say, “Yeah, that’s what you think will happen, but I promise you, go back to that state, go to that state of being the voice for the voiceless and what happens when you show up in that state with any person, whether it’s the voiceless or somebody who has a voice, you will show up differently.” It’s hard to explain. It’s kind of magical. But when you step into that space, what ends up happening is it empowers you to really be with somebody else.

I know when I show up wanting to unlock someone’s potential or understanding that, I’m just there with them. I’m engrossed with attention and intention towards who they are.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think the connection may be, speculating here.

Aaron Levy
Go for it.

Pete Mockaitis
That your purpose – this has come up a number of times, we talked about purpose – it’s always one way or another to help people. There’s a service bit to the purpose. No one’s purpose is ever “I am going to become a mega billionaire.” That’s not really a resonant purpose. It might be fun and exciting. But I guess the purpose things are service-oriented.

When you’re listening, in large part, the game in terms of the being side of things is that it’s not about you. You’re taking yourself out of it and you’re being of service to another person. In a way that’s kind of – if I’m thinking through this – that could be sort of like your linkage there. It’s like, “I’m getting into a resonant serving mode and that is a state that is highly conducive to listening.”

Aaron Levy
Pete, if this was a game show, I’d be like dinging the bells. You got it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Aaron Levy
You’re spot on right there. No, that’s exactly right. What you’ll have and what people often get caught up on is “Well, my purpose is to bring in more money,” “to make money,” “to generate wealth.” We have this all the time. Yet, the challenge is the question that I often ask people is “When you have all the money that you want, what will that give you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Okay.

Aaron Levy
Someone says, “So I can provide,” “So I can serve somebody else,” but then it goes to the real core.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I got you. That’s cool. All right, so you get in that state, it seems like that’s the whole ball of wax there when it comes to listening well? You get there and then you just shut up and put your attention on the other person?

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Here’s the interesting thing is a lot of the work that we do is quite simple, but it’s not easy to do. We can boil it down into understand your blind spot, what holds you back from listening, get really clear on what triggers you to listen well, remove distractions and show up and do it. But it’s not so easy to do because behavior change is not an easy thing.

That’s where we focus on deliberate practice, which is the focus that we don’t often spend enough in some of these soft skills. It’s not just doing it once, but doing it once with kind of like training wheels on and your parents next to you. Then taking the training wheels off and riding your bike and falling and scraping your knee.

What happens is when people try these skills in the real world and they fall and they scrape their knee, is they say, “That didn’t work. I’m never going to do it again,” or “That felt uncomfortable. I’m never going to do it again.”

What we encourage and what we design in our work with leaders is that’s not an option. They actually have to go out and apply it in real life after applying it in our workshops. Then in real life they figure out what doesn’t work, what does work. Then they get on a call with their coach. Their coach will diagnose and work with them to understand what worked and what didn’t.

So often leaders say, “Wow, this blew up in my face. This was really bad.” Well, great. You’re supposed to fail because you’re going to learn from that. But the second thing is when we diagnose in a coaching session, they realize that out of the ten elements that they had or out of the conversation, only 30% wasn’t really that good. 70% they got was amazing was they learned something new about somebody else.

They learned something new about a team member. They learned that a team member is planning to leave and this is why they’re planning to leave. It’s not a great outcome, but it’s better than not knowing.

The 30% of what didn’t work was either the setup, was their patience in it, was the close out. We work with them to understand and to diagnose and to debrief and to really reflect on what worked and what didn’t work because that’s where learning happens. It’s what we call a learn, apply, reflect. You have to learn the skill. Then you have to apply the skill. Then you have to reflect. You do that over again and that’s deliberate practice.

Pete Mockaitis
In the … of listening, is there any part of paraphrasing, summarizing, is that in the mix?

Aaron Levy
Not necessarily, no.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Aaron Levy
It can be depending on the conversation. It can be, “What I heard you say, Pete, is,” but it’s not necessarily part of it because every conversation’s a little bit different. We don’t set people up for just a specific type of conversation. We say show up and listen in any conversation.

You show up this way, sometimes there doesn’t need to be a paraphrase. Sometimes you don’t need to say a word and someone just needs to be heard. Sometimes you do need to paraphrase and you need to recap after a one-on-one or after a performance. You can say, “Hey, what I heard you say is this. These are the action steps we’re going to take.” Sure, but that’s not necessarily the action every time after listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Well that was fun. We talked a lot about listening. I guess we can’t cover all four after all. But that’s – we’ll have to have you back. All right, let’s talk about asking powerful questions. How’s this done?

Aaron Levy
I’ll try and be quick with it. If you want to dig deeper, I’m happy to dive into it fully. Asking powerful questions is really the key to exploring, to evaluating situations. It’s done by understanding one, we have biases as human beings.

If you look at the research by Daniel Kahneman, Amos Tversky, kind of if anyone’s ever heard of the book Moneyball, that idea, that concept of Moneyball, of the way our brain can lie to us when we look at a baseball player, just because we look at their sexy stats versus the stats that really are impactful, those are called biases and heuristics.

Our brain has tons of these biases to make life easier for us so we don’t have to think. We kind of take shortcuts as a brain, so we don’t have to think through everything we do in a day. But those shortcuts hold us back. Those shortcuts confirm what we think we already know about a person, a situation, an event.

This is by the way, my hardest skill to work on because I like to move quickly. In moving quickly, I assume and when I assume, I confirm what I thought I knew, but I’m not right necessarily. I used to get myself, especially earlier in my career, in a lot of trouble doing that. I’d make a lot of mistakes along the way because I’d assume something and I’d move fast. It doesn’t mean you can’t move fast. It means you need to check your biases.

The blind spot here – each of these skills has a blind spot – the blind spot here is your confirmation bias, is confirming what you already think to know based on the information at hand versus challenging your beliefs and exploring if there’s other information to be learned.

The trigger to actually start to ask powerful questions is looking at a three-year old kid. A three-year-old kid is someone who is constantly curious. They have this genuine desire to explore, to learn more. They say, “What is that about? How does that work? Why are we doing this? How does this work?” In doing that what they’re doing is they’re exploring. They’re exploring the world and unknowingly asking powerful questions.

The trigger to asking powerful questions is to let go of your assumption that you know the answers and be curious and ask yourself, “What don’t I know here?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a good question. Can you lay on some more favorite go-to questions for us?

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Here’s the thing, Pete, I won’t, because when I went through my training and I said I want to learn how to ask powerful questions. Just give me the list. I’ll do it. I was great at – give me a checklist. I’ll follow them. I’ll ask those questions in my coaching sessions. I’ll ask those questions with clients. Great, I’ll be done. Everybody wants a list.

Unfortunately, powerful questions, there is no list of them. There is no pure this is a powerful question or it’s not because powerful questions have to happen in the moment. They have to happen in context. You might have a question and then you ask it at the wrong time or the wrong person or in the wrong context and it’s not powerful at all.

What I will tell people is, which are really good tips for you is although why questions might seem to be very powerful, why has just a natural response to people that can make them defensive or make them think too far into the question. Instead of asking why, ask what or how. Instead of “Why does this matter to you,” “What about this matters to you? What makes this so important?”

It takes an extra second to change a why question to a what question, but the why will throw somebody off a little bit. I encourage you to use a what or a how. Don’t use a yes or no question. “Did you like this?” “Did you have fun?” “Was this meaningful for you?” Likely, not powerful questions, not guaranteed, but likely not powerful questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Fair enough. I won’t press for the list, but maybe if you could regale us with a couple examples of questions that you have asked multiple times or been asked multiple times that seem to do the trick.

Aaron Levy
Yeah. Here’s a couple. What’s the impact if nothing changes? What would that look like to you? What’s so important about this? Those can be powerful questions, not guaranteed, but they’re simple, they’re clear, they’re concise, they’re open-ended. The thing that I can’t tell you which they are or they aren’t – this is kind of a checklist for powerful questions: simple, clear, concise, open-ended – is I don’t know if they’re in the moment. I don’t know if they’re in context.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s helpful. Thank you. Well, so could you maybe give us the-

Aaron Levy
What’s driving you to get this list of powerful questions?

Pete Mockaitis
What’s that? What’s driving me?

Aaron Levy
What’s driving you to get this list of powerful questions?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh my purpose to develop and disseminate knowledge that transforms the experience of being alive.

Aaron Levy
There you go. Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Fired up. Ready to listen. Although, that’s a lot of words if you’re talking about simple. Let’s hear maybe when it comes to the communicate and the serve pieces, communicating directly, holding critical conversations, do you have sort of a quick sort of a do’s and don’ts that you might share within these ballparks?

Aaron Levy
Yeah, I’ll give quick for communicate directly. There are tips for communicating directly, which are important, but not nearly as important as laying the foundation for direct communication to occur. What that is is that’s creating psychological safety. Psychological safety is this feeling of I can say something without feeling like I will make a mistake or speak up, without feeling like I’m going to be made fun of or ridiculed.

When Google’s project, Aristotle, looked at what makes high performing teams, they looked at okay, let’s look at teams that are the best team members, let’s look at teams that have the best individual – what they found was that it had nothing to do with the individual’s themselves. It had to do with the team. It had to do with psychological safety.

Do people feel psychologically safe to speak up, to say something, to challenge ideas? Do they have clarity about what they’re going after and how they’re working with each other? What are the expectations of this team? The two things we talk about are how to build those.

The first way to do that is to create a set of team agreements. Really that’s just as a leader of a team, it’s getting really clear on what are your expectations of how other people on this team should show up and work with you. If they’re not clear to everybody on the team, they should be clear. They should be communicated. People should align on them and connect with them and be able to resonate with them.

That’s what we talk about for direct communication. It’s really creating the foundation for direct communication to occur.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, how about on the serving, holding those critical conversations?

Aaron Levy
Yeah. It’s putting together all those other pieces really well. It’s listening. It’s asking powerful questions. It’s having a direct communication conversations set up beforehand because sometimes it’s just giving feedback.

But if something’s really critical, that means that there is an impact of not having the conversation. It’s understanding that feedback is a gift and by not giving someone feedback, you’re holding them back. You’re not serving them. In order to serve them, you might have to tell them that they’re not doing well or that assessment didn’t work or they’re not the right fit for the team. Things that you feel people won’t be able to necessarily recover from.

The truth is human beings are creative, resourceful and whole. They are able to. If you hold them to this higher standard, then they live up to it. When we see them as needing fixing or being broken, we don’t see that feedback as a gift. When we see them as whole, we can actually start to give feedback and it can be a gift. Whether they see it as a gift now or in ten years from now, that is some of the most important things that you can do.

We talk about that as a leader is having that conversation. Now we have a two-part process for doing it, for stepping away from the critical nature of the conversation and reflecting on what’s actually happening. But the most important idea and concept from that is feedback is a gift. There’s a quote that I love is, “Courage is not the absence of fear, but rather the judgment that something else is more important.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well I was just going to ask for some favorite things, including a favorite quote. Sounds like you got us going there. Now could you share a favorite study, a piece of research that you found helpful?

Aaron Levy
Man, there’s a lot. I’m reading the book Give and Take right now by Adam Grant. In it there is a study about the importance of giving people energy and attention whether or not you think they are high potentials.

It’s a study that they did with students. They told certain teachers that, “Hey, these students are rock stars. They have – they’ve done really well in all these pre-tests and so they are –“ I don’t know the word that they used – “they’re all-stars.” Then they said, “These students aren’t.” Then they tracked where the students and how the students grew and how they performed over the year.

The people who were identified as all-stars performed 50% better than the others. Well, what happened was they weren’t actually all-stars in any shape of way you define it. They had just defined them that way for the teachers. What the study started to show was that the people inherently then give them more energy and attention because they think they have the potential to achieve into it.

What I took from that is as leaders if we see the potential in each of our employees, whether we think one is a high potential or the other’s not, if we see them all as high potentials, what we do is we elevate all of their games to a certain level, to a new level that we didn’t know was possible.

Instead of holding them back by giving them less resources, less energy, less support, we naturally do. We don’t even realize we’re doing it. If we hold everyone to that higher standard, what we’re doing is we’re giving them a chance and we’re giving ourselves a change to better equip ourselves and our team.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite-

Aaron Levy
I can’t remember the name of the study. Sorry.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, no problem. It is ringing a bell. How about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Aaron Levy
Meditation. Yeah, it’s something I struggled with figuring out. How do I find ten minutes in my day to just do nothing? Yet, it is the one of the more powerful, impactful tools. It trains your brain to slow down. It trains you to be. When you’re trained to be, you can listen much better because you’re just being with somebody else.

If anybody asks me what’s the one thing you should focus on doing, I would say it’s meditation. You look at the most successful people in the world and lists of them and look at their habits, to a T everyone does some sort of – not everyone, but a lot of them do some element of mindfulness or meditation in their lives.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with your clients?

Aaron Levy
Well, the first one is that feedback is a gift. I’ve already shared that and I’m going to stand with that one because that one takes a while for people to resonate with. Someone might hear it now and then think about it two years from now, but it’s really remembering that it is a gift, that the only way people can improve, the only way you can get better is if they know what’s working and what’s not working.

It’s like the analogy that I use is if you shoot a basketball in the dark, one, basketball will be no fun, and two, you’d never get back because you don’t know where the ball goes, you don’t know what happens. But as soon as you turn the light on, you can get some visual cues. You can get feedback in the moment, live on what’s working, what’s not working.

As a contributor to your team, as a leader of your team, as a friend, if you’re not giving that feedback, what you’re doing is you’re turning the lights off on your employee, your co-worker, your friend, your family member and saying “Figure it out in the dark.” It’s really this idea that giving that feedback is a gift for that person. It’s turning a light on. Whether they enjoy it in the moment or not, you can give it with tact and grace, but don’t withhold it.

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

Aaron Levy
I would point them to RaiseBar.co, R-A-I-S-E-B-A-R.co. It’s where we actually host our boot camp. All of the stuff that we’ve talked about are through two full-day workshops at a boot camp that we lead leaders through.

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

Aaron Levy
Yeah. If you are pessimistic or a naysayer about this idea of getting clear on your commitment or everybody having a commitment, sit on it, think about it, explore it, look at what fills you up. You might just find your commitment.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Aaron, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you and Raise the Bar tons of luck and success and keep up the good work.

Aaron Levy
Thanks so much Pete. It was a blast talking to you.

371: The Keys That Make a Great Team with Don Yaeger

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Nationally acclaimed speaker and long-time Sports Illustrated editor Don Yaeger highlights the key differences that make a great team.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How every organization is changing the world in some way
  2. Key practices that can bring your team’s “why” to life
  3. How great teams address dysfunction

About Don

Don Yaeger is a nationally acclaimed inspirational speaker, longtime Associate Editor of Sports Illustrated, and author of over 30 books, eleven of which have become New York Times Best-sellers. His messages focus on achieving greatness. He began his career at the San Antonio Light in Texas, and also worked at the Dallas Morning News and the Florida Times-Union in Jacksonville before going to work for Sports Illustrated.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Don Yaeger Interview Transcript

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

Don Yaeger

I am so grateful, Pete, to join you. Thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, I’m so excited to dig into some of your wisdom. And I got a real kick out of just the name of your company. My company is called Optimality; yours is called Greatness, Inc. So tell me, what does this word mean to you, what do you mean by it and what do you find so inspiring about the concept of greatness?

Don Yaeger

So, actually I chose “greatness” because I couldn’t spell “optimality”.

Pete Mockaitis

I always have to spell it on the phone. I mostly do business as How To Be Awesome At Your Job for that reason, but, yeah.

Don Yaeger

No, greatness for me was… I love sharing a little bit of the story because I’m so grateful to my father. But when I was graduating from college, leaving for my first job, I’m there with my dad, we’re in Indiana, I’m getting ready. My car’s loaded up, I’m headed to Texas for that first job out of college. And my father’s just sitting there in the driveway and says, “Don, because you’ve chosen journalism as your career, you are going to end up in the presence of some extraordinary winners, some people who have achieved things that all of us would love to learn from. And you’re going to ask them questions and it’s going to be great. And you’ll write the story and it’ll be awesome. But I hope that somewhere on this journey you’ll stop and ask each one of these people something that will benefit you. Ask them a question that you can learn and grow from.”
That was like Dad wisdom that sometimes you think is silly at 22, and then later in life you go, “Wow, I’m so glad that he said that and I took the wisdom.” So, I began asking the question of the winners and leaders and people of importance that I would study over the course of my time in journalism: “If you could name one habit that allowed you to become what your opponent couldn’t, what even some of your teammates were unable to become, what would that habit be?”
And they became the characteristics of greatness, is what they were called. And I kept a series of notebooks just on the answers that these great winners were giving. And then when I retired from SI a few years ago – I took an early retirement from Sports Illustrated – my first move was to grab those notebooks and start calculating out what answers do great winners give to that question.
And it was interesting how none of the answers were sporting. They weren’t about their physical gift, they weren’t about their knowledge of a game. It was about the development of disciplines that we can all learn from. And I thought that was really kind of cool, that these weren’t sports stories. These were lessons from great winners. Just as you might want to learn a great lesson from a Navy SEAL or a mountain climber, you don’t necessarily have to do those things to appreciate the lesson. That’s what I was getting access to as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, that is really cool. And so, you’re being humble and modest a smidge here. And we talked earlier about the audience is 50 / 50 sports fans. So, feel free to shamelessly name drop here a little bit. So, you’re talking about truly the tippy top of the great famous legends in their respective sports. So, could you maybe orient us to just a few folks who you spoke with and they said something that really stuck with you?

Don Yaeger

Sure. We’re talking about folks like Michael Jordan. I’ve worked with Michael for many years, and he’s a voracious competitor. He’s one of those people that just loves to scrap. And there’s just so much about him, whether you like him or don’t like him, that you should want to learn from, right? For me, the lesson that he taught me most openly, and maybe the lesson that probably sticks with me even to this day was, he talked about the idea of excuses, and how many of us have found excuses every time we don’t get what we want in our hopes to be something special. And we use those excuses to keep us from being able to achieve something better. He said once to me, “You know, Don, a loss is not a failure until you make an excuse.” And I thought, “Wow, that’s really powerful.” This is a guy who uses the mental strength that comes to him from losing to help make him better. Pretty powerful stuff.

Pete Mockaitis

That is good, yeah.

Don Yaeger

Many of your listeners might be fans of the movie The Blind Side. I had a chance to write the book with Michael Oher, the player who was the centerpiece of that movie. And there’s Michael – this kid comes from nothing. One of 13 children to a drug-addicted mom, and slept outside because she would be on binges and would lock him and his brothers and sisters out of their apartment, their housing project apartment.
And yet, when he became successful, when he signed a contract worth millions of dollars – changes the trajectory of his life – the place that he was the very next morning at 6:30 a.m. was the workout facility that he knew, was the facility that allowed him to get there, to get to the top. He was there working out again the day after he signs the contract.
And the reason was because he is a complete believer that the second you start resting on your laurels and you get comfortable with what you’ve achieved, somebody passes you. And he didn’t want to be that guy. So, pretty awesome to have the chance to rub elbows, go eye-to-eye with some of these folks and learn lessons from them.

Pete Mockaitis

That is really cool, yeah. So, you’ve also written many books, and one of them is about great teams. And you mention things high-performing organizations do differently. We love high-performing over here. So, could you share with us what are some of the main themes and findings there?

Don Yaeger

Oh yeah. So, when I retired from Sports Illustrated, when I took that early buy out 10 years ago, I began doing speaking engagements for a number of companies. One of those companies that hired me regularly was Microsoft, and one of their senior executives said, “We love the discussion of individual high performance, but we want to know why sometimes can win year in and year out. Why are some teams capable of being regularly relevant?”
And so I went on a journey. I took five years to research this next book, which was about great teams. Just sitting down with the best businesses and the best sporting organizations in North America to talk about sustained excellence. And the number one answer that came up was that the best teams understand their “Why”. They have a sense of purpose. They know who they’re in service of, they know why it matters.
They don’t just know it generically; they can put a face on who they service. And when you can do that, your team shows up to work differently. And again, whether this is a sporting team or a business team, they show up to work differently if they have that sense of who they’re in service of and they can feel that person. And that’s a real driver; it’s a fantastic conversation. I love doing it with audiences, but I loved writing it in that book as well.

Pete Mockaitis

Now, when you talk about they show up differently, can you maybe paint a picture, in terms of when you’ve got a clear “Why”, what that looks, sounds, feels like, versus when you’ve got maybe a fuzzy or a lack of “Why”?

Don Yaeger

Sure. I’ll give you a perfect example. One of the companies I’ve studied was a medical device company out of Minneapolis, called Medtronic. Medtronic makes devices that are implanted in people that keeps them alive. And during one of my interviews with the long-time CEO of that company, I was asking how the company grew from 10,000 employees to 40,000 employees.
So, as a consultant you know what happens when a company grows that exponentially – the culture of the organization fades, profit and loss seems to become the dominant theme and conversation. And yet, this company was growing at those numbers and still remained one of America’s great places to work. And I wanted to know how he did that.
And he said, “Yeah, I’ll tell you. There’s a number of things we did, but one of the most important was that we began a conversation that occurred every year at an annual company event, where for one hour we would take to the stage six families that are held together today because of Medtronic devices keeping one of them alive. And we would give the microphone to these families and let them talk to our employees.”
And he said every year there was some young woman who takes the mic and looks at the audience and says, “Thank you. Because your device did everything you promised it would, my daddy walked down the aisle this summer.” He said every year some young man did the same thing – he said, “Because your device is awesome, my grandfather was with us a Thanksgiving and they told us he wouldn’t be.” And he said at the end of that, they actually took the six families in the back of the room, they lined them up at table and they let all these folks come back there and they autographed pictures, just like they were rock stars. And those pictures hang all over the buildings at Medtronic.
And he said, “The reason this is important is that those people are our ‘Why’. It’s not about profit, it’s not shareholders. And yet, we don’t actually really sell to them.” Medtronic, they don’t sell to families. They sell to doctors and hospitals. He said, “But to know our ‘Why’, we had to find a way to get connected to it. And this event was how we connected.” And they did it every year, because they had turnover and the employees needed to be reminded.
But being connected, putting a face on the “feel it” moment that can occur for you when someone looks at you and says, “Thank you, you let my daddy walk me down the aisle” – it’s unforgettable and it’s game-changing. And they show up to work differently because that’s who they’re in service of. They’re not in service of some CEO or some manager or some bean counter. They’re in service of a young woman who got to walk down the aisle.

Pete Mockaitis

That is powerful and awesome. And so, it’s different six families each year? They’ve got lots of customers; I imagine they can keep bringing new faces.

Don Yaeger

Yeah, different six families each year.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really cool. So that is awesome.

Don Yaeger

By the way, I hope I’m okay with the 50% of your audience that are not sports fans.

Pete Mockaitis

[laugh] Absolutely, very good. And what percentage is crying right now, while we’re talking segmentation? I’m tearing up a bit myself over here, in all candor. So that’s huge. And I’m thinking the natural response is, “Okay. Well, Don, I don’t work for a cool company that’s saving lives, extending lives. Our impact is maybe a little bit more subtle or less viscerally big-feeling, not so much someone’s going to be alive to walk a daughter down the aisle or to be at Thanksgiving.”

Don Yaeger

That’s where I disagree. I think that the only way you can say that, if what you’re arguing is you work at a company that offers no value to society. And my guess is all of us, if we really try to break it down, could argue that we’re engaged and changing the world in our own way. So, how do we create those moments, or what do those moments look like for us?
I’m telling you, Pete – in the last two and a half years since I’ve been doing this presentation and since we wrote that book – I’ve yet to encounter a company where when they give me 20 minutes of time, I can’t walk them backwards into finding that young woman that stands on the front. It might look different; it might be seen differently than that. It might not just be around your product; it might be about what you do corporately for your community. It wouldn’t occur if you organizationally didn’t come together and work together. It might be the way that you interact with each other as teammates.
I own a company in Tallahassee; we have 18 employees. Not very big. You could argue we’re not in the business of saving lives or doing anything else. Part of the company is involved in public relations, the other part is my book writing and my speaking. We’re not saving lives. But what we set out to do a couple of years ago was we actually challenged every employee in our company to name for me one thing that we could do for you collectively, so that you knew we cared about you individually. And every two months we take a Friday afternoon off and we go in service of one of the members of our team.
One of our guys – our IT guy… And by the way, anybody that’s ever worked with IT guys knows that first off, they can find jobs anywhere they want to find because right now everybody’s in search of a good IT guy. But secondly, they’re sometimes a little quirky, a little difficult. And so our IT guy said, “You know what? I’ll tell you.” And we all knew that his grandmother had passed away just a couple of months earlier. But he said, “My grandmother lived two amazing years at the end of her life at this unbelievable nursing home, where they cared for her in ways that were so cool. And I want to do something for the nursing home.”
And so, we took off an afternoon as a company and we went and we served meals to the entire staff of that nursing home. And in between meals, they told us stories about his grandmother. And he told us stories about his grandmother. And we know him better because we are part of an organization that feels each other. And in a zero unemployment world where he could find a job anywhere, I promise you, this guy doesn’t want to go to work somewhere else. He doesn’t want to show up different. He wants to show up here, because he knows we care about him. That’s the choice. That’s what this kind of conversation really has within an organization.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s really cool. And so, the question there is, “Name one thing we could do for you.” Then one way that you’ve implemented that is every other month taking a day off. Mathematically, I’m thinking that’s six days in a year and 18 people at the company.

Don Yaeger

That’s an expense.

Pete Mockaitis

Yeah.

Don Yaeger

It’s not a cheap choice, but you know what? We have zero turnover within our organization. You know the cost of turnover, right? We have zero turnover within our organization, and we have high employee engagement. We work diligently at it, and it’s not something you do once a year. It’s got to be an ongoing part of the culture of the organization you’re creating.

Pete Mockaitis

So I’m loving the particular applications of the “Why”. So we’re getting a face to who you’re in service of, and that could be your customer, your end consumer, your colleagues, your community. And then you’re asking specifically, ”What’s something that we could do for you?”, and then putting that service into action. What are some other practices that bring this “Why” to life?

Don Yaeger

To that secondary piece, about your community – how many of us work at organizations that regularly are contributing to charities within your community? Awesome. But you know what? Do you really feel that? It feels good to read the newspaper that your company gave X dollars to something. What if instead of just giving X dollars to something, we said, “You know what? We want to meet somebody who’s the beneficiary of what we get a chance to do here.”
And if that means that instead of just giving money to Toys for Tots, you’re actually going together as a team to deliver gifts to a family at Christmas – those are the collected experiences that bond people together in ways that are really cool. They’re the ways that teams come together and they’re the ways that instead of just stroking a check, we’re allowing the organization to benefit, because of an effort we were already going to make. Now we get to feel it, right? We get to feel it.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. So, I’d love to get your view then, in terms of the components of the “Why”. You can see it in practice by engaging with those faces. You spelled out some subcomponents – who we’re in service of, why it matters. Are there any kind of key questions that you suggest teams reflect upon in order to zero in on the resonant “Why” and to flush it out all the more powerfully?

Don Yaeger

In working on this exact program and after having worked with a number of teams both in business and sports that had made that sense of purpose a centerpiece of who they are… I live in Tallahassee, Florida, and a professor at the Florida State University College of Business who’s really extraordinary in this space of team building actually put some academic research work into helping me create a list of questions that you could ask your team if you wanted to try to get your sense of “Why”, if you wanted to understand what do they think, why do they think we matter.
It’s one thing for a leader – for me as the CEO of the team, or the president of the organization to say, “Here’s why we matter.” It’s another if we sit and we go around the table and everybody answers the question. But sometimes they’re uncomfortable answering it around the table, so we wrote out a series of questions. I’ll tell you, I wasn’t intending to do this, but I would be glad to. Pete, I can either give you my email address now, at the end, whatever you want, and anybody who’s listening to this, if they put your name in the subject line, I’ll send them those questions.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Could you maybe give us just a taste right now, in terms of one or two of them?

Don Yaeger

I think so. The first big question is that – if you were asked, “Who are we in service of and why does it matter?” I did it within my own company. When they go around the room and they answer that question, the variance that you get is really amazing, because then you start to ask yourself, “Gosh, if they don’t know who we’re in service of, then, man, it’s my job to do” – just like that CEO of Medtronic – “It’s my job to figure out how they get it. And if I can’t help them get to an understanding of that question…” But you have to start by finding out what they think.
Now, if you asked the question to 15 teammates and they all say the same thing – kudos! Seldom happens, but it starts by just getting there. Why does what we do matter? What happens to this community if we go away? And these are really insightful questions. If they answer them well, you really do walk away with an understanding that, “Man, I’ve got work to do.” But you know where you’re starting from as a team, if people are all over the place. Let’s draw for ourselves a picture of the person that we’re in service of. What does that look like?

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And I’m curious, in your particular instance, what were some of the range of responses you got, and then what do you do with that, in terms of, “Oh, I think this is the right answer”, or how do you steer or navigate that?

Don Yaeger

Well, what you do is you bring all the answers in, put them up on a big whiteboard and then we start talking about them. And I’m not calling anybody out. I’m fascinated by why we’re not on the same page. And I’m okay with it. We don’t have to all parrot each other, but it would be nice if collectively we believed, “This is the avatar of who we are serving.” So, what we ultimately realized is that…

Again, part of my business writes books. Part of my business speaks, either helps put me on stages. Part of my business builds virtual learning programs that I get a chance to teach. Part of my business helps other people tell their story through public relations. So what we realized was our commonality was that we want to be world-class storytellers. And we are in service of those who give us a chance to tell stories. And so, we want to be the best storytellers we can be, and to do that we have to be really good at what we do, but we also have to engage with people who have world class stories to tell.
And so, the further we got into that conversation, everybody gets this sense of purpose around, “Wow, you’re right, man.” Anyway, people began to get this sense that they’re working in a special environment. And you could argue that’s partially my fault that that wasn’t patently evident, just because they’re working for me. But at the end of the day, everybody gets caught up in doing their own thing, and sometimes they forget about the value that the team gets to bring.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome, thank you. So, the book has a subtitle: 16 Things High Performing Organizations Do Differently. We’ve mostly talked about one, and I’m fine with that, but I’d love it if you could maybe also share if that’s the big one – zeroing in on the “Why”, are there any that you would say offer just a big bang for your buck, in terms of a quick win, where it’s like, you know what, if you can just knock out this little annoying thing, it makes a huge difference?

Don Yaeger

The one that really stood out to me that kind of surprised me… So we have back-to-back chapters in the book and sessions in this program that I do, where the great teams aspire, strive to build camaraderie within the organization. That makes total sense. Everyone believes we should have camaraderie. First off, it’s important to define what camaraderie is – an understanding and appreciation for each other.
But then the second piece of that was, camaraderie sounds cool, but it doesn’t always happen. So, what’s the flip side of that? Which is dysfunction. And if we know that dysfunction is real… And it happens in any organization that’s high-performing. Any high-performing organization has dysfunction within it. So the big question is, how do we shorten the lifecycle of the dysfunction?
And the biggest piece of that is opening by, the great teams see dysfunction differently. Most of the rest of us put our hands over our ears or cup our eyes and, “Let’s see no evil, hear no evil. Let’s try to avoid this.” The great ones address it openly and see it as actually a sign of passion. We possess people that have passion, so let’s use that as a strength as opposed to a negative. And how do you manage dysfunction? The best teams do it; they don’t let it overtake the mission, and as a result they are able to get back on track more quickly.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, so you just take a bright light to, “All right, what’s dysfunctional and how do we get out of it quickly?” And so those are your key questions. Any other prompts that make a big impact?

Don Yaeger

You mean another characteristic?

Pete Mockaitis

Oh no, I mean in terms of getting to the bottom of that dysfunction.

Don Yaeger

The key is that you have to have leaders who are willing to be uncomfortable, because addressing dysfunction in an organization is an uncomfortable position. And if you know that we have two people within the team who are regularly sniping at each other, that are regularly just taking backdoor shots at each other, talking about each other – you as the leader, someone, has to take control of the situation.
Pull those two people together and say, “Look, I get it. I don’t need you to hang out, but I need you to be respectful. What is it about her that you cannot respect? What is it about him that you cannot abide? Talk to me. We’re going to talk this out and we’re not leaving this room until we do. Or if we do, not all three of us will be leaving this room.” And you have to be willing to do so. That willingness to take it on, which most people do not want to do, because it’s nasty, it’s messy, it’s uncomfortable…

Pete Mockaitis

“We’re hoping it’s just going to take care of itself, Don.”

Don Yaeger

And it never does. It only gets worse, right? So, don’t be foolish. The best teams are not foolish. And so, it’s not about just shining a bright light; it’s about literally engaging in conversation.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Don Yaeger

Ah, no. The only one of these other characteristics on high-performing teams that really stood out was that the best teams have a mentoring culture within the organization. Not a mentoring program, but a mentoring culture. It’s that belief that those of us who might’ve been around a little longer are actively engaged in helping to raise up those who might not have been here as long, to understand. And those who might be younger might be teaching those of us who are a little older about ways to do things more efficiently. But it has to be a cultural value within those great teams, that allows mentoring to become a part of how you see each other.

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

Don Yaeger

My favorite quote comes from a legendary basketball coach named John Wooden. And he used to love to say, “Make each day your masterpiece.” And that fascinated me because it’s such a simple quote: “Make each day your masterpiece.” It’s five words. But it’s the hardest advice someone can give you, because it means that in order for today to be a masterpiece day, I have to prepare well. I have to actually show up well, I have to deliver on commitments. In order to make today a masterpiece, it’s a lot of work, but if I do it and I string a few of those together, I’ve got a pretty good week. And so, focus on today and make today a masterpiece. Really incredible. My favorite quote.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Don Yaeger

Probably this research on great teams. We all see great teams and we know what they look like when we work for one or maybe we played on one. But what is it about the magic? And what do those who have been engaged in them say? That was probably my favorite thing.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite book?

Don Yaeger

It’s funny. This one usually surprises people when I get asked that, but I don’t read much fiction. But I had the opportunity a few years ago, I was invited to be part of a two-person book signing in Charlotte, North Carolina. And the other person was Nicholas Sparks, and he wrote a book called The Notebook that he gave to me when he and I talked about my mother, who suffered Alzheimer’s. And I still read it at least once a year, because it allows me to think about my mom, which is pretty awesome.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something you use that helps you be awesome at your job?

Don Yaeger

Probably my favorite tool is… I’m an incessant thinker. I’m always thinking of some crazy idea or something. And so I have a quick recording tool on my phone that allows me to quickly capture and share crazy ideas, which I have often in the middle of the night divided them between the folks that get to work with me. And we are regularly trying to grow what we do and expand our influence. But anyway, it’s a neat way for me to be able to do it. No matter what’s happening, no matter where I’m driving or where I’m traveling, I could share things really quickly.

Pete Mockaitis

And what’s the name of it?

Don Yaeger

I was afraid you were going to ask me that as I was telling you about it, because I wasn’t prepared for that question. And I don’t have my phone in here so I don’t know the name. I literally have it as a single button on my phone, so I am embarrassed to acknowledge that I don’t know it.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, no worries. If you could just let me know and I’ll include that in the show notes.

Don Yaeger

Awesome.

Pete Mockaitis

We’ll get that going. I use OmniFocus myself for that kind of thing, and it is awesome. I’ll find I have 100 plus ideas just randomly surface – anything and everything from, “Do they have nannies on resorts? Find one. Find such a resort, that’d be fun.” So, it’s cool. Great, and how about a favorite habit?

Don Yaeger

A favorite habit is, I love closing each day with trying to… I’m a man of faith, so a big piece of closing each day for me is a little reading of the Bible. And I’ve got a pretty good prayer sequence that I try to go through every night to make sure I’m covering that piece of my life and reminding myself how important it is.

Pete Mockaitis

Well, you’ve used two of my favorite words next to each other – prayer and sequence. So if you’re able to disclose, what are some of the components there?

Don Yaeger

Well, I begin by sharing my gratefulness and recognizing how fortunate I am for all that I’ve been blessed with. Then I try to focus on those I know to be in need and try to think about things I hope or pray for for them. And then, I always close with talking about my family. And it’s interesting, because I used the word “talking about”, because that’s kind of the way I look at it. You know what I mean? So, that’s the way I round it out.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful, thank you. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share in your speeches or books that really seems to connect, resonate, get quoted back to you, retweeted, etcetera?

Don Yaeger

Yeah. It’s that phrase that I think I used earlier, when we were talking about some of the folks that I get a chance to work with. Michael Jordan, when he was sharing this lesson to me, saying, “A loss is not a failure until you make an excuse” – that comes back up often, because that’s really impactful. Even the great ones lose, but the great ones know how to keep losing in perspective, and they learn something from losing. And that’s a real game-changer for many people when they hear it, because a lot of times we don’t associate losing with some of those folks, right?

Pete Mockaitis

Right. And Don, tell me – if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Don Yaeger

So, my website is DonYaeger.com. I’m active on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, so I regularly respond. In fact, I spent a good piece of this morning responding to different questions and requests that were on those four mediums. So those are probably the easiest place for me.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Don Yaeger

I think that the challenge… When I thought about the model of what you’re building here, Pete, and the question – the reason I brought up the Michael Jordan quote twice is because I think that’s the differentiator between the good and the great, especially at work, is a willingness to not go looking for an excuse every time something doesn’t go your way. And then if they’re committed to stopping the vicious cycle of excuses that seems to wave over all the rest of us – if you can stop making excuses when things don’t go your way, I think you’ll find a degree of opportunity that’s off the charts.

Pete Mockaitis

Beautiful. Well, Don, thank you so much for sharing this. Your compassion and just caringness shines right through, and it’s powerful and it’s a real treat. So, I wish you tons of luck with your books and your speaking and your companies, living out the “Why”, and just all you’re up to!

Don Yaeger

Pete, thank you very much, buddy.

328: Inspiring Actions and Movements with Jennifer Dulski

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Jennifer Dulski breaks down how to rally communities around a common cause—and keep them going even without you.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The three ingredients of a successful movement
  2. The keys to mobilizing people
  3. How to leverage criticism

About Jennifer

Jennifer Dulski is the head of Groups and Community at Facebook. Prior to Facebook, Jennifer served as president and COO of Change.org, a social enterprise company that empowers people everywhere to start and win campaigns for change. She was an early Yahoo! employee, rising through the ranks over her nine-year tenure to ultimately lead one of the company’s six business units as group VP and general manager of Local and Marketplaces. Jennifer left Yahoo! to become CEO of The Dealmap, a site acquired by Google in 2011, making her the first woman to sell a company to Google. Jennifer has a deep passion for making the world a better place and is a prominent thought leader in Silicon Valley.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jennifer Dulski Interview Transcript

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

Jennifer Dulski
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis

So, you currently serve as the Head of Groups and Community at Facebook. And I have to imagine you’ve encountered some interesting groups, in terms of names and the communities and people who are coming together. Could you enlighten us, inspire us? What are some of the most noteworthy, surprising or funny Facebook groups you’ve bumped into?

Jennifer Dulski

Sure. So one of my favorite things about Facebook groups is that there really is a group for everyone and everything you can imagine. And many of the groups are about those things that are kind of closest and most important to us in our lives – parenting and health and work. And then there’s also a group for everything that makes you feel like you might be different or unusual, and many of the times people come together around things like school orchestra teachers, is one of my favorites, or there’s one called “Mama Dragons”, just for moms of LGBTQ kids who are talking about how to help raise their kids in a competent, supportive way.
And then there are fun, interesting hobbies, like there are groups for beekeepers. There are groups for people who are on a health kick. One of my favorites there is a group called “The Missing Chins”, which is a group of men who run together and they’ve lost jointly many thousand pounds, so they have collectively removed many of their chins, as they say. And then another favorite of mine is called “The Very Old Skateboarders”, which is a group of women in their 60s and 70s who love to go skateboarding together. And they say things like, “When we’re alone, we feel different and maybe a little bit odd, but when we’re together we’re birds of a feather all in the same community.”

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool. And how many very old skateboarders are there, per chance?

Jennifer Dulski

I don’t know the exact number, but there are many dozens of the very old skateboarders. Some of these groups are very large. There is a group that I was looking at the other day called “Planners Gone Wild”, which is for people who love to plan. They share their binders and their spiral notebooks, and so forth. That group has 50,000 people in it, so they really do range in size.

Pete Mockaitis

That is cool. So, I want to dig into your book Purposeful, and talk about some of those proactive pieces to be purposeful and inspire change and that kind of thing with a movement. But first, I’m sort of curious – in your role as the Head of Groups and Community at Facebook – what are the big things that you’re thinking through and working on day in and day out?

Jennifer Dulski

So, we’re trying to make sure that we can help everyone in the world find a community that is meaningful to them and adds value to their lives. And we announced a couple of months ago that we now have 200 million people who are in these very meaningful groups, and we see that being able to join a group like this actually helps people get a sense of belonging, feel connected, and it adds the ability to feel like they’re part of something bigger than themselves. And so we’re working on growing that, helping everybody find the most relevant group for themselves.
And one of the challenges we think about is how do you help build empathy between people? We live in a world that’s very divided – increasingly so – and what we see happening in Facebook groups is that people come together over something they have in common. Maybe they love the same kind of dog, maybe they live in the same neighborhood, but they don’t necessarily always have the same political views, or have the same demographics. And we find that people can build really trusting relationships in these communities that’s helping bring our world closer together again.

Pete Mockaitis

That is really cool, because you have a certain affinity, like, “If this guy loves Yorkies, he can’t be all that bad.”

Jennifer Dulski

Right, it’s true. One of my personal favorite groups is called “Grown and Flown Parents”. It’s for people who have kids that are either teenagers or off to college. And this group is filled with hundreds of thousands of parents, all over the world in this case, and we all have something in common. We’re all talking about what do you put in your kid’s dorm room, or how do you pay for college tuition, or what did your kids wear to the prom? And yet, we have a lot of things that we might not see eye-to-eye on and it’s a lot easier to have those conversations once you build up that trust.

Pete Mockaitis

That is really cool, especially in a polarized, divided world. It’s like, “Okay, we both love Yorkies. We’ve hung out a few times. You seem intelligent and interesting, and sort of have a decent head on your shoulders.” So maybe I can say, “Why is it that you love Donald Trump? I don’t know anybody who does.” And then you can sort of go there and say, “Okay”, and then hear a lot of this sound bite animosity that’s out there.

Jennifer Dulski

It’s so true. We actually see some groups doing this directly. So there’s a group called “Make America Dinner Again”, which is doing exactly that – kind of hosting dinners with people who are willing to have these conversations. And it doesn’t necessarily mean they change their mind, but they build understanding of a different perspective. By the way, I looked it up, and “The Very Old Skateboarders” – I hugely underestimated it. Apparently there are nearly 3,000 very old skateboarders.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s cool. And we might have a couple listening to the show that are like, “Oh finally, a place I can go.” [laugh] So, share with us a little bit – your book Purposeful – what’s the big idea behind it?

Jennifer Dulski

So the big idea behind Purposeful is that we can all be movement starters. And I have been very fortunate in my career to be able to support and empower regular people who ignite extraordinary change in the world. I did this at Change.org, I now do it at Facebook, helping people who run communities. And what I’ve seen is that all kinds of people can do this. It’s teenagers, it’s grandparents, it’s stay-at-home moms, it’s veterans – anyone you can imagine has the power to start a movement, and that means all of us do.
And in Purposeful, I share the lessons that I have learned from working with and interviewing movement starters from all walks of life. There’s a young woman with Down syndrome who persuaded Congress to pass a new law for Americans with disabilities, there are two teenagers who helped redo the curriculum in the state where they live to add the concept of consent, there’s an entrepreneur who’s reinventing the way we think about personal nutrition. It’s basically activists and business people, all creating change.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, the word “movement” has some power behind it, which is bigger than just “Hey, help me with this thing I’m doing.” So what makes a movement a movement, and how could you turn a goal into a movement?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so a movement is anything that rallies people around a common purpose. The idea is that most movements are started by one individual or a small group of people, but they really aren’t a movement until they rally other people together around that cause. And the first step in starting any movement is to create a vision. And the people that I’ve seen are most successful at this, they have visions that have three parts. So the first part is a desired future for the world.
So the most successful visions all have three parts to them. The first part is a desired future for the world. What is it that you want the world to look like? And it may be your workplace or your neighborhood – so for instance, maybe you’re trying to get parental leave offered at your company. Your desired future would be, “I envision a world in which everyone at my organization is offered paid parental leave.”
The second part is a purpose, which is why that desired future matters to you personally. So you might say, “This matters to me because I want to make sure all new parents are able to have the time required to successfully raise their children and take care of them in these early first few months.”
And then the third part of a successful vision is a story that brings the vision to life. And so, here you might use a personal story or one from someone that you know that really resonates with this issue. So for instance, there’s a woman named Katie Bethell, who’s working on the issue of paid parental leave, and she brings up the stories of two women – one who’s a Republican, one who’s a Democrat. They each had newborn babies who died in accidents in their daycare, because the moms were not in jobs that gave them parental leave, and they had to put tiny infants into daycare, which led to horrible accidents. And so, that story brings a vision to life and makes even more people realize why the vision of paid parental leave is important.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. Yeah, that’s powerful. Okay, so if those are the ingredients – establishing the vision with those three bits, what are the first steps a person might take in order to translate what might seem like maybe a mundane goal into more of a vision that inspires? I don’t know, maybe they’re thinking that they need a new IT system, or they need to change one process or approach they’re using at work for another one.

Jennifer Dulski

Right. So the key thing, the very first, most important thing is to just get started. Taking that first step is the thing that makes all the difference. And I sometimes describe it like starting a standing ovation. So, have you ever been the first person to stand up and clap in a standing ovation?

Pete Mockaitis

Yes, I have.

Jennifer Dulski

Wow, that’s awesome! Most people have not. I’m not surprised, actually, to hear that you have. But sometimes I ask this in big audiences people, and you might get one or two hands. And most people don’t do it, because it’s kind of scary to be that first one who exposes yourself a little bit and you think, “What if nobody joins me?” But generally people do. You don’t see many examples of having one person stand up and nobody else, not a single other person joining them. And once those first few people stand up and join the first person who’s clapping, then all of a sudden you get a standing ovation.
And movements start the same way. So, the first step can be something really small, for instance for the examples that you shared – you want to change a new system in your workplace – sometimes it’s just writing up your own thoughts and an outline of what you’d like to see happen and why. Sometimes it might be emailing people you know to start asking for help. Sometimes if it’s beyond your company it might be starting a petition or starting a Facebook group or starting a fundraiser. There are many, many things that can act as a first step. The key thing is, you need a little bit of courage, you need to be a little bit vulnerable because you have to be willing to ask other people for help, and you need to be determined, because movements don’t happen overnight; they take a lot of determination.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay. So, any pro tips for those who are feeling some of the not-so-courageous feelings about going there with the vulnerability and exposure? Is there any psychological perspective or a word of encouragement you offer such folks?

Jennifer Dulski

So, what I use is a very clunky acronym – I call it IICDTICDA, which stands for “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything”. And my advice is to try to do other things that scare you, and then what happens is that every new thing seems less scary in comparison. So for people who are afraid of public speaking, instead of just trying right away to go out and speak in front of a big audience, I might say, “Well, what’s something else that scares you? Are you afraid of heights, are you afraid of flying?”
One example in my own life – I used to be pretty nervous about flying, and so when I was in college I went with a friend in one of those glider planes, which is a plane without an engine, which might seem kind of crazy. But I said to myself, “Well, people do this every day and they live through it, so I’m just going to push myself to the edge of my comfort zone, try something.” I was quite scared, but when I landed I had that IICDTICDA feeling – this notion of, “Well, if I could do that, then I can probably do anything.”

Pete Mockaitis

That’s great. And it can be any number of things that you fear, even if it’s not directly related to the piece that you’re after. I’m thinking about, you might have fears associated with – I’m thinking about previous guests who talked about going for “No” and just seeing what gets liberated when you do that. Like at a store, you just ask them for a discount, like, “Would $4.50 work for you?”

Jennifer Dulski

That’s right. I love that. And I think the standing ovation is actually a good example too. You could just be the first to stand up and clap in the next show that you see. It would be scary, but it would show you that life goes on, even if the worst case scenario happens, which is no one stands up to join you.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, absolutely. I dig it. So, you’re starting to take some action, you’re pushing through that, finding the courage. And then, how do we go about getting other folks enrolled and engaged and interested in this?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so it’s true – the next step is to mobilize other people. And one of the things that I found works well here is a) again – you have to ask for help, but b) empowering those people who work with you to take on a role that allows them to make a real difference too. So, an example that I love here is a woman named Jennifer Cardenas – she started a Facebook group in the wake of Hurricane Harvey. She was evacuating her home outside of Houston, and she started a group with people to say, “Let’s just keep in touch to see where we’re all evacuating to, to see if we can help each other.”
She invited 50 of her friends, and within three days that group grew to 150,000 people. And what Jennifer did was as those people joined, she embraced them. It’s all about embracing those first followers and getting them involved. So she invited 80 of her first people who joined the community to become volunteer moderators for the group. And then what happened a couple of days later, Jennifer ended up losing Internet service because she went to a place that didn’t have access in the storm. And those people that she had embraced as early supporters were able to keep running the community even though she wasn’t there. And they ultimately ended up working with the Coast Guard and the National Guard to rescue 8,000 people from Hurricane Harvey.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s excellent. Really cool. So you give them a specific role and they feel empowered and excited and they’ve got it going. And that’s helpful. And then, what about maybe even trying to enroll decision-makers who are maybe not the direct beneficiaries, in terms of you’re getting other folks on board and invested into your starter group?

Jennifer Dulski

That’s right. So, many movements, even once you’ve had the courage to get started and you’ve rallied other people behind you – in many cases if there’s something you want to change, you may not have the power to do it yourself. There may be a decision-maker, either a company executive or CEO or elected officials, politicians, who have the power to make the change you want. And the technique that I recommend here – there’s actually a whole chapter on this in Purposeful called Get to Know Goliath, because my belief is that it’s about understanding whom and what motivates the decision-maker that you’re trying to persuade that will make you most effective. So, I give an example of a woman named Luanne Calvert who used be the CMO of Virgin America. And she was trying to persuade the CEO of the company to say “Yes” to their new safety video, which I don’t know if you’ve flown Virgin America, but they have…

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, I did. With all the musical numbers. [singing]

Jennifer Dulski

Exactly, exactly. You could sing along to it. But before that they had an animated funny cartoon safety video that everybody loved. The loyal followers of their brand really loved this video. And it wasn’t FAA compliant, so she had to change it, and she was really nervous about that because she had to replace this very well-loved video. And so when she came up with the idea for this musical rhyming video, she wasn’t sure that it would be approved.
And she used a technique that I recommend called “influence mapping”, where she looked at the person she was trying to persuade and she said, “Who are all the people that may influence him?” And in this case, she went to the flight attendants, she went to loyal frequent flyers, she went to other Virgin America executives, and in the end when she was making the final pitch to the CEO, it was one of those people in that influence mapping process who helped her get the case sold into the CEO, who finally approved it. And as you know, the rest is history. It was very, very successful. Not only did people love it, but it has been viewed on YouTube 13 million times. Safety video for an airline, which is pretty crazy.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh, that is good. And so, when it comes to that influence mapping, how do you get that picture, in terms of who has the ear of the decision-maker?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so I recommend just looking at the situation and trying to talk to the people that you think are close to that person. So if it’s inside an organization, you can generally tell because you know who the close confidants of that person are. If let’s say you’re trying to persuade your city counselor or the mayor of your town, you may not know exactly who their influence map is. And so, in that case you can start asking people.
You can also do a technique that I call “Make it easy to say ‘Yes’”, which basically means in addition to thinking about who influences them, you think about what are the things that motivate that person? So for a politician, you can understand that it is issues like the budget that they have to manage, the voters that they have to persuade in case they’re running for reelection, the media that they have to be able to influence and they want to still look good in the media.
So, there’s a young woman who I feature in Purposeful named Amanda Nguyen, who has been fighting for the rights of sexual assault survivors. She herself is a rape survivor from when she was in college. And she found that the criminal justice system is just completely broken in this area. And she went to try to change these laws and she gathered a group of very passionate volunteers that had, as I said, a variety of skills – some were lawyers, some were financial analysts, some were engineers – and she worked with them to understand decision-makers, in this case Congress.
And she drafted a sample law working with attorneys, she analyzed all the budget implications working with the finance folks, and she found other people who could tell their personal stories to motivate the emotions of the members of Congress. And she was successful in actually getting this law passed unanimously by the United States Congress, which almost never happens, as you know. One of 21 bills since 1989.

Pete Mockaitis

That’s awesome, thank you. You also talk about using criticism as an advantage. How does that work?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so the more successful you are in your effort to create a movement for change, the more criticism you are likely to be exposed to. It’s just true that the more public you get, people may have things to say about what you’re doing or how you’re doing it. And my view is that the people who are most successful here can both learn to separate the type of criticism that is perhaps outside of their control. So if people are criticizing you about your gender or your age or your appearance, generally I suggest people set that aside. And the rest of the criticism, which may be about exactly what you’re trying to do or how – then listening to it may have some value, in understanding other people’s perspectives.
And there’s a technique here I call “leveraging the naysayers”, where you can actually use that to your advantage. There’s a woman named Mary Lou Jepsen – she was starting an organization called One Laptop Per Child. They were trying to build these solar-powered, light, readable, very inexpensive laptops, which most people thought was not possible. And she took all the critics and used that as a way to debug her product.
She went and met with all the execs at a big tech company in Asia and they said, “There’s 23 reasons why this won’t work”, and she said, “Great. Let me take those back. I think I can solve 17 of them. And when I solve the rest, I’ll come back, see if you have any more criticism.” And she used that as a way to actually make her product work. So you can be tough enough to hear the criticism, sometimes it can make you better.

Pete Mockaitis

And you also talk about overcoming obstacles and failing well. How does that unfold?

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, so there are likely to be a lot of obstacles in your path, which is true no matter what you’re trying to build or accomplish. I sometimes call it “the festival of failure”, if you can see your failures as something that not only do you want to learn from, but you can kind of shout them from the rooftop so that other people may learn from them too.
And I feature a story of two women founders of a company called Little Passports. This was a subscription product for kids to teach kids about global citizenship. So they would send a package in the mail every month with two characters, and each month they would go to a different country and kids would get a stamp for their passport and a sticker for the map and some souvenirs from the country, and information and so forth. But Amy and Stella, who founded this company had so many obstacles along the way.
Originally it was, they bootstrapped the whole thing, and then they hit some personal struggles. Amy ended up getting divorced while she was pregnant with one of her children. Her father ended up dying right as they were founding the company, and she just had such a tough time personally. Having a co-founder there in Stella to help support her through that journey helped them get through that first set of obstacles, and then every one that came after that. They had an issue where the warehouse almost took all their inventory, they had trouble raising money, they had one issue where something caught on fire in one of their products. They just took one obstacle after another and kept going with their vision at the core. And now they are a quite successful, profitable company. They’re doing about $30 million in revenue and they’re teaching kids all over the world to be better global citizens.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. So some of the actionable pieces there is one, having support – a co-founder, and others who are on your team. And what are some other things, in terms of how you bounce back and find that resilience?

Jennifer Dulski

I describe it sometimes like climbing a mountain. So the other key piece of advice here is to just expect that there will be obstacles. So, if you remember that taking any of these kinds of leadership roles is like climbing a mountain – some days will be sunny and you brought a picnic lunch and you’re halfway up and you can see the top, and other days will be stormy and you feel like you’re at the bottom and you’ll never take another step.
And the key is to expect and know that there will be both kinds of days, and that neither will last forever. And just to keep climbing each day. So, push yourself on those cloudy days to keep taking another step and know it will get sunny again. And remember not to stop for the picnic lunch on the sunny day, because those sunny days won’t last forever either.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jennifer Dulski

Yeah, also I would mention that there is a Facebook group for the book, called Purposeful. So, they can find it at the website PurposefulBook.com – there’s a link to it. Even if people don’t read the book, but they want to participate in a community of people who are helping each other push their movements forward, whatever they may be – I would encourage people to join that. It’s free, of course.

Pete Mockaitis

Okay, cool. Thank you. And now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Jennifer Dulski

So one of my favorite quotes is, “Anyone who thinks they are too small to make a difference, hasn’t tried to fall asleep with a mosquito in the room.” [laugh]

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jennifer Dulski

So, one of my favorite studies is from Tom Gilovich at Cornell, who was one of my professors. And this piece of research says that people regret in the short term things they do. He calls it “errors of commission”. So, “Oh my gosh, I shouldn’t have asked that woman out. She said ‘No’. It was so embarrassing.” But in the long term, people tend to regret things they don’t do, or “errors of omission”. So, “I should have asked that woman out. She might have been the love of my life.” And this is the thing we go to our deathbeds regretting, is the things we never tried to do.

Pete Mockaitis

Thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Jennifer Dulski

Favorite book is Gung Ho!, which is by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles. It is a book about leadership as taught through the lessons of a Native American folktale. And my favorite chapter is called The Gift of the Goose, and it’s about how geese fly in a V and they rotate who flies at the front and who takes the leadership role. And everyone in the back honks to cheer on the leader goose.

Pete Mockaitis

Is that why they’re honking?

Jennifer Dulski

That’s why they honk. They honk to cheer on the leader, which I think is a great metaphor for all of us to think about cheering each other on. And that sometimes will be the leader and sometimes we encourage other people to step forward and lead.

Pete Mockaitis

So does that mean the goose in front is not honking, but all the other geese are?

Jennifer Dulski

That is my understanding. I could be wrong.

Pete Mockaitis

I never knew this about geese. Thank you. And how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jennifer Dulski

One of my favorite tools is called the “horizon conversation”, and this also is on the resources page of the book website, if people want to … I learned it from an HR exec that I used to work with, and have adopted it since then. But it basically allows people to outline what they want on the horizon of their careers, where they might want to go, and then map out the gaps they have between what they know now and what they want to achieve, such that they can make sure the projects, jobs, etcetera, that they take in between are helping them fill those key gaps.

Pete Mockaitis

Oh cool, thank you.

Jennifer Dulski

And I’ve used it myself as well.

Pete Mockaitis

And how about a favorite habit?

Jennifer Dulski

A favorite habit. I think one thing I use a lot is just trying to remember a sense of perspective. So, when things get very difficult, which happens certainly from time to time – I try to remember those moments in my own life that were really tough. I tell a story in the book about having being diagnosed with a brain tumor in my late 20s. Got that call at work in the middle of the day. Clearly no matter what challenges I’m struggling with at work on any given day, they’re not as bad as that day. And so, to remember that we all have days like that and each of us, people sitting around us may be having a day like that. It just helps to keep everything in perspective.

Pete Mockaitis

And is there a particular nugget that you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get Kindle book highlighted or retweeted or repeated back to you?

Jennifer Dulski

I think the thing that I’ve shared that’s been the most retweeted is this concept of the work-life mashup, is what I call it. I wrote an article in Fortune. I tried to call it “Work-Life Balance is Bullsh*t”, but they wouldn’t let me. And they titled it “There’s No Such Thing As Work-Life Balance”. But my general concept here is that our work and our lives have become inextricably intertwined, and that one way to make the most of that is to consider it a mashup, or layers on top of each other.
And I had a quote that says, “I’m still a mom when I walk into work, and I’m still a leader of a company when I go home at night.” So, neither of those things go away, and it means that if I get a call from my kid’s school in the middle of the work day, I’m going to take it, and if something urgent happens at work in the middle of dinner, I’ll probably take that call too. And that particular nugget has been retweeted a lot of times.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright, thank you. And if folks want to learn more or get in touch, where would you point them?

Jennifer Dulski

So I am @jdulski on all the platforms – Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. And the website is PurposefulBook.com, which also has a link to the Facebook group.

Pete Mockaitis

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

Jennifer Dulski

The final challenge I’d issue is IICDTICDA – the one I mentioned before – “If I Can Do This, I Can Do Anything”. And I’d just encourage people to do one scary thing outside of work that might make them more brave inside of work.

Pete Mockaitis

Alright. Well, Jen, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing your wisdom. Good luck in all you’re up to, at Facebook with groups, and the book, and everything!

Jennifer Dulski

Thanks so much. It was great to be here.

303: Inspiring Teams through Purpose with Fred Kofman

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Fred Kofman shares how to unlock the power of purpose to strengthen your team and drive better performance.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The first hurdle to working in a group
  2. How to find the inspiration in your work
  3. How to solve the problem of disinformation

About Fred

Fred Kofman is a Leadership Advisor at Google and former vice president of executive development and leadership philosopher at LinkedIn, where he worked with the top CEO’s and executives around the world. Born in Argentina, Kofman came to the United States as a graduate student, where he earned his PhD in advanced economic theory at U.C. Berkeley. He taught management accounting and finance at MIT for six years before forming his own consulting company, Axialent, and teaching leadership workshops for corporations such as General Motors, Chrysler, Shell, Microsoft, and Citibank. At its height, his company had 150 people and created and taught programs to more than 15,000 executives. Sheryl Sandberg writes about him in her book Lean In, claiming Kofman “will transform the way you live and work.”

 

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Fred Kofman Interview Transcript

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

Fred Kofman
My pleasure, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so curious to hear, so you had a nice run there as the Vice President of Executive Development at LinkedIn. You just recently made a switch. What are you up to now and what’s the story?

Fred Kofman
Well, I’m now an advisor for Leadership Development at Google. Well, the story is I would say a transition, but along the same line.

I’d been with LinkedIn for five years. They are – I feel that they are all my brothers and sisters. It was an amazing opportunity that Jeff, the CEO, gave me to work with all of them. But after five years I think I worked with almost every executive in the company, so my mission was fulfilled.

I had shared what I can do and what I can help people learn and I felt that the value of my contribution was going to start diminishing quickly because it would be mostly repeats or tweaks, whereas there were a lot of other organizations that could use that and I wanted to offer my gift more broadly.

I agreed with the people in LinkedIn that I would be out in the market and combine the work I did with them with some work I would do for other companies. Then when I went out, some people from Google asked me if I could consider doing a more extended engagement with them, a project that would be more absorbing.

I thought it was a fantastic opportunity, so I just accepted and I’m here. I’m beginning this project of Leadership Development or advising them in the area of leadership development.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. I’ve been enjoying digging into your book a little bit, The Meaning Revolution. Could you give us how do you conceptualize it in terms of what’s the big idea behind the book and why is it important now?

Fred Kofman
There’s a fundamental problem that every person that is trying to work with a team has to solve. It starts with a couple, just two people or a family, a small team and is the same problem that an organization with hundreds of thousands of people will have.

That’s to try to combine or integrate the need to have each person be accountable, to do what they’re supposed to and also the need to have each person cooperate for the achievement of the common goal.
This seems obvious. You want a group of people that work together. Every company wants the same thing. We want people to work together and each person doing what they’re supposed to do.

But there’s a hidden problem with this. There’s some incompatibility between these two imperatives. That is that if you evaluate people based on their what’s called OKRs or KPIs, which are the key results or key performance indicators, people are going to focus on their own individual jobs.

Pete Mockaitis
Indeed.

Fred Kofman
And they won’t really collaborate with others and they will even build silos to make sure other people don’t prevent them from doing what they need to do.

Today we live in an illusion where people think they are getting paid or that they’re hired to do what they call their jobs, but they’re all wrong. Every person is wrong when they say, “My job is accounting,” or “My job is sales,” or “My job is engineering.” I think everybody’s job is to help the company succeed, just like every player’s job is to help the team win.

But a defensive player will think that his or her job is to stop goals and the offensive player will say my job is to score. That’s not wrong, but it’s not true either. The job is to help the team win.

You normally do your job as a defensive player by stopping the other team from scoring, but in some instances, under some conditions, it would be better for the team if you left your position and you went forward and tried to score. For example, if you’re losing one – zero with five minutes to go.

It’s a typical strategy that teams will send the defensive players to the offense to try to tie the game. But if a person thinks, “Oh, no, no, my job is just to defend,” they will not want to go forward.

The same thing happens in a company. If you feel that your job is to reduce costs, you are going to be less interested in satisfying the customer because it could be expensive to satisfy the customer, even though the best thing for the company to achieve its mission would be to pay attention to the customer.

Or if you’re in customer retention – I tell this story in the book about somebody that was trying to sign off on Comcast and saying, “I don’t want your service.” It went viral because that was a crazy conversation.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Fred Kofman
It lasted like ten minutes with the customer service

Pete Mockaitis
Cancel the account. Yeah, I remember that.

Fred Kofman
Exactly. That costed Comcast tens of millions of dollars in brand loss – in brand, I would say, distraction.

This was a stupid tradeoff that a person made because they think or they have a performance indicator that is how many people cancel the service during your time, when you’re on the phone.

The less people that cancel their service, the better your performance, so of course you’re going to try to convince everybody not to and you will even try anything to the point that you’re going to upset the customers and then create a brand disaster for Comcast.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Then that’s making a lot of sense in terms of your job is broader than your job description, whether it’s to prevent customers from leaving or what not. Then at the same time, given that there are perhaps thousands of things that an organization needs to do in order to succeed and you’ve got to have some degree of division of labor and responsibility.

How do you think about that appropriate balance between folks sort of executing on their key performance indicators versus doing whatever is necessary to help the organization win?

Fred Kofman
Yeah. That is what the book is about. I’ll give you a hint; it’s not a balance. It’s a relationship of subordination. The primary goal is to achieve the mission. That is the super-ordinating imperative. That’s why you’re here.

If you’re a soccer team, you’re there to win the game. You’re not there to say, “Well, how do we balance winning the game with having more shots or having less goals scored against.” It really doesn’t matter. It’s better to win seven – six than to lose one – zero. You say, “They only scored one goal against us,” yeah, but you lost. It’s not really balance; it’s a subordination.

But it’s very difficult to try to incentivize this subordination because the moment you tell people, “We’re all here to win,” and you can’t observe what people do directly or even if you observe, know if people are doing the right thing or not, because many times it requires judgment or discretion.

When you give people a collective incentive and you say, “We all win together or we all lose together,” you become vulnerable to predators and parasites, people that will come and prey upon the system because they are –

For example, if you pay an average sales commission, like the whole everybody sells and then you pool the money and you pay every salesperson the same, well, all the people that are below average would love your company and they will come and work for you and all the people that are above average are going to leave because they are going to be brought down by the average.

In a sense, average pay drives the best ones away, if I can do a little verse, and makes the worst ones stay. That’s a very unfortunate result in economics that if you want to encourage individual excellence, you have to evaluate people by their own individual performance. But if you evaluate people through their individual performance, you’re discouraging them from contributing to the team objective.

That is in mathematical terms an insolvable dilemma. If you just take self-interested agents and you try to create an organization, you can’t. It just doesn’t work. There’s no clever incentive system that will solve this problem.

The book is about understanding why that’s the case, but then seeing how do you manage this problem better. What can you do?

Very, I would say, surprisingly for me in an ironic sense, the solution of the most material, the hardest problem is soft. I would say the solution to the economic problem is really spiritual because the way you have to integrate a team is not by payments, not by rewards and punishments, but by inspiring them. That’s where leadership or what I call transcendent leadership comes into play.

You have to give people the opportunity to participate in a project that they feel passionate about. They’re not doing it just because you pay them, but they’re doing it because it makes sense, because it fulfills a deep longing they have in their lives. It is done in a way that is ethical and makes them proud. It also gives them the chance to connect with other people who they just crave to be in community with.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, that sounds like a great place to be. Could you maybe help us go from a bit of a point A to point B sort of given what is currently the case in many workplaces? What are some of the very first steps to bring it into that spiritually robust, purpose-filled great place?

Fred Kofman
Yeah. Okay, let’s just say that some of your listeners are entrepreneurs or leaders in existing companies. The first step is to find the deeper meaning of what the company does.

Let’s imagine that I’m a doctor and I go home and I have a seven-year-old daughter that asks me, “Daddy, what do you do?” I say, “I make money.” Well, that’s not very inspiring. She goes, “Oh, well, good.” If she asks me why is that important, “Oh, because I can buy nice things for you.” She’d understand that and that’s okay. We have a nice house or we can eat tasty food and so on. But it’s not very uplifting.

If I dig deeper, what do I do “Well, I cure the sick,” or “I use medicine to make people well, to help them reestablish their health.” But if I go deeper, it’s like, “Well, when people are at risk and they have illnesses or they feel terrible or they are hurt, I help them first survive, and then come back to health,” and so on and so forth.

If I describe that as my job, as my profession, well, I feel uplifted. I feel happy and my daughter will be happy too. She will be proud to tell other kids at school what her daddy does.

I know it sounds a little perhaps simplistic, but if you are running an organization in the market, the people that are buying your product or service are finding some way in which that product or service makes their lives better. It makes them sufficiently better that they are willing to part with their hard-earned cash to acquire your product or service.

Don’t focus, as Peter Drucker, said, don’t focus on the drill because people don’t really want drills. Focus on the hole. What people want is holes. That’s why they buy drills, to make them. The question would be what is the human need, the human aspiration that your product or service is helping people to address and take care of.

You need to know that and you need to feel that in your bones, like deep inside that you’re super proud of what you do. If you’re not proud, like if you’re not on fire, you’re not going to be able to light up the people that you want to inspire. You need to feel it inside and then be able to communicate and invite people who join you in that project.

Don’t invite people to work and say “Okay, come and put your effort and I’m going to pay you.” Of course, that’s the economic deal, but the economic deal will only get you average performance.

Pete Mockaitis
This is really reminding me, Fred, of a fun chat I had. I think I was freshly hired at Bain & Company. I was chatting my fellow consultants in between some training stuff. Somehow it just sort of came up, it was like, “Hey do we do good as strategy consultants?” For me, it was kind of like, the answer was of course or else why would you have ever taken this job.

Then I went on I guess what was a rant associated with, “Well, what we do is we make companies more valuable which is extremely important because folks who are saving for retirement or for college education need for the stocks in their portfolio to appreciate and we help make that possible so that their dreams can come true.

Non-profits and foundations within their endowments have their investments placed in a basket of equities that individually we are helping make. And the leverage of us doing it is so huge in terms of being 23 years old and not having a lot of experience yet and trusted to tackle things that are going to liberate millions and billions of dollars of economic value that …”

So I went on this whole rant and the others were kind of like, “Whoa, I just thought this would be a good place so I could get into Harvard Business School or something.” I was surprised. I guess for me, I call it naïve or what, but I would just sort of assume, “But, of course, you would only choose a job that had deep purpose for you or else you would have chosen a different job.”

But different people, I quickly learned, operate from different starting points in their career decision making.

Fred Kofman
Absolutely. Yet, if you allow me, Pete, to challenge you a little bit.

Pete Mockaitis
Please.

Fred Kofman
I think you missed the most important part of your job when you described the benefits. I agree with every one you listed, but for me at the top of the list, not for me, economically, at the top of the list, the reason why these companies are going to become more valuable is because they will serve their customers.

The real value in the economy is not the mission of giving jobs to people or money to the investors. The real value in an economy, the one that propels humanity forward, is the competition to give value to the customers. That’s what good consultants help companies do. That’s what the mission of every company needs to be.

If not, we become a bureaucracy. But, “Oh look, we’re doing so much good because we’re hiring all these families.” Okay, that’s like 1% of the good you are doing. Don’t forget the 99% because the real good you’re doing is that people are buying your product because they find it useful in their lives.

You have no idea how much value you’re adding because as I say, if I use an Apple computer, it would cost me maybe 1,000 dollars to buy, but I would have been willing to pay 5,000 dollars. Even if Apple makes a profit of 2 or 300 hundred dollars, I made a surplus value or a consumer profit of 4,000.

Now, nobody knows that because there’s no place where I say I’m willing to pay 5,000. That’s something only I know how much value this computer is going to give me or how much would I be willing to pay for it.

I find it a little problematic today when people talk about social enterprises or “We’re doing good,” or we hire whatever people you’re hiring and say, “Well, so many families eat because of us.” Yes, that’s true, but that’s so small compared to the wealth that you’re creating in terms of life richness, not necessarily measured by money.

But we at Google today is the Input/Output conference for developers and just looking at all the developments in artificial intelligence and the assistant and all that, there’s thousands of people here that are just day and night thinking non-stop, “How can we make people’s lives better?”

There was a clip of a lady that had a difficult handicap. I’m guessing something similar to what Steven Hawking’s had. The kind of life that she was able to live because of the products that were created, it’s infinite. There’s no money in the world that would pay for that or she would not be willing to pay to access the level of quality of life that she’s able to achieve through some of these new technologies.

I want to be very emphatic. I emphasize this in the book, particularly in the last part, that there’s no system that we know that creates social cooperation and the growth and development of humanity like a market system, where everybody opts in because they think they’re getting a good deal or opts out otherwise.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that. It does connect and resonate and it’s easy to get kind of lost in the weeds a bit. As we discussed this, it kind of reminds me of the book, The Goal, in a manufacturing context in thinking about you had all these performance indicators about manufacturing, but it’s really just about making an efficient product such that it can be sold profitably and then that is enriching the individual end-user who are engaging it.

I’d love it, Fred, if you could tackle, maybe just bring to life a little bit some industries that might be kind of tricky in terms of finding that fulfillment and purpose. I guess some of them could just be controversial in terms of weapons or – well, I could name all kinds of controversial issues, like weapons, tobacco, alcohol, certain insurance drugs, insurance products, hedge funds.

Could you give us a few examples of how “No, no, if you’re working here is actually awesome in this way.” Or maybe you say, “Yeah, maybe work somewhere else.” What do you think about some of the trickier ones?

Fred Kofman
Well, let’s with weapons. What would be the need that a person buying a weapon can satisfy?

Let’s just say an honorable need. I’m not talking about a criminal buying a gun to murder people or to rob them. I’m talking about good people because if you’re going to be inspired, you have to believe that your mission is conducive to some higher good. If you can’t come up with anything, then you shouldn’t work in that industry.

I’ve never worked with gun manufacturers, but I’ve heard the arguments, so I’m sure you have heard them too. What would be the argument for a noble goal that weapons could pursue?

Pete Mockaitis
It’s interesting, when I said weapons, I was originally thinking of tanks and jets and nukes for nations. But I guess on the personal-

Fred Kofman
Okay, that works too. That works. What would be the reason to – let’s just say you’re working for McDonnell Douglas and you’re a leader and you want to inspire some young people to come work there.

Pete Mockaitis
I would suppose you would say, “We are keeping our servicemen and women safer with these offerings. We can rest easier in our homes, in our nation, knowing that we can resist the threat of a foreign power who would seek to kill and enslave us and we don’t have to worry about that much on a day-by-day basis because we have brave people equipped with these useful tools.”

Fred Kofman
I would work for you.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Fred Kofman
That’s inspiring. Again, I’m not claiming that this is true and that there are no weapons manufacturers that are evil. There are weapon manufacturers that work for the other guys too and they create the possibility of aggression or dominance or all these horrible things.

But at best, it’s possible to work for a certain kind of military-grade weapon manufacturer or even a gun manufacturer and say, “Yeah, it’s about protection. It’s about maintaining the quality of life, of sleeping well because I am aware that any thug can come and abuse you.” That’s inspiring.

Again, it’s not the weapon, but what is it that the weapon allows a human being to do that will allow this person to take care  of important human concerns in an ethical way, meaning without aggressing or without hurting other people in a violent manner.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. Now that that is well-established in terms of your view or purpose in terms of how folks are enriched by the existence of your product and service.

If you zoom into sort of the day-in/day-out of work life, how can we stay connected to that and let the meaning really serve to be energizing and empowering day after day. I’d particularly like to hear that from a vantage point of maybe not an executive or a founder, but perhaps a manager who only has a few direct reports.

Fred Kofman
Yeah, well, let’s start at the bottom, not even a manager with individual contributor. There’s a great story that I found and I use it in the book that refers to President Kennedy’s visit to NASA. I think it was 1962.

He went to NASA and was touring the facility and there was a custodian that was mopping the floors. Just being gracious, the President stopped and said hello and asked him, “So what’s your job here?” He said, “I’m helping to put a man on the moon, Mr. President.”

That is culture. That is a culture that clarifies every day what are we here to do. He was certainly mopping the floors, but that’s not the way he felt about it. Just like it’s different to put brick over brick than to build a cathedral. If you keep the cathedral or the man on the moon in mind, then everything you do takes a different meaning.

This is true, there’s lots of studies. I quote several of them in my book about hospitals for example, and you’ll see the custodians in the hospitals finding a lot of meaning in helping people regain their health and cleaning their rooms and even chatting with them and bringing some joy on the nurses too.

You say, “Oh, some of these are menial tasks. They have to change the sheets.” Yeah, but in the process of changing the sheets, they’re making contact with another human being. They are participating in their life. They are giving them hope when they feel down, when they’re distressed.

It’s profoundly meaningful. It’s almost like a saintly thing to do. You’re going and touching with love and compassion people who are suffering. That’s an amazing opportunity that you only get if you work in a hospital.

I know we may consider some of these things like, “Oh, it doesn’t really matter. You’re just washing clothes in a hospital or making rooms in a hotel.” You say, “Those things are just worthless, meaningless tasks,” but the truth is there are people who do find a lot of meaning in that, but it’s not about the task. It’s always about the goal, the human concern that is being taken care of through the task.

If you’re a manager, then your job is first to remember that and second to remind other people in your team what are you really doing, maintain this awareness day in and day out and everything we do is for that. Everything we do is to fulfill our mission, the service that we’re proud to provide to the community or humanity in general.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I’m with you there. Then you also mentioned a few problems that crop up within the organization in terms of things being disorganized with disinformation or disillusion. Do you have a couple actionable steps you recommend for hitting these pieces?

Fred Kofman
Yes. You may have a clear mission and everybody could be aligned to the mission, but different people see different parts of the organization and have different opinions about what would be the best way to accomplish the mission. I call this touching the elephant.

There’s a great story of a king bringing five blind men and putting them next to an elephant and telling them to describe the shape of the elephant. They start arguing. One of them says, “The elephant is like a column,” touching the leg. The other one says, “Oh no, it’s like a wall,” touching the side. The other one said, “No, no, it’s like a snake,” touching the trunk and so on and so forth.

The king at the end says to them, “Well, you’re all right and you’re all wrong. You’re all right because the part you are touching is really like you describe, but you’re all wrong because you are … extrapolating the part you touch and using it to elicit or to infer what’s the shape of the elephant as a whole.”

Many times in organizations we do that. People are close to some part of the organization and they think that the whole organization is an extrapolation of the part they perceive. The ones that see the organization are so far away, it would be like seeing the elephant from a mile away, that you can see the whole thing, but you don’t have any granularity and you don’t have the details that are required to make intelligent decisions.

I call this disinformation. Different people have different information and nobody knows the whole picture with the level of granularity that’s required to make intelligent decisions. How do you solve this?

Well, if people are aligned on the mission and they know how to share information in a non-arrogant way, I call it humility, then they can come together and each person can say what they see, and what they infer, and what they experience in their immediate environment.

Then the other people can integrate that and create the pool of common information out of which they can make an intelligent decision together, what would be the best way to proceed to accomplish our mission. But that requires kind of gathering the intelligence of everybody and creating this collective consciousness, this group awareness that encompasses the information that everybody’s bringing.

That is surprisingly difficult to do. After I wrote the book I was having some interactions with General Stanley McChrystal who wrote the book Team of Teams. It’s surprising how in the military and particularly having to fight guerrilla warfare that is very decentralized, they were dealing with exactly the same problem in spades.

One of the biggest managerial revolutions that McChrystal triggered in the US military was the creation of the Special Operations Command, the Joint Special Operations Command as a learning adaptive network, as a group of people who were operating in a decentralized manner, but were creating this shared consciousness to have all their resources available to make intelligent decisions to win the war, not win each particular battle, but to achieve the mission.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nice. Thank you. Well, tell me, Fred, anything else you really want to make sure to cover before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Fred Kofman
I’d say that one of the consequences of this revolution from money to meaning is that you can’t do it as an addition to your personality. You can’t say, “Well, I’m who I am and then I’m going to do this.” The inspiration to use meaning as a galvanizing force, that inspiration requires you to be in a certain form, not just to do things. But who you are really creates the drive for people to follow you.

You have to earn your moral authority from your life. You can’t use formal authority to do this or monetary authority or economic power. You are trying to elicit the internal commitment from people so that they give you what you have no way to extract.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a nice turn of phrase. ‘They give what you have no way to extract.’ Thank you. Now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Fred Kofman
Well, this is a quote from Mother Theresa that says, “Not everybody can do great things, but everybody can do small things with great love.” I find that very inspiring that this being a moral hero is not about having super powers; it’s about doing day-to-day things with great integrity, with great care, with great compassion. But it’s something I’d like to … in my life.

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

Fred Kofman
Well, I’ll tell you a shocking study if it’s favorite, but it’s the fact that the level of engagement worldwide is about 12 – 13%, so meaning almost 90% of the people hate their jobs. That’s incredible that so much suffering is happening because we don’t know how to work together and in way that uplifts human beings.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. How about a favorite book?

Fred Kofman
I’d say from Ludwig von Mises, Human Action. It’s not an easy book to read, but it’s a treatise in economics that changed my life.

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

Fred Kofman
Gmail. Google search and Gmail. I think they’re incredible service opportunities. They’re so well designed.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours?

Fred Kofman
I won’t turn on my phone until I finish meditating, doing my yoga exercises, and going to the gym.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How about a particular nugget, a piece that you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and has them quoting it back to you?

Fred Kofman
The distinction between a victim of circumstance or being a player and responding to whatever life gives you.

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

Fred Kofman
The best way would be to look at my profile on LinkedIn. I put hundreds of short videos and papers there. They’re publically available. There’s also a website called Conscious.LinkedIn.com. There’s also the book on Amazon or my previous book, Conscious Business.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, perfect. Is there a final call to action or challenge that you’d issue to folks seeking to be awesome at their jobs?

Fred Kofman
Yeah, find something that inspires you then live in that space. Don’t waste your life doing something that doesn’t have that juice.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Fred, thank you so much for taking the time to share this wisdom and expertise. It’s powerful stuff and I just wish you tons of luck and all the meaning that you’re bringing to folks.

Fred Kofman
Thank you, Pete. It was a pleasure talking to you.

259: How the Best Teams Operate with Adrian Gostick

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Adrian Gostick talks about what the best teams today are doing differently.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The differing forces that motivate each generation
  2. How to encourage your leaders to initiate regular career discussions
  3. The best ways to disagree without causing offense

About Adrian 

Adrian Gostick is a global workplace expert and thought leader in the fields of corporate culture, teamwork, and engagement. He is founder of the training company The Culture Works and author of the #1 New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal bestsellers All In and The Carrot Principle. His books have been translated into 30 languages and have sold 1.5 million copies around the world.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Adrian Gostick Interview Transcript

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

Adrian Gostick
Well, thanks Pete. Thanks for your interest in our work.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, I’m quite interested, and it seems like you are too, and you apply it in multiple contexts, when it comes to studying teams and great performance, as well as in the context of being a high school soccer coach. So, I’m curious what inspires you to volunteer this way and keep volunteering this way.

Adrian Gostick
Well, it’s something I’ve done for several years. I started when my son was the high school goalkeeper and I got involved, and it’s just great to see young people need that connection to team. It’s one thing we’ve noticed in our research too, is that especially Millennials, Gen Z coming up into the workplace, really sparked great teams. And unfortunately so many of us as managers, maybe we’re not as good at creating those great teams. So it’s kind of fun to try some of our philosophies out on the soccer pitch.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued. Any stories of sort of leadership, team management sparking goodness coming to life with the high schools?

Adrian Gostick
It’s funny – I think in life we learn more from our mistakes than we do anything positive that we do, unfortunately. And when I first started I was assisting the head coach, and I don’t think you realize the importance of these concepts of motivation. It was more about the Xs and the Os, and he was very good at that. But slowly over the years we’ve helped him understand that you’re going to get a lot more out of these young men when you begin to understand their drivers – what motivates each of them individually, and quit worrying so much about the Xs and Os and worry about each individual – what drives them, what motivates them. And now he’s got a team that for the first time ever was in the state finals last year. And he’s got a team of young men who walk through fire for him, but it didn’t come until he began worrying about the soft side of leading people.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. So then, I understand as I’m flipping through here, that is much of the good stuff inside your upcoming book The Best Team Wins. Tell us what’s sort of the main idea within this book, and why it is important here and now.

Adrian Gostick
Chester Elton – my co-author – and I, we do a lot of work with large organizations – American Express is one of our clients, California Pizza Kitchen. We’ve got some really fun clients that many people have heard of over the years. But what we try and do as we work with the CEOs and the leaders of these teams, is to realize sort of what their worries are. So, for example about five years ago we were hearing a lot on culture, and we were lucky enough to become one of the first to write a big book on culture and how you build a great culture. It was called All In, with Simon & Schuster.
And then over the last few years we’ve been hearing so much about teams. I know we’ve heard about teams for a long time, but things are changing, and there are challenges facing teams today – working cross-functionally, with Millennials coming into the workplace, with the increased speed of change – that a lot of the CEOs and senior leaders we were working were saying, “Really, teamwork has changed so much in the last few years, there’s really no guide to help me and help our organization understand how to navigate the waters of teamwork today.” And so, that really was the impetus to write The Best Team Wins, was how do we face the challenges of leading a team in 2018?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, let’s go into it then. So you’ve actually laid out five disciplines of team leaders. Could you maybe orient us a little bit with a preview to start and hear what are those disciplines?

Adrian Gostick
Now again, we’ve got about 850,000 people in our database that we’re looking at, so we’ve got a plus or minus here at a fraction of a percentage that help us understand really what the best teams today are doing differently. Now, The Best Team Wins isn’t a Bible of everything that you ever need to do to build a team; there are still some really solid fundamentals out there but there’s been lots written on those.
So what this is about is what’s different about the best team leaders today, and as you mentioned, Pete, five disciplines emerged that we saw in the best teams, that they had the highest performance, the highest engagement levels. The first was that managers really did understand there were differences in the generations that they were managing, and they learned that they had to manage, say, Millennials different than Boomers, different than Gen X. So we talked about that, but it was very data-driven, and we’ll talk about that in a moment, I’m sure.
The second idea was that while we do worry about the generational differences, the best leaders are managing to the one, especially helping people drive their career development. That’s one of the biggest differentiators today, is helping me as an employee grow and learn and develop.
The third was that they’re much faster. Great team leaders really speed productivity – they get new people and teams up to speed a lot faster than their peers.
The fourth idea was that these great teams that we studied really were challenging everything. They had amazing debate within their organizations, and almost we call it “discord”, where they were really challenging each other and ideas.
And the final thing we found was that great teams had a focus on the customer that was laser. Now, there’s probably not a team in America or wherever you’re listening, who doesn’t believe that we’re customer-focused, but these teams truly were. Every decision, every debate revolved around what really would be the benefit to the customer. So, at a high-level those are the five disciplines we found in the research.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, yes, thank you for that preview there. And I would like to dig into each of these a touch. So, yeah, let’s talk first about these generational differences. And thank you for being data-driven – that’s what we love here. So, I’m a Millennial, I guess just barely, although most Millennials don’t like to be called Millennials. And that median listener – their age, according to my last survey… Maybe I need to get 850,000 data points, that’s awesome – is also in the Millennial age zone. So tell us – what are the “for real” differences amongst generations, versus sort of the “hype myth” differences between the generations?

Adrian Gostick
That’s a really good point, because a lot of people start tuning out once you start talking about entire generations. It’s a little like saying, “Everybody in Costa Rica does this” or, “Every left-hander is this way.” Of course, that’s just ridiculous. But what we can find in the data are there are some big changes happening in the workforce that we need to be aware of as leaders.
So for instance, autonomy has long been heralded as one of the biggest drivers of human behavior. Dan Pink wrote a book called Drive where he said autonomy was the most important factor driving engagement and motivation for people. Well, what we find is actually that’s true if you’re a Boomer, it’s true if you’re a Gen X, but it actually is not true for the vast majority of Millennials. Most Millennials coming into the workplace – 80% in our data – really want to be coached and managed, and part of a productive team.
They value teamwork a lot more than my generation – Gen X did. We much more valued the cowboy – being able to do things autonomously and independently. Well, this is a new generation. It really does value working in a team, they found that they’re more productive that way, better things are accomplished that way. Well, that’s a big overall finding that as leaders we should at least be aware of, and it may change how we manage. Another thing that came out of the data…

Pete Mockaitis
If I could jump on that in a little bit more detail, please. That’s intriguing. So yes, I too have heard autonomy is the thing we all want. And so then, maybe I just want to get clear on definitions a bit. So, I think of autonomy as sort of the ability to do your work the way you want to and with the time horizon more or less that you want to, in the location that you want to. But how are you defining and viewing autonomy in your investigations?

Adrian Gostick
That’s a great question. And one of the things we’re finding is that of course, nobody likes to be micro-managed, do they? What we really think about with autonomy as we study this, is that if I am driven by autonomy, I typically prefer to be my own boss and I like to have a degree of freedom … I typically prefer working alone more than working in a team. I’m giving you the definitions in our survey of people. I typically feel I get more done when I work more independently.
Now, as I mentioned though, almost nobody likes to be micro-managed. What we’re looking at with autonomy are people who like to work more independently. What we look at though and what we’re finding is indeed, out of the 23 human motivators we found autonomy ranks 4th highest for Boomers, it ranks 22nd out of 23 for Millennials.
So that’s a huge data shift. Now that’s something we need to look at that says whether it’s because of where I am in my career, or because of the generation that I grew up in, where teams were more important – something is happening here, where people prefer now to work more collaboratively. And so as a manager, whether I’m managing Millennials or anybody coming into the workforce, I’ve got to find ways to help people work together more effectively, if that’s making some sense.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you, yes. And so, I suppose there is a natural tension. I guess as I’m thinking about myself, it’s like I want my autonomy, but I also want to collaborate. But in a given hour of work, it’s somewhat binary, in the sense that, of course none of us like to be micro-managed or be in crazy, pointless, time-wasting meetings. But I think you’re right – it’s like you’re either doing your thing your way or you are having a back-and-forth and doing something in, I don’t know, kind of like a compromise, or a jointly agreed-upon way, as opposed to any way you care to roll.

Adrian Gostick
Exactly. And by the way, nobody of course is one-dimensional, just as you say. Actually autonomy is one of my strongest drivers. As a Gen Xer, that is really one of my strongest drivers. I love to work more independently, but other times… Yesterday I went down to work with our little 12-person team, and it was invigorating and it was wonderful. And today I’m working alone in my office. You’re right – we’re all a mixed bag, but again, we’re talking about trends right now and what we can do with them.
One of the other trends we found, which was fascinating, is that Millennial-age people, especially those in their 20s right now, are about three times more likely to be driven by external drivers like recognition than older workers. And yet, where do most organizations spend their time recognizing people? It’s people who’ve typically been there a little longer, who achieve big things for the organization. Where, who needs the recognition? People who are newer in the organization, those who may be a little bit more even insecure about their role. Recognition helps them understand really what they’re accomplishing and how valued they are to the organization.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, recognition here – we’re talking about kind of public. Is that fair to say? In terms of, “Hey everyone, we’re presenting the Rockstars of the Year awards. So come up on stage and we’ll clap for you as we say something cool you did this year that was meaningful for us.”

Adrian Gostick
Yeah. And really, when we look at recognition though – those are nice, but that’s once a year and maybe it’s once every five years. Those really don’t drive that individual performance. What we’re finding with recognition, especially with younger employees – that it’s it’s got to happen frequently, it’s got to be specific though. It can’t just be, “Boy, Pete, you sure do good work.” No, no. It’s, “Pete, I listened to your podcast last week. Insightful questions…” You can see already, I know what you’re doing.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m motivated, Adrian. You’ve got me motivated.

Adrian Gostick
Yeah. So what we’re finding is recognition has to be much more frequent, specific and timely than it’s ever been, as we sort of think about managing a new generation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So that’s a top tip there for the Millennials. Anything that you would say in terms of a top driver for the other generations?

Adrian Gostick
Well, one of the things we find, and again this kind of leads us into our next idea of, while we’re being sort of generic here, what we do find is there are certain things that happen as we age. One is that we become a lot more interested in ideas like variety in our work. The worst thing you can do if you’ve got somebody who’s in their 50s working for you, the worst thing typically you can do is make their job rote – just the same thing day after day. We become much more interested in variety as we age, much more interested in ideas like developing others, leaving a legacy, creativity becomes actually even more important as we age, to challenge ourselves.
What we also found is that there are some things that are really quite similar though, in our DNA, no matter what age we are. We all want to make an impact. Or I shouldn’t say “all”, but really the vast majority of us have “impact” as a top driver. Another is learning. And what was fascinating to us is that it didn’t matter if somebody was in their 20s or 70s – learning typically fell as a top driver for the vast majority of people. So a couple of really interesting findings – we’re more similar than we may think, and there are also some interesting little differences we found.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And so you were getting at, rather than going into broad groups of people, manage to the one, in terms of the particular drivers for an individual. And so, I’d love to get your take on, how do you elicit some of those drivers and then play to them effectively?

Adrian Gostick
Yeah, that’s a great question because I may be sounding like I’m talking out of both sides of my face, because I’m saying in one way you’ve got to understand generations, and that does help us understand from a mass perspective who’s working for us. But really the best leaders that we’ve studied over the last three or four years as we’ve been writing this book, really do get to know their individuals too.
And in the book we have a lot of ideas about how you figure out the specific drivers of your people, but this all leads to an idea we call “job sculpting”, where really you’re going to sit down with each of your people, and many of the great organizations we’ve been studying, they do this as often as monthly with their people, and they have career development discussions every single month with their people: “Where are you going? Are you having the right training, the right opportunities, the right challenges to get you where you want to go in your career, even if you may leave us one day?”
What we’re finding is organizations that worry about their people’s careers are cutting turnover dramatically, and they’re increasing engagement levels. And this is something that’s well within the control of every manager. I might not be able to give you a huge raise at the end of the year, I certainly can’t impact probably your bonus structure too much, or your benefits, but what I can do is meet with you and talk about your career and how I can help you with that, as a manager.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So the sculpting then is kind of like, “Okay, now that I know that you’re interested in analytics, I’m going to be on the lookout for some analyticky pieces of work that are coming up and try to get that flowing your way.” Is that what you mean there?

Adrian Gostick
Exactly, yeah. And what we do is we give people the structure to be able to talk about this, because in many cases they really don’t know what gives them that skip in their step every day. And so we give them a series of questions they can go through, and then they can begin having these conversations with their managers that they can sculpt their jobs and say if it is analytics that drives you…
Unfortunately sometimes we as leaders sort of peg people into, “Well, Pete – he’s the creative guy, so he always wants to be creative” or, “Susan – she’s the behind-the-scenes, detail person. I always give her those assignments.” Well, maybe Susan wants to work with some clients and challenge herself and push herself. So really, this is a two-way conversation, to be able to understand what drives our people, and also if there’s a chance, to be able to give them a few things that’ll motivate them. In many cases people will actually even work harder if you take the time to work with them in that way.

Pete Mockaitis
So then, I’d love to hear some of those excellent questions that help surface the stuff that people like and gets them going.

Adrian Gostick
Well, a few of the things we really challenge people to think about in this case, is, “What is it exactly that you’re doing on those days when the day really flies by? What are the activities that really you are undertaking?” And also, “What are the activities that frustrate your work, that on those days when you have to do them, you hit the Snooze button? What exactly is it about those activities that demotivate you?”
So we just start driving down. You’re using the Socratic method of saying, “Why?” “Why does that demotivate you? What is it about it that’s frustrating you?” So very simple questions that we’re pushing there. And what you do is you start near-term and then you move farther-term. So you start with the day-to-day – what’s motivating, what’s demotivating – and then you go bigger picture.
For example, “If you had three wishes for your career, what would they be?” Because then people typically are thinking a little further out – 5, 10 years. And then you can sort of talk about educational, skills, opportunities that’ll be needed, different things that’ll help you get to that point. And of course too, as a leader, you’re also helping temper expectations and say, “To get there, this is what you’re going to have to do” or, “You may not be ready to get there yet”, and just be able to have those honest conversations with people.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I think is so powerful about this is not only sort of the content that flows from it for job sculpting; it’s also the content that flows from it from an organizational perspective. It’s like, “Oh, we’ve got a process that’s just broken. You hate it because it really does not make any sense that we do this dumb thing.” Or, “Oh, in this certain area the decision-making roles are just wildly unclear. Well, no wonder that just sucks. So let’s see if we can clean that up.”
So I guess it helps them both in terms of the assignments they’re taking on, as well as cleaning up little messes all around, as well as just conveying that, “We care about you.” Because I don’t know, maybe you’ve got some data on this – how many organizations take the time to have these conversations? And I guess it can vary even leader by leader inside an organization, but if you had to give a rough guesstimate here, what proportion of leaders are having conversations like this on a regular basis, versus aren’t right now?

Adrian Gostick
Yeah, that’s a really good question. I don’t have the specific data; we just know what we’re showing is this is what the best leaders that we found were doing, those that had the highest engagement scores. But also, when we would go into an organization to study them, we would… For instance we went into Danaher, which is a 70,000-person technology company and we said, “Okay, give us your best manager.” And they would send us to XYZ person and we would interview that person.
So typically we’re getting the best of the best, and this is what we’re finding the best were doing. And they were having these sort of career discussions, these job sculpting discussions, as well as regular weekly updates with each of their people about what was happening in their jobs. So really, this is what the best of the best are doing. If I had to guess, probably 10% of managers, I would say, are probably really good at these types of things, but those 10% are blowing the doors off of performance.

Pete Mockaitis
And I guess now I’m wondering if someone’s listening and you’re in an organization like, “Dang, I wish my boss did that, and we just don’t.” Do you have any pro tips on trying to do a little bit of steering the change or starting the shift within, if you don’t have sort of a big power title authority from a positional perspective?

Adrian Gostick
Yeah, a couple of things you can do. The Best Team Wins really is a book for anybody who leads a team, but also anybody who aspires to or anybody who tries to influence others around them. And so there are lots of sort of hacks for all of us to help us become better at this. If you find yourself as a member of a team and maybe your manager isn’t as good at this as perhaps he or she should be, you can always hopefully set them up for success, to be able to give them a few of these ideas, to be able to say, for instance on this idea of job sculpting, “Hey, here’s what I read in this book. This is what some great leaders are doing.”

Pete Mockaitis
“Buy it!”

Adrian Gostick
Yeah, buy them a copy of the book. But that besides, “This is what some of the great leaders are doing. They’re having regular career discussions with their people. Doesn’t cost them anything. It’s a 15 to 30-minute conversation once a month and it helps them sculpt jobs, find out what’s frustrating them, helps them give direction. I’d love to do that with you. Is that something that you feel like you could commit to, just for a few months to see how it goes?” There are some simple things you can do to help your manager see the power in some of these very simple ideas.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, thank you. So, I want to hear maybe just a quick bit about speed productivity, because I want to go into some depth on healthy discord and challenging things. So, how does one get productivity flowing all the faster?

Adrian Gostick
Well, what we find is there are a couple of things here. One is that we have to help people understand this idea – it’s security, if you will – it’s overcoming the fear factor and understanding that, “Look, you now belong on this team. You may be a new employee, you may be brand new to our team, but here’s why you were invited, here’s why you are important, and here’s the role that you play.” Clarity is so huge in this process.
The second part – and I’m giving you very fast here – is context. It’s helping your new people understand not only where they fit in the team, but where the team fits into the entire organization. You think about it as you’re in the mall and there’s the red dot that says, “You are here.” Well, I know it sounds odd, but we are so poor in most organizations at helping people understand not only the big picture, but how the widget I’m making or the thing I’m selling or the customer I’m speaking with, really impacts the big picture, and giving me that context.
And the last one may sound really warm and fuzzy, but in great teams that speed productivity there’s a greater level of affiliation, which basically means friendships: “I feel like I’m accepted here, I’m valued as a human being.” We found one bank in our study – it was a call center – that simply had everybody go on break at the same time, versus the old system, where people would sporadically go when they could.
The entire team went on break for 15 minutes. It was a silly little thing, but they had to do a lot of work to send the phones elsewhere, but all of a sudden productivity soared, and people started looking out for each other. And why? Because they knew each other’s families, they started talking about things. All of a sudden they became a tighter team. So there’s lots of little things you can do to build these ideas of affiliation and context and security to help build a great team, and fast.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool. And that notion of security, I think really does help enable folks who feel capable of engaging in some healthy discord and to do some challenges. And so, I think that you had a great turn of a phrase about “disagreeing without causing offense”. And boy, what a skill for our time and place right now, and I think that it’s huge. And so, I’m a believer and I’m so curious on your take on this. Any sort of data-driven insights, and particularly how do you get there, especially whether it’s sort of changing from within: “When people disagree with me, I feel offended.” I know you can’t change people exactly, but influencing others to adopt that same kind of a mindset, where they too can be challenged and not think, “Well, this person’s dead to me” or, “They’re an enemy of mine.”

Adrian Gostick
Yeah. It’s unfortunate, but how often do we… Probably most of us have worked at some place or other over the years where debate is just quashed, whether overtly or covertly. I had boss who stormed into my office once after I debated with him in one meeting and he told me, “You’ll never do that to me again.” Do you think anybody was giving their best ideas in an environment like that?
So really, what we found, and we do have quantitative data that says those environments that are more about the debate, are more innovative, etcetera… But this is more on the qualitative side, that when we went into these great organizations, we would ask them, “Okay, how do you create this discord without it turning into a … and it turning into, as you said, where feelings are hurt, etcetera?”
So typically they have some sort of ground rules – things like, “You challenge the position but never the person, you don’t make things personal.” And again, the ground rules come up and the leader of the debate may say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, I think we’re crossing over the line there. You remember our rule is…” For instance, another one: “Seek to gather facts and don’t jump to conclusions.” Okay, so another rule we heard in another team. Another one was, “Remember, you’re in a competition to win. The best ideas win. You’re not here to ram home your points.”
And so, I could go on with the rules, but really that’s the “A-ha” from this, is that there are rules, and that there are some rules to make sure the debate is lively. All of us want to argue out things. You think of your last family event. Did you guys sit around and just make small talk or did you start debating politics and sports and all the things you’re passionate about? Of course, we do it in our personal lives. We want to debate in our work lives; we want to make things better, but there do have to be rules that help keep us positive and focused on the right things.

Pete Mockaitis
You said we could go on about the rules, and I really would. I’d love for you to go on about the rules. Could you share a couple more?

Adrian Gostick
Yeah. Another one is – and this is an interesting one – is that one other word we heard quite often was, “Look, after the team makes a decision collaboratively, we’re going to support it, even if it wasn’t our own idea.” Now that’s huge, because you may not agree with it after you leave. And it doesn’t mean we all have to be automatons and robots here walking around, but the point is if we are a team, we’re going to support the team.
And one of the things we heard, one great CEO that we interviewed for the book said typically 98% of the time he says, “My team as they’re debating, is able to come up with consensus.” He says, “I really don’t have to make a decision as a leader, because it’s so obvious by the time we get there.” And there are a couple of things he says you’ve got to do though. He says typically you may have somebody on the team who hasn’t spoken up, and you’ve got to make sure they’re really bought in, because they could leave and sort of undermine everything.
So he may say, “Cindy, you really haven’t said anything. I need to hear from you. What are you thinking? Do you feel like we’re on the right track or not?” And he says, “There are times where I do have to make a decision, I do have to say…” But he says you can still be very respectful about that as well. So for instance he may say, “Boy, this has been great debate on both sides of this issue. A reasonable person could go either way. I feel like we’ve got to make this decision and go this direction this time, but thank you so much for this excellent debate.”
Now, really simple, right? He says by doing that, next time people feel free to speak up, and when they leave the meeting they don’t feel like they’ve been quashed. They feel like their voice has been heard. So just some really simple little things we can do to create this environment, where we lead debate and we help steer it toward a great conclusion, where people are still respectful but the best ideas emerge.

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

Adrian Gostick
One of the other things I guess I would say with this is – and it’s always fun to hear – is that now and then after we put out a book… And I think this will be the same way – our book’s coming out February 13th. So typically I get some emails afterwards about different things and how people are using this in their work situations. But what’s been really fun is that people will send me an email and they’ll say, “I’ve now tried this at home and it actually does work.”
Some of these different ideas about debating healthily, or the ideas about understanding what drives each person, or figuring out what our collective challenges are, what our purpose is within our families or our relationships. So it’s fun to see this work at work, but it’s really quite heartening to see these also work in our homes lives too, in our personal lives. So there’s just one little thought.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good, thank you. Cool. Well, now can you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Adrian Gostick
One of the things Maya Angelou once said was that people don’t care or they won’t remember what you say or they won’t remember what they do, but they’ll always remember how you make them feel. And really, what our whole career has been about is helping leaders and managers and people who want to become leaders of others succeed.
And one of the things that really we have to remember as a leader is that we don’t know where people have been their other 16 hours they’re not with you during their day, but the 8 hours they’re with you can be the best hours of their day. But really it’s a sacred charge; we’ve got to realize these people in our care are literally in our care. And how do we motivate them, how do we engage them, how do we challenge them to do more than they ever thought possible? That’s our charge.

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

Adrian Gostick
Let’s see. Well, we do so many research studies ourselves. One of the bits of data from The Best Team Wins actually is – and this really shocked us, but we found it over and over again – was that how much time people typically spend today in working collaboratively. Deloitte has found that 80% of an average employee’s day is spent working collaboratively. Now, that is definitely a change from even just a few years ago. We’re moving at light speed toward a world where we no longer work alone. We work with others, and we really have to figure out how we work best with each other, and in many cases change our thinking about this.

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

Adrian Gostick
Let’s see. I just finished a terrific book called Beneath a Scarlet Sky, I believe it’s called. It’s about during the Second World War an Italian young man who helped Jews escape across the mountains, the Alps, during the Second World War. And it was one of the best reads that I’ve read in a long time.

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

Adrian Gostick
I travel a lot, so I’m always on the Weather Channel app, I’m always sort of surfing blogs. Really, it’d be hard to nail it down because I really do believe whether I’m reading The Wall Street Journal online or the Harvard Business Review blogs, that there are so many great ideas out there, and unfortunately so much of it can start sounding the same.
And what I really look for, and as a team, our little company is called The Culture Works – we’re firing things back and forth every day using Slack actually – one of the tools we use – and, “Hey, did you read this article?” Like yesterday there was an article from ESPN on the Patriots and sort of the dysfunction that’s going on right now via communication in their team.
And we started talking about what’s falling apart for a franchise that’s done so many amazing things for so many years. And we started talking about that idea – it’s communication, is Belichick having problem with generations, and this, that and the other. We just started bouncing ideas around; it was a really fascinating discussion. And so, I think that’s one of the things we have to do, is keep pushing ourselves and our teams to learn and to grow and to think about problems from different perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent, thank you. And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you flourish at work?

Adrian Gostick
Well, one of the things, every day I’ll probably put in three or four hours of writing. Sometimes I’ll be out working with a client, but if I’m in my office probably half a day will be spent writing, but the other half will be spent reading. So, I think it’s so important, whether you’re reading a new business book or articles in journals or publications, or blogs, or listening to podcasts like yours – whatever we do; I think that one of the things I try to do is make sure I’m learning and growing and I’m not stagnating.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget or a piece that you tend to share with clients or audiences or readers that you find is often repeated back to you? An Adrian original that’s really resonating?

Adrian Gostick
One of the things we try to help people understand is, because everybody is so focused on the customer, and we let them know the customer experience will never exceed the employee experience, that you’ve got to start the service profit chain with your people, because if you care about them, they will care about what you want to care about. But they’ve got to know you care first.

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

Adrian Gostick
TheCultureWorks.com. We’ve also got a website at CarrotGuys.com, so we’d love to connect with you. Send us a note, pick up the new book The Best Team Wins, and we would love to hear if it’s working for you and your organization.

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

Adrian Gostick
I think probably the most important thing is really every day you’ve got to be focused on… If you are a leader of people or you’re a leader of projects or teams, the little things really do make a big difference. And what we’re saying from all of this – I’ve thrown out lots of ideas and talked about a lot of stuff today – really, try one thing at a time, and don’t try to eat the elephant.
Is there one thing you can add tomorrow to your management style, your leadership style, the way that you are part of the team or operating the team, that may make you more effective, that may make you more valuable to your people and to those around you? Don’t try to do everything. In the back of our book we’ve got 101 ideas for real team leaders. Grab one of those and see if it makes your team better. That’s what I would recommend, is don’t try to do everything. Just try one thing and see if it works.

Pete Mockaitis
Alright. Well, Adrian, thank you so much for taking this time and sharing these perspectives. I think this is so powerful and has the opportunity to be transformational in many ways for many work places. So, I wish you tons of luck with this book and all the things you’re up to!

Adrian Gostick
Hey, thanks, Pete, and thanks so much for your great questions. Appreciate it.