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754: How to Get More by Negotiating So Everyone Wins with Barry Nalebuff

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Barry Nalebuff introduces a radical new way to negotiate so everyone gets their fair share of the pie.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three questions to make any negotiation easier  
  2. The two key words to avoid and embrace
  3. The popular negotiation tactic that can actually break trust

About Barry

Barry Nalebuff is the Milton Steinbach Professor at Yale School of Management where he has taught for over thirty years. An expert on game theory, he has written extensively on its application to business strategy. His best sellers include Thinking Strategically, The Art of Strategy, and Mission in a Bottle

He advised the NBA in their prior negotiations with the Players Association, and several firms in major M&A transactions. Barry has been teaching this negotiation method at Yale in the MBA core and online at Coursera. His Introduction to Negotiation course has over 350,000 learners and 4.9/5.0 rating. He is also a serial entrepreneur. His ventures include Honest Tea, Kombrewcha, and Choose Health. 

A graduate of MIT, a Rhodes Scholar, and a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, Barry earned his doctorate at Oxford University.

Resources Mentioned

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Barry Nalebuff Interview Transcript

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

Barry Nalebuff
So awesome to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to talk about some of the wisdom from your book Split the Pie: A Radical New Way to Negotiate. But, first, I want to hear a cool story to the extent that you’re at liberty to share from your involvement in the NBA negotiations.

Barry Nalebuff
So, I’m not really at liberty to share but I will say that what I enjoy is the negotiation part as opposed to I’m not a giant sports fan. And so, I was probably, at times, the only person in the room who didn’t recognize all the other people in the room.

Pete Mockaitis
I am guilty of that as well, like, “Who’s in the Super Bowl again?” when it comes to sports and general awareness, yeah. Well, in some ways, that might have helped you keep your cool, like you weren’t intimidated, like, “Whoa, these superstars.” You’re just like, “Okay, hey, hey, let’s see what makes sense for everybody.”

Barry Nalebuff
The most intimidating factor was they had really great custom suits because, of course, none of these folks can wear off-the-shelf anyway, and they did look sharp, I got to say.

Pete Mockaitis
Did you ask where they got them?

Barry Nalebuff
I did not.

Pete Mockaitis
I got a custom-made suit to my measurements in Shanghai and I wore it until it was just about tattered but I also don’t fit anymore because that was when I was 20, and, bodies have a way of changing over time. Cool. All right. Well, so we’re talking negotiation. If you think back on your research and career, is there a particularly surprising or counterintuitive or extra-fascinating discovery you’ve made along the way?

Barry Nalebuff
I think so. So, let me start with what it’s like to teach negotiation.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Barry Nalebuff
Because my students at Yale, they are smart, they are empathetic, they care about the world. I love them as people until they start negotiating, and then many of them become like jerks.

Pete Mockaitis
Just because they think that’s the game they’re supposed to be playing or what’s behind that?

Barry Nalebuff
So, I don’t know. It’s a little bit of they read in some novel about this tough negotiator person who makes ultimatums, they’re scared, they think they’re in a police procedure where somebody’s read them their Miranda Rights, anything they can say can and will be used against them, and so they throw out all of their IQ, all of their empathy, all goes out the window. Moreover, they’re not good at being jerks, they’re not naturally jerks, and so they perform terribly in these negotiations.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that’s a great takeaway right there.

Barry Nalebuff
Yeah. And so, that to me is a surprise, “Why do people who…?” So, people ask me all the time, they’re like, “How do I negotiate with jerks?” And one of my responses is, “Don’t you be the jerk that other people have to write to me about.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Barry Nalebuff
“And understand the other person has a mother who loves them, and maybe they aren’t really actually a jerk. They just don’t know any better in terms of how to negotiate.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, you’re bringing back some memories when we were closing on a house, and the lawyers, it’s like they made things so intense. No offense to the lawyers listening. I know they’re not all that way. But it was like, “Man, can we just like talk about what our concerns are and just see if we can figure something out. We’re getting very accusative over here.”

Barry Nalebuff
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so your book Split the Pie, tell us, what’s the big idea behind this? And what is this radical new way to negotiate in your subtitle?

Barry Nalebuff
So, truth be told, it’s not new. It’s 2000 years old in the sense that it comes from the Talmud, it comes from this idea of the principle of by the cloth, but I think that the idea has been lost for 2000 years, and you bring it back, maybe you can call it new, so I’m hoping that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll let it count, yeah.

Barry Nalebuff
And the big idea is this funny notion that people don’t generally understand what it is they’re negotiating over. And, as a result, because they’re confused, they make arguments that don’t really make sense, they make proposals about fairness that are based on where they sit but aren’t really truly fair so they throw around the fair word in ways that aren’t appropriate. They’re confused about what power is, and actually that’s one of the reasons why people end up acting like jerks.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, I imagine, Barry, is it fair to say that each of these dimensions is fairly unique negotiation by negotiation? Or are there some universals here, like, “What people really want is this”?

Barry Nalebuff
So, we’re jumping ahead a little bit and happy to do it in life. I want to give the other side what it is they want, not because I like them, not because I’m just generous or a pushover, but if they get what they want, then I can get what I want.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, we got some Zig Ziglar in there. I like it.

Barry Nalebuff
Absolutely. And, of course, I also want them to give me what I want so that I can then want to do the deal as well. Again, the universal point that I think the surprise, or perhaps not so much in hindsight, is to understand why we’re having this negotiation, what’s the value we can create through an agreement. And once you recognize that, you recognize symmetry that is, otherwise, not apparent.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s intriguing. Can you elaborate with an example?

Barry Nalebuff
Sure. My mother was living in a rental house in Florida where she’d lived the last 10 years. And the Florida real estate market has been heating up, and her landlord decided to put the house on the market for sale. Now, he thought, he wrote to her in an email saying something like, “I’m planning on listing this house for 800,000. I’d be glad to sell to you at a $10,000 discount, 790. Are you interested?”

And she is interested, she likes living there, she doesn’t want to move but, of course, that’s not really what the negotiation was about. So, what are the real reasons why it makes sense for her to do this transaction with him? And I’m flipping the cards a little bit by turning the question to you but let’s give it a shot.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, actually, we’re in a similar situation. We moved to Tennessee and so we’re renting in the first year and it sounds like the landlord may be looking to sell or may not, so I can relate. But one thing that’s big is like, “We don’t want to move. Moving is a pain.”

Barry Nalebuff
Moving is a pain.

Pete Mockaitis
My stuff is here. I’ve set it up the way I want it, and then to just go through the shopping round and the searching, and then all that stuff, yeah.

Barry Nalebuff
Great. So, moving is a pain for you. It’s both time-consuming and costly. It’s more so for my 88-year-old mother.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Barry Nalebuff
At the same time, fixing up the place is a pain for him because she doesn’t care about the stains on the carpet, or the walls that are perhaps a little bit more yellowing maybe, the paint isn’t as white as it was 10 years ago, the appliance are a little outdated, all those things she’s learned to live with.

Pete Mockaitis
And all the showing. He’s got plenty of hassles as well.

Barry Nalebuff
Yeah, but there’s something else that’s even a bigger factor, which is there’s no real estate agent commission, there’s no 5% that needs to be paid. And on this $800,000 sale, that’s about $40,000, and he’s just offered her 10,000 of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, how generous.

Barry Nalebuff
And so, my response is, “I think this negotiation is really over $40,000. It’s not actually over the price of the house. It’s over how much we’re going to each save of the real estate agent commission. If you sell this house to somebody else for 800, you’re going to clear 760.” If my mother buys this house, a similar house in the market, she’s going to have to pay 800, so it’s a $40,000 gain that can be created by the two of them doing that transaction with each other.

So, he says, “Well, look it’s a hot market, and, therefore, I should get more of a gain.” And my view is the fact it’s a hot market means the price is high, but it doesn’t mean that he’s entitled to more of that 40,000.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I like this.

Barry Nalebuff
That he needs her to make this purchase to save that 40,000 to avoid the real estate agent just as much as she needs him to be the person who she buys from. So, I say they should split it 20,000-20,000, and that she’s prepared to pay market price for the house. So, if you’re willing to sell this at $20,000 below market price, you’ll be $20,000 ahead and we’ll be $20,000 ahead. And so, he gives a tentative yes to that.

And, fortunately, there were five other sales on that street in the last six months so we can look at the price per square foot, on exterior space, interior space, do the adjustment for the size of the house, came up with a number, 763,492 or something like that, so it’s actually 20,000 and we were done.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Barry Nalebuff
And what it does is turn negotiation into a collaboration and a data exercise as opposed to an argument.

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot, and so I guess what feels radical there is so we’re splitting a pie but the pie we’ve defined very precisely as the $40,000 savings that we uniquely have the opportunity to do because, “I know the house, I’ve lived in the house as tenant, and we don’t have to do all the shopping rounds.” So, that’s the pie that we’re splitting as opposed to simply splitting the difference, which can be a very different concept.

Barry Nalebuff
Completely. So, let’s be clear, you mentioned one part of the pie, which is knowing the house, not having to move. There’s also him not having to fix things up and there’s the $40,000 real estate agent commission. All three of those things are the pie, and what we did is we said her not having to move and him not having to fix things up ends up being awash. So, we call those two things to cancel and we call the rest, the 40,000, what it is that we split.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool.

Barry Nalebuff
And then, having reached an agreement to do that, it was, “Well, okay, we have to hire a lawyer. Rather than each of us hire separate lawyers, it’s going to be a simple deal, let’s just hire one lawyer between the two of us and split the cost of that, so we’ve saved another thousand dollars in the process.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Yeah, wow, that has never occurred to me because I just think of lawyers and adversarial stuff is that, well, if the lawyer is getting paid by both clients, then their incentives are…they’re not more loyal to one than the other so that works fine.

Barry Nalebuff
Basically, said, “Look, we want the fair solution. We want the down-the-road, down-the-middle answer and that’s all good.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Cool.

Barry Nalebuff
And this also suggests a different way of negotiating, which is don’t start by talking about price. Don’t even start by talking about interests. Start by discussing how it is you’re going to negotiate and, in particular, say, “You know, I read this book. I listened to this awesome podcast on how to be awesome, and my awesome new way of negotiating is to discuss can we agree to create this large pie and split it. Because if we can agree on that, then from now, all of my interests, all of my focus is going to be on making a big pie, and I don’t have to worry about watching my back.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s cool. So, that’s one of the first things you say is just, “Let’s talk about how we’re going to negotiate. I’d like to take this kind of an approach. What do you think?” Just like that, is that how you’d recommend wording it?

Barry Nalebuff
Well, some people may find that a little bit too straightforward, and so you can always try the humor approach, which is, “What do you say we each act like jerks, lie to each other, try and take as much advantage of each other as possible?” And the other person says, “I’m not so keen about that.” Say, “Me neither. I got this other idea that’s a much better way of doing it.” So, you could have a little bit of throat-clearing, talking about the weather, have a little fun with sort of the why you don’t like the traditional approach, and then ease your way into split the pie.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. And I know you’ve also got a boatload of tactics, and I want to dig into a few of these. But maybe before we do that, I want to address some of the emotional elements when it comes to negotiation. Many of us have a fear associated with asking for more or, “Am I allowed to negotiate?” And so, I’d love to get your take on that. How do we address the…maybe it’s a mindset or fear associated with, “Ooh, I’m just not really comfortable pushing the envelope, asking for too much, don’t want to seem pushy or needy or greedy”? How do you address that?

Barry Nalebuff
Well, first, let me say that a lot has been written about emotions in negotiation, and if you’d like, I am adding a little bit of Mr. Spock. I’m trying to bring a little bit of logic to bear. And one of the things that’s good about bringing logic to negotiation is it takes down the temperature. One of the other lessons we talk about in the book is fight fire with water, don’t fight fire with fire.

And to the extent you can add a principled approach to negotiation, it brings down the temperature, you’ve created a notion of fairness that’s objective in terms of splitting the pie, it doesn’t depend on which side you’re on, and, therefore, it makes it easier because we’re not actually fighting anymore over how we’re going to divide the pie. We’ve agreed on that.

Instead, what we’re working on is cooperative in terms of how to make the pie bigger. So, that’s a sense in which it’s easier to do this because, essentially, I’m asking for things now that are going to work for both of us. I want to try and make that pie as big as possible.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. That makes good sense. Well, then maybe let’s talk about the application of that in terms of let’s say someone, they got a job offer, and they say, “Okay, this is pretty nice but I’ve heard on the podcast, I’m supposed to negotiate but I feel a little weird about that. If we get all logical and talk about making the pie as big as possible and splitting it, that’s one way to tackle that.” How would you apply this principle, we heard about it in a house? How do we apply it in, say, a job offer situation?

Barry Nalebuff
Let’s also take a step back. Oftentimes, when you’re interviewing for a new job and they’ve given you a position, the negotiation over your salary is really the first time they’re getting to know you. It’s the first confrontational or challenging conversation you may have had, and so appreciate that how you go about this negotiation is really going to be a first impression, if you like.

Now, one point to make is, “Look, I’m negotiating for this job because, guess what, one of my jobs is to negotiate for the company. And if I can’t negotiate it for myself, how am I possibly going to negotiate for you?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I like that.

Barry Nalebuff
And that argument works pretty well if you’re in sales or marketing, perhaps a little less if you’re in accounting, so it may depend on your different position. And then it can be either, “I think I’m going to be awesome at this, and I’m pretty sure you’re going to agree. Can we talk about what type of bonuses are available and how we’re going to measure them, how you capped it in the past, so that if I am as awesome as I expect to be, and you expect me to be, what type of rewards are likely to follow?”

And people, in general, are not scared of or afraid to give you that type of information. They may say, “We haven’t figured out the bonus pool for this year,” and you can say, “Fine. Let me understand the bonus pool for last year. And what are the metrics by which bonuses are determined?”

Another way of making the pie bigger is to understand what leads to the pie getting smaller. And people don’t like to talk about failures, but failures actually help you here. So, one of my favorite questions to ask is, “Can you tell me about cases where you’ve hired people who you thought were going to be awesome and turned out not to work? What went wrong?”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a powerful question, Barry. I always ask that when I’m keynoting somewhere, it’s like, “Who are some of the other speakers you’ve had? You don’t have to name names if you’re uncomfortable. What went really well and what was disappointing and why?” Because that just surfaces things like you never would’ve thought, like, “Huh, okay. People really don’t like that. Good to know.”

Barry Nalebuff
And it does two things for you. One is you may say, “Oh, I am like that, and so this isn’t going to work, so maybe this is the wrong gig for me. Wrong company, wrong keynote.” Or, you learn, “You know what, I understand that and that problem is not something as an issue for me, never arises for me, and that’s why we’re going to be extra great.” And so, therefore, it’s a way of convincing the other side that there’s actually going to be a bigger pie by having you be their keynote speaker.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. It’s like, “No, don’t worry. I’m not going to try to sell the audience on…” well, insert program, “I’m not going to try to sell them on an epic coaching package or DVDs.” I guess people aren’t selling DVDs that much anymore. Maybe in little corners.

Barry Nalebuff
What’s a DVD?

Pete Mockaitis
Have you heard of a DVD, Barry?

Barry Nalebuff
They’re coasters, I think.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Okay, cool. Well, then let’s say we’re in the midst of a negotiation. What are some of the top do’s and don’ts and tactics that you think people should be equipped with?

Barry Nalebuff
One thing I suggest to people is not to say, “No, unless…” and instead say, “Yes, if…” I want the other side to go the extra mile for me. I want them to go above their head, to the head of HR, to the managing director, to somehow stretch themselves in terms of what they’re going to do to bring me on board. The worst thing from their perspective is they do that, and I use this offer to get a higher salary where I currently am, or at some other job I’m negotiating with. They don’t want to be used as a stocking horse. And so, I want to give them the confidence that if they do what I’m asking them to do, my answer is yes. So, that’s a “Yes, if” rather than a “No, unless.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. I believe your colleague Daylian Cain had a turn of a phrase, like, “Don’t list deal-breakers. List deal-makers.” Like, “Boy, if you could do this for me, ooh, I’m going to say yes on the spot.”

Barry Nalebuff
Exactly, “I want to say yes. And these things will allow me to do it right now.”

Pete Mockaitis
And that just creates a nice bit of excitement as well in terms of…

Barry Nalebuff
We’re trying to get to the same place.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. It’s like, “Ooh.” If someone says that to you, it’s like, “Ooh, I’m in the position to make your day and have this done at the same time,” ooh, what a burst of dopamine all at once. Thank you. Can you share some examples of that in action?

Barry Nalebuff
Well, one of the cases that we had in my own life was a company I started with my former student, Seth Goldman, it’s Honest Tea, and we had a chance to sell that to Coca-Cola. And they had offered us something called a call which is their right to buy the company at a specified price but we didn’t have a put. And the put is our ability to force them to buy it at that price. And we wanted that.

The people we’re negotiating with didn’t have the authority to give that to us. Only the board of directors could do that. But the last thing this team wanted to do was go to the board, get that permission, and then discover there was some other requests we’re going to make, or the price wasn’t high enough, or that Pepsi was going to steal it from underneath them.

And so, what we said is, “If you do this, we are done, done, done. There was no other request. This is what we want. This will seal the deal. We’re ready right now. We’ll sign and you can go and have the board sign on the other side.” And they took it to the board, the board said yes, we were done, done, done, and the deal closed.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Beautiful. All right. So, that’s so great. What else do you got, Barry?

Barry Nalebuff
And to connect it to that is I’m not a big fan of saying no. Now, I’m prepared to say no if what they’re asking me to do is unethical, illegal. Okay, so let’s take those things off the table. But, instead, it’s back to the “Yes, if.” If you’re willing to do this, then I’m prepared to say yes. So, at one point, speaking of keynotes, somebody asked me to give a keynote speech in Seoul, Korea, and the timing could not have been worse.

I’m teaching on Mondays and Wednesdays, which meant I would have to leave Monday night right after my class, fly halfway around the world, be in Korea for eight hours, take the next flight back in order to teach my Wednesday class. I was going to be in eight hours flight, like, “This does not make any sense.” So, I could’ve said no. Instead, I said, “Yes, if you’re prepared to pay this somewhat crazy amount of money. I don’t think I’m worth it but, you know what, it’s not for me to decide. It’s for you to decide.”

Ultimately, they said yes. I flew halfway around the world for six hours. I discovered if you do that, you don’t get jetlag, so it wasn’t as bad as I quite thought, and my daughter learned this trick for me, not to call it trick, tool, when I suggested to her that I would like her to join the high school math team on her list of a hundred favorite things to do, that wasn’t on the list.

And she said yes. She didn’t say no to me. She said, “Yes, if,” “Yes, if we get a dog.” We got a dog, she joined the math team, it was not that well-written contract as I got one year in the math team for 13 years of the dog, but it’s all good. So, another example.

Pete Mockaitis
I love it. And this reminds me when I talking with my wife. So, we were in Chicago and she wanted to move, she’s like, “It’s cold and there’s potholes,” and so she listed these things. And I was like, “Oh, but all my friends in the Chicago area.” And so then, I said, and I didn’t even think it was going to happen because we’ve got two toddlers, and I said, “Well, I can see it working if I could, I don’t know, fly once a month to see all my friends in Chicago,” and she just said, “Yes,” immediately.

And I was surprised, and I was like, “Wait. Just so we’re clear, like three days a month, I will just disappear gallivanting around with my buddies while you are single-handed with two toddlers. You prefer that in another place that’s warmer and maybe near your family than…”

Barry Nalebuff
Maybe she liked having you away for three days a month.

Pete Mockaitis
Maybe she does. But I think one of the powerful pieces to that is you may well be surprised that you think, I’m at, like you said, you asked for an absurd amount of money, you’re like, “There is no way anyone’s going to go for this.” That could surprise you.

Barry Nalebuff
I can’t justify it but it’s not for me to say no. Let them say no.

Pete Mockaitis
That is good.

Barry Nalebuff
What does it take for you to say yes? And then we say people have said no to me in those circumstances. That’s fine. But there’s no real advantage in my saying no because if I say no, we end up with no deal, in which case I have nothing to lose by doing my “Yes, if,” because the worst I end up with is the same place.

Pete Mockaitis
And I like the way you…did you actually say that to the folks in South Korea, “I don’t think I’m worth it but this is up to you to decide”?

Barry Nalebuff
I said that exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, because that’s great because I’ve been in that position a few times where folks have asked me to do a workshop or whatever, and I was like, “Wow, for this actually be worth my while given all I’ve got going on, it would really need to be an outrageous sum of money,” but I kind of feel like a jerk even putting that forward. But that nice little line there, Barry, is golden because it’s like, “No, I don’t think I’m worth,” whatever, 30 grand, “for this but that’s what I will need to do it, so it’s up to you.”

Barry Nalebuff
“But if you feel like it’s worth your budget because of the timescale and schedule and so on, I’m there.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And sometimes it’s true. It’s like sometimes folks have a huge budget and they just want it to be done maybe desperately. I’ve hired DJs at all price points from zero dollars to many thousands. Now, in some ways, they’re doing pretty similar stuff. They’re playing music over audio-video equipment for people to dance to, not to insult the DJs because I know there’s artistry and expertise and craft to it but it’s kind of wild how sometimes that budget really just is there, so go for it.

All right, Barry, this is good stuff. Got some more treats for us like this?

Barry Nalebuff
Sure. One of the things that I’m a big believer in is don’t go crazy with your attempt to anchor somebody. Don’t start off with a super high number if it’s an ask, or a super low number if it’s your offer. There’s a whole branch of economics called behavioral economics which talks about the power of anchoring, the first number somebody hears.

And this goes back to research done by Danny Kahneman and Amos Tversky where they asked people, “How many African countries are there in the United Nations?” And if you first asked them, “Is it above or below 12 or above or below 80?” what they end up thinking changes radically between those two cases.

The problem with anchoring negotiation is twofold. One, if I offer you a miserably low number for your business, your car, your whatever, your job, the person thinks I’m trying to take advantage of them and, therefore, they don’t want to work with me, they don’t like me, and that’s a big problem. If they say, “How did you come up with that number?” And my answer is, “Well, I read in this book that anchoring, the softening somebody up is a really good idea.” That’s not a great justification.

The second problem is that it forces you to make giant movements. So, you offer somebody $2,000 for the car, and they say, “You know, CarMax is willing to buy it from me for 7,200.” You say, “Okay, 7,500.” It’s like, “Wait a second. You just offered me two, now you’re up to 7500. What’s going on here?” And if I say, “Look, I think the right number is 9,000, and you say 7500 is the largest I can pay, it’s like you just made us a $5,000 movement. What do you mean that’s the last thing you can do?”

So, if you start by trying to anchor at a number that’s far away, you both insult the other side and you show that you’re like jelly, that you have no principles in terms of what you’re doing, and, therefore, you will be flexible. You will be like Gumby.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s true. And I also imagine, thinking about the African countries in the UN example, like if you were to ask, “Is it more or less than 5,000?” It’s sort of like that question is so nutty, I don’t know the psychology behind it. Studies have been done here. Let me know, Barry. Like, I’d say that number is so nutty, it doesn’t even factor…it doesn’t even sway me. It’s like, “Huh.”

Barry Nalebuff
Actually, the crazy thing is that when people ask whether Einstein first came to the United States before or after 1412, the year of the Magna Carta or something. It’s like it turns out that has an impact which is just insane versus whether or not he came to the United States before or after 1990, I don’t know, the year of Beastie Boys or something.

So, even absurd anchors can actually have this impact but the insulting feature. Like, when Trump negotiated with President Nieto of Mexico, and said, “You’re going to pay for the whole wall.” The Mexican president canceled his visit to the United States because he was insulted by it, he didn’t even want to begin the negotiation. So, anchoring is different in negotiation because it sends a signal to the other side.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s good. Well, could you give us a third tidbit, Barry, that leaps to mind?

Barry Nalebuff
Sure. I think that people are too afraid of revealing information that they try and keep things hidden. So, I’ll turn the tables with you a little bit on this one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’m afraid to reveal information, Barry.

Barry Nalebuff
Yeah. Alice and Bob are negotiating and Friday is the deadline for both of them. If they don’t reach an agreement by Friday at 5:00 p.m., there is no deal to be done. However, Bob has a secret deadline of Wednesday at 5:00. Bob knows this, Alice does not. Should Bob reveal that deadline to Alice?

Pete Mockaitis
I see pros and cons but I’m leaning to…I almost think you have to if Alice is just going to slow-play and just be like, “Okay, yeah, I’ll think about that.” I don’t know if you’re in the same room or building or whatever, but if you’re like emailing and calling back and forth, and it’s Wednesday 2:00 p.m., and Alice is like, “Oh, thanks, Bob. I’ll think this over tonight,” and Bob is like, “Oh, no, you can’t.” That seems like a really dangerous place to be. So, I’m inclined to share it at some point, maybe not the very beginning, but some point before Wednesday 4:00 p.m. Alice probably needs to be made aware of that.

Barry Nalebuff
Yeah, I love your Alice voice there. So, I’m totally with you on this, which is, “What is Alice’s deadline? It isn’t Friday at 5:00. It’s Wednesday at 5:00.”

Pete Mockaitis
That’s her true deadline, yeah.

Barry Nalebuff
That’s her true deadline except she doesn’t know it because Alice’s deadline is the same as Bob’s deadline. And so, I think Bob should say right up front, “You know, Alice, I’ve got some bad news for you, that I really have to be done by Wednesday at 5:00, which means you have to be done by Wednesday at 5:00, so let’s stop screwing around and get cracking.”

And people think, “Oh, my God, this is bad news, therefore, I can’t reveal it. I had to somehow keep it hidden. It’s going to put me in a weak position because I’ve got this earlier deadline.” And, actually, it only puts you on a weak position if you keep it hidden. And people have this whole view of, like I said, the Miranda Rights, anything you say can and will be used against you, so they either keep silent or they tell white lies but they don’t reveal things that are essential to having this agreement happen.

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

Barry Nalebuff
I’m not a giant fan of verbal jiu jitsus but here’s one that I think is helpful. Asking somebody where they are least flexible as opposed to asking them where they are most flexible. So, if you’re negotiating a job and you’re thinking about, well, there’s wages, there’s bonuses, there’s equity, saying, “Where are you most flexible?” the person doesn’t really want to answer that question for you. It’s scary.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, “Why would I tell you that?”

Barry Nalebuff
“I don’t want to tell you that.” If I asked you, “Where are you least flexible?” they’re happy to tell you that because they’re saying, “Don’t ask me this.”

Pete Mockaitis
“That’s fair. Like, I can’t give you equity any farther. We got a lot of people with their hands in the cookie jar. I can’t give you any more than this, so I’m least flexible there.”

Barry Nalebuff
So, basically, they are pleased to be able to tell you about something which is something they don’t have the power to give you. Now, when they say they’re least flexible on this, what is it telling you? They’re more flexible on everything else, and, therefore, you’ve learned where they’re flexible by asking them where they are least flexible. So, you get the information in a much safer, friendlier environment.

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

Barry Nalebuff
I’m a big fan of “Often wrong, never in doubt.” So, essentially, having some confidence in what you’re doing but also realizing that maybe you’re not correct. And so, both looking for evidence that’s proving yourself wrong but not second-guessing yourself all along the way.

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

Barry Nalebuff
Well, we did an experiment on the pie where we gave parties who were traditionally viewed as less powerful, some information about what the pie wasn’t in a negotiation. Like, for example, telling them in the house case, “Hey, there’s this $40,000 real estate commission,” and it turns out that doing so moved people dramatically away from proportional division into splitting the pie. And so, what was remarkable is we didn’t even have to give both sides this information. Giving what was traditionally viewed as the weaker side, information about the pie, allowed them to persuade the other side.

So, if you go back, there was this famous experiment by Ellen Langer about Xerox machines, and asking people, “Can I jump in line and make a copy?” And what she found is that asking with a reason beat just asking. And the pie is a great reason, it’s a principled approach and it really is able to move the other side.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a favorite book?

Barry Nalebuff
I’m a big fan of biographies. I’m currently reading the biography of Ulysses S. Grant by Ron Chernow, and it is fantastic. I had no idea, in the end, what a remarkable leader Grant was in such challenging times. This is a man who would fail at just about everything he had done until he succeeded at everything he did.

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

Barry Nalebuff
Well, I have to say this Yeti Blue Microphone is definitely making my life a whole lot easier these days. And so, I’m a big fan of the various ways…I mean, I’ve got ring lights. I’ve been doing so much teaching online. And the combination of having a big screen, ring lights, Yetis, actually, it’s great. I can see chats. I can have my students all ask questions that are better than having people raise their hands because now I can have 20 people asking things at the same time, not just one. So, this online teaching stuff is actually pretty good. So, Zoom, Yeti, ring lights, bring them on.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite habit?

Barry Nalebuff
I think we should have addictions in life that are healthy addictions as opposed to bad addictions. And my healthy addiction is table tennis.

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

Barry Nalebuff
Well, as an entrepreneur, I spend a lot of time trying to convince people not to go into entrepreneurship. And partly is if I can convince you not to do it, then you shouldn’t be doing it because you have to have so much of a passion, so much of a belief into it, so many obstacles along the way that it has to be a force that’s propelling you. You have to really care about what it is that you’re trying to create and it’s not something you just go into lightly. So, therefore, real entrepreneurs don’t need encouragement, if you like.

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

Barry Nalebuff
SplitThePieBook.com has excerpts, has some videos, they can watch negotiations. There’s even a negotiation bot that you can play and see how well you do in an automated game. There’s a free online course on Coursera. It has over 400,000 people who’d taken it, actually are taking it now, 4.9 out of 5.0 rating so it doesn’t get much better than that. And, of course, the book Split the Pie, which is available everywhere.

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

Barry Nalebuff
Figure out what it’s going to take to make the pie bigger, not just figure out what it is that you’re going to do to get more of the pie. And to the extent that you’re known as a person who’s out there creating large pies, everyone is going to want to work with you.

Pete Mockaitis
Barry, this has been fun. I wish you many large pies.

Barry Nalebuff
I wish you gigantic pies, and thank you for helping bake one with me today.

579: How to Grow Your Influence and Lead Without Authority with Keith Ferrazzi

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Keith Ferrazzi says: "You do not have to control more. You have to influence more. You have to co-create more."

Keith Ferrazzi discusses how to turn colleagues into teammates by changing how we lead and collaborate.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How leaders (unknowingly) alienate their teams
  2. How silos came to be—and how we can break them down 
  3. An exercise for creating authentic connections with your team 

About Keith

Keith Ferrazzi is the founder and CEO of Ferrazzi Greenlight, a management consulting and team coaching company that works with many of the world’s biggest corporations. A graduate of Harvard Business School, Ferrazzi rose to become the youngest CMO of a Fortune 500 company during his career at Deloitte, and later became CMO of Starwood Hotels. He is a frequent contributor to Harvard Business ReviewForbes, and Fortune and the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Who’s Got Your Back and Never Eat Alone. His mission is to transform teams to help them transform the world. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank You, Sponsors!

  • Miro. Boost your collaborations with the ultimate online whiteboard at miro.com/awesome

Keith Ferrazzi Interview Transcript

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I am looking forward to helping people be awesome and learning something too.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, me, too. Well, so you are renowned as a connector. And I’d love to hear, do you have a particularly favorite story associated with how a connection came to be?

Keith Ferrazzi
Wow, oddly-enough, in 53 years, I’ve never been asked that question.

Pete Mockaitis
I love you, man.

Keith Ferrazzi
So, look, and I don’t know this is a great story or not, but it’s so important that you get intentionality in your life around what you’re trying to achieve, and then start asking yourself who would you want to get to know in order to try to achieve that and co-create things with them. A number of years ago, I was just out with Never Eat Alone, Oprah was, of course, the best thing since sliced bread in terms of advancing book sales, and I had been wracking my brain about how I could get to Oprah. I was not a well-known dude at that time. I was well-known in the business world but not in the general world.

And I was just passing by at a marketing desk, and I had said something to her about how important it would be to really just think about getting on Oprah. And an intern, who was only with us for about a month, often in the corner, piped up and said, “Oh, well, I don’t know if it helps, but my aunt is Gayle King.” And I go, “That might be helpful.” It’s amazing. It’s like the point is if you don’t get clear and you don’t put it out there with abundance, then you’re going to be missing opportunities because you never can know who knows who.

I’ve also been in situations where I had mentioned on a podcast, “I wanted to get to know so and so.” And a high school kid reached out to me and did the work. He did the work in his network. He found his friends who had parents, and blah, blah, blah, and ultimately I’d gotten introduced to the CEO of Johnson & Johnson which was the thing that I put out there. So, again, you put it out there, it has a chance to manifest.

Pete Mockaitis
That is really cool. That’s really cool. And for those who have not watched Oprah, Gayle King is her best friend that she references frequently, “My best friend Gayle,” and that’s wild. So, thank you. So, now, your latest here is called Leading Without Authority. Can you kick us off by sharing the case for why that’s important for professionals these days?

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, look, the world has really changed a lot in business, and it’s interesting, in the last two to three months, there’s been more solidification of the way we work, and the future of work has happened in the last two to three months than it happened in the last 20 years, no question in my mind. And the ability today for anybody in an organization to be a transformation agent, an agent of transformation, is more available today than ever before.

Now, I’ve always believed that anybody with a vision and audacity and a willingness to serve the people around them could achieve extraordinary things. I tell the story in Never Eat Alone about me in my 20s becoming the chief marketing officer of all of Deloitte, right? And that was ridiculous, and it had to do with, I didn’t know it back then, it had to do with my capacity to lead without authority, to lead through a strong vision and a willingness to share the stage with other people who I co-created with until they named me the chief marketing officer because I had the vision that we wanted and needed to do that.

Today, it’s not only possible, it’s mandatory. Most organizations are in real dire need of innovation, transformation, constant adaptability, and anybody who’s listening to this, you can be the tipping point for transformation. Gandhi, one dude was the tipping point of transformation. Martin Luther King, one dude, the tipping point of transformation. It is absolutely possible to be the tipping point of transformation but you’ve got to lead a movement. And this book Leading Without Authority teaches you exactly how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s exciting. Well, so you mentioned a few examples, yourself and some leaders of renowned history.

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I’m not putting myself at par with Harriet Tubman. Not at all. I’m just saying no matter what kind of a movement you want to lead, whether it’s a meager movement inside of your organization to transform the way you do business, or it’s a social movement, it’s all borne on the same principles.

Pete Mockaitis
And could you share a story of someone who perhaps was frustrated, they were banging their head against the wall, not getting much results in terms of trying to lead because they didn’t have authority and things weren’t going anywhere, and how they turned it around?

Keith Ferrazzi
In chapter one of the book, we meet Sandy. And Sandy is a lovely woman, a well-intentioned HR leader, she’s not the top leader. In fact, she’s kind of pissed off at the top leader because the top leader has said to her, “Sandy, I want you to design a compensation system for the company as a whole. And, by the way, the sales folks over here, they are running their own play and trying to create a compensation system unique to sales. Would you head that off for me please,” and then he disappears like the coward that he was, because he, in reality, knew that he couldn’t stop it.

The head of sales in that company was more powerful than the head of HR, and the head of sales had created, like a lot of sales organizations do, a shadow HR function, and a lot of them do pretty much what they wanted to do. So, Sandy walks into the head of sales operations, a woman named Jane, and says, “Jane, I just want to let you know I’m creating this compensation system. Let’s sit down so we can reconcile what you’re doing with what I’m doing, and I can basically tell you how you should be doing it differently.”

And Jane is like, “Oh, thank you very much,” and never invited her to any of Jane’s meetings. And Sandy was like, “Well, wait a second. I’ve been ordained as the head of compensation. Why aren’t they letting me in these meetings?” Because they didn’t have to, because Sandy didn’t approach it in the right way.

When I ultimately got a chance to talk to Sandy, I met her at a conference that she had hounded me, and said, “I really want to meet you. I really want to have coffee with you.” And I said, “Sure, sure, sure. Let’s do it.” So, we had coffee, and she’s like, “Oh, I’m so exhausted. I think I came to the wrong company. I was very successful in where I was before.” And I said, “What’s going on?” She goes, “Well…” she told me the whole story about Jane and all of her frustrations. And I said, “Well, how’s your team?” And she says, “Well, they’re exhausted too. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to keep them.” “How’s your team?” And she looked at me, she goes, “Well, I thought I just answered that question.”

And I ultimately got to the point, I said, “Sandy, Jane is trying to build a compensation system. She’s responsible for all of sales. Whether you like it or not, she’s on your damn team and you’re being a really crappy leader.” And it was not in Sandy’s framework that this person who she vilified and was obstinate and not compliant was actually a team member that she had to serve and had to work with and she had to co-create with. Once she got herself pivoted around the fact that she was being indulgent and lazy, and she needed to actually work with this person differently, she approached this person, and this person not only came around but they ended up being great partners.

And what we found out, subsequently, was Jane was also embarrassed because the sales organization was not really playing ball with Jane, wasn’t showing up to meetings either, and Jane was embarrassed. She needed a friend, she needed a partner, but the way that Sandy bound in there with policy and compliance at the forefront just alienated her. So, it’s a very important story, and I think it’s one we’ve all faced at some level or another. And her taking a very different mindset toward somebody that she had previously thought of as an adversary, ultimately yielded extraordinary outcomes for both of them and the company.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that is a great shift in mindset that can make a world of difference. And I guess you don’t need to go into all the particulars of this individual example, but I’m really curious. Like, salespeople, you know, they want their fat commissions and their bonuses, and I don’t even know how that squares with a kind of global compensation system for a company. How did they crack it?

Keith Ferrazzi
How did they reconcile it? Well, it was interesting. First of all, one of the things that the relationship made Sandy recognize is, you’re exactly right, it couldn’t be a global compensation system. There had to be a local compensation system, there had to be both global and local at the same time. And what they ended up doing is created a beautiful model that had some basic principles that ended up being utilized by sales and, at the same time, cascaded out throughout the whole company.

So, this ended up being a model for all divisions to be able to use so that people could localize their needs. And, look, all the head of HR wanted was to save money on a centralized HR compensation program system, and he did that. He saved money and everybody sort of got their tweaks that they needed to make the program work.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well, so let’s talk a little bit about silos. I understand that that is sort of a big obstacle at times to pulling this off effectively, or at least we perceive it as such. I’m thinking about Dan Heath’s book Upstream you quoted repeatedly, “Every system is perfectly engineered to get the result that it gets.” So, can you orient us as to what is the value of silos and how do they come to be and what do they serve?

Keith Ferrazzi
By the way, these are such smart questions. So, silos came to be in the industrial era where everybody gets something, you pass on to the next person who did something, and you pass it on to the next person, sort of the conveyor belt of business, and that worked until the ‘80s. And then in the ‘80s, IT systems came along. I don’t know if you actually wanted this history.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure.

Keith Ferrazzi
The IT systems came along like SAP, and they started to create what’s called the matrix where in the olden days Italy had everything they needed. They had their HR systems, they had their banking, they had their marketing, they had their budgets, everything happened in Italy, and they sold the products in Italy. And then, periodically, all the money would get scraped back from Italy and given to central headquarters which would create the very small central functions.

Well, when you had technology that could scrape the money every day, you had a more powerful CFO and a CFO function, you gained a more powerful chief marketing officer function. Policies, global policies sprung up, and you had HR systems, and supply chain systems, and people in Italy couldn’t even order their damn pencils anymore. Everything was a matrix. There was the vertical P&L and then there was the functional matrix.

The reality was everyone talked about the matrix, but matrix back then was nothing more than silos right on their side so people still clung to who’s got control. At every interface, the question was, “Who’s accountable and who’s got control?” and they fought for it, they scraped for it. This is where I screwed up when I went to Starwood Hotels so I served my way using Leading Without Authority. I served my way into a beautiful chief marketing officer job at Deloitte.

Then I go over to Starwood, and I’m given this amazing global job, and I walk in thinking that I’m the next best thing since sliced bread, and I think that I’m going to design this amazing global brand, and I didn’t give respect to the head of Europe who was running a very solid European marketing plan, but I scraped their dollars back and thought that it would be better to re-allocate. Now, look, I wanted to create a global consistent brand and all these things, but I could’ve co-created with him. Instead, I clung and I leveraged the power and the authority I had in my matrix.

Well, the long and short of it was we were both right and we should’ve been working together. And the head of Europe ended up becoming the CEO and just totally took my budget away as global head of marketing, and I decided this isn’t the place that I wanted to work anymore. So, the important lesson in all of this was that we’ve been fighting for too long, and the reality is you wake up today, and work is done in a very different way. It’s not even done in a matrix. It’s done in a network.

So, everything that your listeners are trying to do in their lives professionally, they have a goal, it’s a fuzzy vision, maybe it’s a distinct goal, and then they have a set of people, a network of people that they have to work with to get it done. That’s a team. That is a team. And that’s chapter one, “Who is your team?” And that was what I was trying to tell Sandy, “Who’s your team?” We need to redefine certain things. There are mindsets that have been guided since the industrial era that even though matrix happened, we’ve been clinging to old mindsets that, “For me, to be transformational, I’ve got to control more.”

You do not have to control more. You have to influence more. You have to co-create more. And I believe very much in diversity inclusion because I believe the diverse opinions inclusively offered will yield higher-performing outcomes. It yields innovation. And so, if you’re leading a network of people, and you’re boldly getting their input, and you’re boldly making big decisions with diverse and challenging insights, you’re going to be transformational, which is a different way of leading. Your team doesn’t exist in the way you thought of it anymore.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so it sounds like it all starts with changing a couple of your perspectives in terms of who’s on the team and how you engage and lead. Tell us…

Keith Ferrazzi
Can I challenge that for a second?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Keith Ferrazzi
So at Ferrazzi Greenlight, we study a bunch of stuff. We study how people and leaders should act. And what I’m saying is leaders and people should act to manage in a network not lead without authority. But how to get them to do it is another thing we study. How do you actually change behavior? And you don’t change behavior by changing mindsets. I know that that sounds odd.

There’s a wonderful phrase I learned from AA, Alcoholics Anonymous. “You don’t think your way into a new way of acting. You act your way into a new way of thinking.”

So, if I want somebody to change their mindset, I change their practices. And, one day at a time, we’ll wake up, and like, “That works. That works,” and the mindset changes. So, you start with the practices.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, then let’s chat about some of those practices in terms of where would you recommend we start first, then second, then third?

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Chapter one is “Who is your team?” so there’s a very distinct practice where you need to do what’s called a relationship action plan. A relationship action plan literally walks through, “What are we trying to achieve? Who do we need to achieve it with?” And then I even give details about how do you manage that on an ongoing basis with relationship quality scores, etc. So, really, number one is the practice of putting relationship action plans together.

The second practice is earning permission to lead. And I define the metric that I call porosity. Now porosity, it’s a word that exists. It doesn’t exist in the way I use it. Porousness means how porous, how absorptive. A sponge is very porous, right? A glass is less porous.

Leaders have to make people porous. Leaders, in the old day, if you led with authority, you don’t have to worry about porosity. You just said you’re a boss, you told somebody something. They absorb it. That was their job, “My job is to tell you. Your job was to absorb it,” right? So, in the new world where you may or may not be telling somebody something that they have the interest or the desire to absorb, you got to work at getting it absorbed, and that’s leadership. And there’s a whole strategy I called serve, share, and care.

How do you let people know that your job is to serve them? How do you let people know that you are authentically a good human trying to be of service? The vulnerability, the openness, a lot of Brene Brown’s work, a lot of Amy Edmondson’s work, our own research institute has gone into this stuff very deep. And then how do you really land that somebody believes you care about their success?

And there are practices and conversational tips and tactics and tools on moving that forward. There’s also lots of tactics around, “How do you co-create? How do you collaborate?” I think old-school collaboration is broken. Old-school collaboration is like there’s really more buy-in which meant, “I came up with an idea and I’m going to sell you one.” That’s buy-in. Co-creation is, “I have a vision. Let’s, you and I, wrestle this until we make it extraordinary.” Right? That’s the world of innovation that we live in today, and that’s what we need.

So, anyway, there’s tons of chapters and each one has very distinct practices about how do you lead in a network, how do you lead when you don’t have that authority. And, by the way, that doesn’t mean you’re not a leader. You could be the president of a company and still need to lead without authority because there’s always a set of individuals that will resist your idea if you try to foist it upon them with the traditional control and authority mindset.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, let’s dig into some of these little tools, tips, tactics associated with how you really get across that you care about someone and you are trying to serve them and their interests.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Empathy is critical. Creating empathy between two people is really critical. And think of empathy as a bridge from where you are now to a productive relationship. But what is the key that opens up empathy in its most accelerated path? Like, what’s the thing that would create empathy between the two of us in the most accelerated fashion? You want to take a stab at it?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m listening well.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. By the way, great one. The fastest path to activating empathy is vulnerability because vulnerability creates us. Where you sit and where I sit, how do we create us? I’ll give you a little practice. I’d be curious if you want to do this with me. There is a practice that I use at the beginning of meetings called sweet and sour. Sweet and sour. What’s going on right now in your life that’s sweet? And what’s going on right now in your life that’s sour?

Pete Mockaitis
I like that a lot more than happy and crappy for the record. It sounds a lot more professional and enjoyable.

Keith Ferrazzi
Did you come up with that or did you read that, happy and crappy?

Pete Mockaitis
My buddy Connor shared that with me. I think it’s from camp or something.

Keith Ferrazzi
That’s funny. What’s happy and what’s crappy? I don’t know. I kind of…I might even adopt that one, what’s happy and crappy. By the way, I love that actually. I love happy and crappy. Okay, I totally take it back. I don’t like sweet and sour. It’s happy and crappy.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re going to switch then. We’ll trade.

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah, so happy and crappy. I win. So, what I’m happy about is I’m happy about the book. I’m also happy that we had the book release is over and the exhaustion of 4:00 o’clock a.m. podcast, not that this is exhausting and a 4:00 o’clock a.m. podcast but I was doing those, right? So, that I’m all happy about. Sour is my son. I have two boys, got one at 12, one at 16. They’re very long protracted pregnancies. No, I’m just kidding.

They were foster children. And the 16-year old, you know, he’s turned a corner in many ways but he’s making very bad choices, economic choices. And at a time when he doesn’t have a job, he’s not making good choices. And that would typically lead me to want to hold him accountable and restrict funding from him because of his very bad choices. And, unfortunately, we’re at a time when we’re in a crisis, and he has no sources of income so I’m struggling to set boundaries and still be supportive, and it’s very difficult for me, and I don’t think I’m being a very good father. So, that’s my sour.

What’s yours?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, okay, I’ll tell you. Well, I guess the sweet and sour, alright? So, I think sweet, actually, hey, amidst the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a surge of enthusiasm for online learning so I’m seeing some actually pretty excellent growth in revenue and such, so that’s pretty sweet. What’s sour is, well, I’ll say what first came to mind and then we’ll discuss this afterwards. Well, at this moment, there is in the U.S. a whole lot of unrest, protests, riots associated with the murder of George Floyd, and conversations about racism and police brutality. And it just makes me sad when I read and I observe and I see the state of where we are and how difficult it can be to heal and transform. It just makes me sad. And I’m feeling hopeless in terms of I don’t quite know for me what I can do.

Now, I think I might know what you’re about to say, Keith, but you tell me. We were talking about vulnerability, what I just shared is sour but it’s not particularly vulnerable to me. That’s just something that I think all of us are kind of dealing with right now. Is that fair to say?

Keith Ferrazzi
It’s cool. First of all, when you asked for this, different people have different natural proclivity of their own openness. So, this is like when we ask somebody, “What are you really struggling with at work?” and your boss asks you that. “Well, I just work too hard.” So, your answer was authentic. It’s something you’re struggling with. How you’re internalizing it could be more vulnerable. You could be talking about a level of depression that you’re having, difficult concentrating, etc. That could be more vulnerable.

But, yeah, I mean, the window of vulnerability is open to how you want to be. The reason I went to personal, and went more deeply personal, is because I wanted to set a tone, and I could’ve gone more, right? If I’m doing this with a group of my friends that know me for years, I would go more vulnerable on things. And sometimes in certain environments you don’t but it’s a start, right? That was a start, and it does breed empathy. It does breed empathy. And then you move from there.

But we help teams create this kind of relational connection as one of the elements. There are eight elements. We coach team through eight elements of transformation. And we believe right now there is a very important opportunity for any member of a team or any leader of a team to re-contract with a team, to reboot how a team’s social contracts exist.

So, for instance, is there a social contract where we care about each other? Is there a social contract where I feel responsible for your success as I do my own? And that’s a contract. Now what’s the practice that follows that contract up? Is there a contract that we’re going to tell the truth in meetings? Or is there a contract we aren’t going to talk on each other’s backs? Many teams have contracts that talk behind each other’s backs. It’s not written on some value statement on the wall but it’s what happens.

I wrote all these up and we’ve done $2 million worth of research on how to apply these methodologies in a remote world. In a remote world, we find that you get a real degradation of trust, and you get a degradation of vulnerability, and you become much more transactional, so a lot of this has to be more intentional.

I put a website when all this happened. I put the $2 million worth of research studies up there. It’s called VirtualTeamsWin.com. And it has been very effective for people, and a part of it is a free contract that you can use to re-contract with your team and do a set of social norms. Now, I do that for a living with teams. I go in and I re-contract teams’ social norms, and I coach them to adopt these behaviors. But I wanted to write a book to help anybody be able to do that. And that was the intention of Leading Without Authority. How do you go into a group of people and help them rewrite their social contracts so you can achieve extraordinary things together?

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And I’m starting to see the pieces are coming together a little bit here. I see that vulnerability led to empathy powerfully as you demonstrated. I guess I know what you’re dealing with, and I feel a closer connection to you as a result but I don’t yet know that you give a hoot about me and what I’m trying to achieve from that alone. What comes next?

Keith Ferrazzi
So, people are always talking about, “How do we get higher degrees of engagement in the workforce?” Well, have them co-create with you. Most old leaders would just dictate. I love reaching out to people and saying, like I said earlier, “Hey, I got an idea but let’s wrestle this together because I think together we can come up with a solution that’ll really kick butt, right?”

So, you got to get into a co-creation. Through the co-creation together, then you’ll have even more time. You’ll have more time to become deeper connected, right? Continue to lead with that authenticity, lead with that sincerity, that generosity, be of service, but along the way you have an opportunity to celebrate somebody in front of another person, “Hey, I’ve been working with so and so. Gosh, she’s just amazing. She’s so smart.” That is another way to show generosity.

So, I think of it as a DNA strand where being of service and being authentic keep intertwining with each other, because the more vulnerable and authentic you are, the more people will open to you authentically and vulnerably back, the more you can learn about them, the more you can be of service, the more you be of service, the more time they give you. And, together, the relationship creates loyalty. And I think this is true of all relationships, not even just work relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Well I’m curious, if you’re going about doing this sort of thing and you hit some roadblocks and people just don’t seem to be jiving with what you’re trying to do, what are means of diagnosing and correcting what’s going on?

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, lots of advice in the book on this. One of the whole chapters is called, “It’s all on you,” where I come up with six deadly excuses that we use to not work with people collaboratively. And a lot of it is because you bump up against the wall and someone’s difficult or obstinate or distracted. And you’re just like, “Oh they should cooperate with me. They should collaborate with me.” It’s like all on your terms. And so I twist it and I say it’s all on you.

Sometimes, you have to go 99.9% of the way to engage somebody before they start to move halfway toward you. Like with my son, when he first came into my house, I couldn’t say, “When you start acting like my son, I’ll be your father.” He’d be like, “Well screw you. I don’t want you to be my father. anyway” And so I had to work 99.9% harder and on the way, I had to stay there and be vulnerable and try to be the best dad I could be while he was saying, “You will never be my father.” And sometimes we have to do that at the workplace if we want to be high integrity leaders.

Keith Ferrazzi
What I think is most important is that we decide sometimes also when we need to walk away if you can walk away. A lot of energy gets eroded when you are working your butt off to try to convert somebody that is a resistor when you should be working to create outcomes with people who are desirous of getting outcomes with you. Because often the momentum of working with people who are desirous of getting outcomes with you will actually be the thing that you need to convert the naysayer, so don’t spend too much time trying to intellectually convert the naysayer. You should be focusing as well on actually getting results. So, a lot of the methodology of Leading Without Authority is take some small wins and get them over the line as well.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
No. Look, I mean, this was an eight-year passion project. And now I’m creating books, and, just like yourself, I’m creating leadership courses, and I really do want people to be able to be extraordinary in this new world.

I also just started a foundation called Go Forward to Work. And the principle of it is we’ve done a lot of transformation in the last couple of months, I want people to go forward to work, not back to work. I want us to define what the future of work is because I think it’s alive and living right now in this time of crisis, and I want to document it. And I’m working with about 80 CHROs of some of the biggest companies in the world to define what the practices of the future of work are today.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, cool. Thank you. Well, now could you share a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Keith Ferrazzi
Oh, yeah. I think it was “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” I think it was Emerson. But the principle is sticking to your guns too long is foolish particularly if you get more data and you get a better argument.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Well, I just started using technology in very different ways. I’m using Slack, I’m using Asana. I think it’s so important. Of course, Zoom has been extraordinary. I think it’s so important for us to begin to be much more rigorous in our use of tools to support our business, and that’s not traditionally been done. Even in big organizations, I don’t see some of these tools being used for communications, for program management, for knowledge management, for process redefinition and management. They’re great tools so I would start using some of them.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
I think it’s the definition of all the work that I’ve done, it’s always ask, “Who?” When you figure out where you want to go, you’re trying to think about what you want to do, how you want to get there, there’s a question that we under-curate, and that question is, “Who?” Right? “Who do I need to do it with?” And then all of our science and research helps you be extraordinary, and it helps you be awesome at your job, relative to that question “Who?” from a relational and collaborative standpoint.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
KeithFerrazzi.com is probably the best. I’m very proud of a leadership course we just created there. You can get the book everywhere, but KeithFerrazzi.com is a great place to start. I check my own Instagram too if anybody wants to say hi.

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

Keith Ferrazzi
Yeah. Have a vision for something that could be transformative in your workplace, and identify the first person to bring into the team to co-create that vision. And the wonderful thing about the first person you bring into your team, you’re actually bringing them into their team, meaning this is a real co-creation. Don’t hold this idea up as yours. It’s yours and theirs. Go kick some butt and go be transformative. The next thing you know, you might end up rising up to be an executive at the company because of your transformation.

Pete Mockaitis
Keith, this has been a treat. Thanks so much and keep on rocking.

Keith Ferrazzi
Pete, thanks so much for having me. I appreciate it. It’s an honor.

498: Nourishing the Relationships That Nourish You with Dr. John Townsend

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Dr. John Townsend says: "You need people just like they need you."

Dr. John Townsend discusses how to build the relationships that keep you motivated and productive.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one need leaders often ignore
  2. How to engage in nourishing conversations
  3. The five relationships you need in your life—and the two to prune

About John:

Dr. John Townsend is a nationally-known leadership consultant, psychologist, and New York Timesbestselling author. John is the founder of the Townsend Institute, Leadership and Counseling, and the Townsend Leadership Program, which is a a a  nationwide system of leadership training groups. He developed the online digital platform TownsendNOW and the online assessment tool TPRAT. Dr. Townsend travels extensively for corporate consulting, speaking, and helping develop leaders, their teams and their families.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Dr. John Townsend Interview Transcript

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

Dr. John Townsend
Thanks, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to be talking a lot about people fuel and being empty, being full, and the nutrients, so I’d love it if you could kick us off by maybe sharing an inspiring story of someone who really made a transformation here and what that looked like in practice.

Dr. John Townsend
I’d be glad to. Now, it’s a little long but not too long, but it’s like over 30 seconds. Is that okay?

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll take it. Absolutely.

Dr. John Townsend
This person was a business owner, he owned a business he started. And he said, “You know, I’m getting ready to sell the business and it’s been successful. I’ve got a really good marriage and I kind of want to go to phase two, maybe a few more years in this program, but somebody said that you can kind of optimize leaders. And I just wanted to know if there’s anything else. I like golf but I don’t want to do it every day. I like work but I don’t want to do it 70 hours a week and all that.

So, I flew over and we had a day, and I do an analysis with the leader where I talk about, “What’s your vision? What’s your mission? What’s your strategy in life? What’s your strategy in business? Where do you want to go?”

And I said, “Now, let me get to know you and your relational context because that’s important.” And he said, “Oh, I got lots of relationships, no problem there.” And I said, “Well, tell me about your relationships.” And he said, “Gosh, I’ve got people I’m mentoring, and people I’m guiding and leading and developing, and people that report to me. And I’ve got great relationships.”

And I said, ”Now, that’s great. But I’m struck by the fact that all those relationships are outgoing relationships. It’s you outsourcing them with your wisdom and help and mentoring and leading.”

So, he said, “Isn’t that what leaders are supposed to do? We’re supposed to be givers.” And I said, “Yeah, but you wouldn’t treat your car that way. I mean, sooner or later your car is going to be at the gas tank and you’re going to have to give some fuel to drag your car. So, what about people that are inputting to you as well?” And he said, “Oh, yeah, yeah. My wife, she’s great. She listens to my insecurities, she’s a safe person, she’s there to encourage me. And, also, my Labrador Retriever, Max, and he’s there for me, never judges me.” And I said, “Well, that’s good. We need a spouse that’s supportive with our fears and insecurities, I’m a dog person too.” I said, “But I would consider you in the relationally-deficit category.”

And he kind of got a little upset about this, he said, “No, I got lots of friends.” And I said, “Yes, you do. Yes, you do. But you don’t have a lot of people that you need. And I don’t mean need for, ‘Give me a ride to the store,’ or, ‘Let me borrow a couple of sugars.’ You don’t have a lot of people that need in the way that when you need encouragement, wisdom, somebody to be there, somebody to challenge you.” And he said, “Well, maybe I don’t, but that feels selfish.” And about this time the wife came in, who was listening, and she goes, “Joe, you better listen to this guy because I really don’t like being the only person you can talk to.”

And I said, “Joe, she’s right.” I mean, the way the neuroscience works. It says we got to have more people in our tank. And I said, “You know, your spouse is a little overwhelmed. She’s a nice person but she’s not everything. And, by the way, your dog is genetically engineered to lick your face and be nice to you because he won’t eat otherwise so you need more.”

And he said, “What am I supposed to do?” I said, “You need a life team,” and that’s a concept in the book. You need three to ten people who love work like you do, but also want to self-improve. And when there’s a time for a challenge, you can have that eight-minute windshield wiper call or you can have a dinner with, and you’re not always mentoring and guiding and developing these people. You’re being vulnerable with them and they’re being vulnerable with you. You’re talking about what’s really and truly in reality going on and take the leadership hat off, and that’ll change everything.”

He said, “Nah, that just sounds like kind of touchy feely and it sounds like I’m being too weak.” I said, “Well, give these people a chance because my hunch is that when you tell people, ‘I’d like to have some more relationships because I tend to be the giver, and all I got is my wife and my dog,’ they will say to you, ‘I am honored to be on your life team. You’ve always given to me, you’ve always mentored me, you spend so many hours with me on my business, on my marriage, on my parenting, sign me up.’” And he did it, and he came back, and he said, “I could not believe the response and it’s great.”

So, that’s kind of the catalyzing story of the model here, is that what I tell leaders. What I really tell leaders is, “You need to need. You need to need other people and it’s not being selfish. And here’s how to do it. And here’s what the research says. People, and especially leaders, that don’t have a lot of long-term vulnerable relationships, you don’t need a lot because you don’t have much time, but if you don’t have a few of these life team people, you’ll end up with worse problems and performance in your business, more health problems, stress problems, that and the like, more psychological-emotional problems, and a higher mortality rate so it’s not even touchy feely, “Oh, go to HR and talk about it.” It’s really hard science that says, “We all need it.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m a huge believer of that, absolutely.
I’ve got a men’s group, or however you call it, or slice it, or arrange it, I think it’s absolutely huge to be able to kind of share those things. So, I like it, you sort of have broken down the particular things we need into what you call relational nutrients. And I understand you’ve identified 22 of them, that’s a lot. So, could you maybe share with us what are the most essential and maybe the most overlooked for professionals in particular?

Dr. John Townsend
A coaching client of mine said the same thing. He said, “That’s a lot. Can you do two categories?” And I thought, “Yeah, everybody’s busy.” So, let me give you the four categories.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Dr. John Townsend
Much more palatable. The 22 are arranged, there’s five or six in each category. The first one is be present. And be present to a leader means sometimes you’ve got shut up and listen. Now, we leaders love to talk, and we got nuggets of wisdom and all that, and that’s great. But sometimes that’s not what a person needs, and sometimes that’s not what you need.

What we found out is that there’s so much research about a person just being empathetic and authentic, and saying, “I get you. Tell me more about it.” Instead of three pieces of advice and fixing and fixing and fixing, just saying, “I’m here and you can vent to me and you can tell me whatever you need to tell me, how you’re feeling, and I’m not going to preach at you now. I’m just going to tell you I’m your friend.” And you keep eye contact if you’re face to face. If you’re digital, you keep connected, and say, “I’m with you.”

And we found out that there’s so much for a person to get, “I didn’t need three steps to solve my problem. I can solve my problem by just knowing you don’t judge me and you’re my friend and I can be as messy as I want.” People come out feeling like they’ve lost 30 pounds and they’re motivated. Be present.

The second one is to convey the good. Sometimes we’re down. You know, work is stressful, business is stressful, life is stressful, family is stressful. Sometimes we need somebody, when we’re discouraged, overwhelmed, just to say, “I believe in you and I want to encourage you. You’re doing the right thing. And I got a lot of respect for you. And I got like hope for your business to change in this turn it’s having, or your family to change.” It’s sort of like a little shot of Prozac, where somebody just says, “I know you’re down, and I know you don’t believe in yourself right now, but I believe in you, and I see reality there.” That’s convey the good.

The third one is deliver reality. And reality means sometimes we don’t need just people being present with us, or people just encouraging us. We also need like a Yoda, somebody to say, “Hey, why is that happening? Let me tell you some research I saw and here’s some information. Kind of give me the data.” Sometimes we do need data, wisdom, insight, perspective from somebody that really has been down there, and is a deeper person, like Simon Sinek’s great TED Talk about the power of why. People can help us with the why that we’re having some challenge.

And then the fourth one is call to action. And call to action means, you know, businesses and life and leadership changes when we get off our butt to do something. So, sometimes it means, “I want to challenge you to take this step. I know you’re afraid to, I don’t know, make this change in your business, or confront this person, or do this restructuring, or have this tough conversation with a person in your culture, whatever.”

But we call, sometimes, people to action, say, “Listen, there’s something we got to do. I know you’re getting it but you’ve got to do a tough scary thing right now.” And every week, we need people being present with us, conveying the good, delivering reality, calling us to action. And also, as leaders, we need to deliver those nutrients to other people, and I promise you, the people that you’re responsible to take care of, they need them as well.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you talk about these people, are you envisioning that you recruit them from all over? They could be colleagues, they could be friends, they could be related to you.

Dr. John Townsend
You mean for the life team?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Dr. John Townsend
I was speaking about giving the nutrients also to your directs, to your workers, to your children, to your spouse. So, the ones we give those things to, that’s just everybody we feel like we’re with. But in terms of that special three to ten people life team, the way I work that out, Pete, is I always like to start with the blue sky. Okay, what’s perfect? What’s ideal? And the blue sky would be those people who are all in some, you know, drive a distance, a view. You all get together for, I don’t know, lunch once a week, or dinner, and you just kind of talk about how life is going and the challenges, and you give each other grace and truth and support, and that’s great.

Now, I don’t have that because I’ve got people in my life team, a couple of them are in other parts of the country, don’t even know each other but I kind of went for the quality. So, we stay in touch when I’m in town, or they’re in town, or Skype, or texting. Texting is wonderful. Texting is very, very connecting. People say texting doesn’t work with connection but it really does. You could be very encouraged and encouraging with a text.

And so, like in my situation, some of them are in a group that I’m in, and some of those are just people that I know are high-quality people. So, for some people, their life team is going to be maybe people that they know that aren’t getting together. And for some people it’s going to be, “Yeah, I assemble a group of five people that said we’re going to get together twice a month and really dig into personal growth as well as professional growth, and it’s kind of transformational.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when you are engaging in these conversations with folks, I’m curious, is there a particular set of things that you always like to cover or kind of prompts or questions, or is there any kind of structure or agenda, or is it just kind of like letting her rip?

Dr. John Townsend
Well, there’s certainly a let her rip because if we’ve got too much structure, people get more into the, “Okay, it’s 2:15. We didn’t read this book yet,” and then they don’t do what they need to do. There’s got to be a place where there is a reasonable structure but also there’s room to veer off the structure when people say, “Look, I’ve got a 911. I’m a mess here. My kid is on drugs,” or, “I’ve got a big cashflow problem.”

So, what I always recommend is the ideal would be 90 minutes. People are busy. And that 90 minutes kind of a check-in, “Let’s just go around the circle. How is everybody doing? What’s your wins and what’s your challenges?” And then sometimes people say, “Well, I want to study a book from John Maxwell, or Brene Brown, or Jim Collins, or something,” and they’ll tell you a chapter of the book, and that’s fine. And then people will also say, “I’d like to talk about it but I’d like to talk about what I’m learning.” So, it’s what’s called the content piece. You’ve got the check-in, “How’s everybody doing? Do you have a content piece?”

And then I think what’s really good is to say, “Okay, we’ve got 45 minutes to go, let’s talk about what’s really going on.” And people do a deeper dive. People come away going, “I learned something, I felt like I’m caught up with these people I care about. And also, on a personal growth level, I could be vulnerable and I don’t feel like I’m judging myself, and I feel like people are with me in the next week that I have.”

Pete Mockaitis
And so, when it comes to these people, you’ve sort of given some names of different roles to folks, the seven Cs. Can you give us the rundown of that?

Dr. John Townsend
Yeah. Because people say, “Hey, where can I get these people?” So, the seven Cs are if you look at the four quadrants of relational nutrients, I look at them like the way I look at bio-nutrients. In fact, that’s where I got the idea because we all need calcium when we get bone problems. We all need iron when we get blood problems. So, I thought, “Okay, there’s bio-nutrients but there’s also relational nutrients.” I trademarked the term because it’s so valuable for me that we need to get those things back and forth to each other just like we do calcium and iron, but not with a pill but with a conversation.

So, the seven Cs are who has those relational nutrients and what level from a nutrient-rich person to a nutrient-deficient person. And it goes like this, the first level is coaches. Coach is the highest level of nutrient-rich because they know some things, you hire them, or they’re pro bono or whatever, because of their expertise in business, or leadership, or personal growth, or spiritual growth, or self-help, or parenting, or whatever. And they don’t need you to be their buddy, they’re there to coach you, so it’s all about you.

Second level is what’s called comrades. Those are the people that are your brothers and sisters-in arms, like they go through life together, and you want to help each other to be the best person you can be, and that’s kind of like that life team concept I mentioned. Very mutual, very honest, and very safe. Third level is casuals. We all need people in our life that we just sort of stop and smell the roses with. Maybe you go make a friend out of somebody whose kids are at your soccer game and you like them, or you see somebody at a community meeting, and you all get together. And not really a life team member, a comrade, but really sort of a nice positive person. They’re also a farm team for the life team because you might think, “You know, this person is into self-improvement, being better, being a better leader. Maybe we need to talk.”

Next level is colleagues because so much of life is about work and we need people who are, even if you can’t pick who you work with, if you owned the business you can, but if you don’t and you get assigned those people, either way they’re going to have three qualities. They’ve got to be really good at what they do and competent,. They’ve got to be also relational people, really good relationally. And third, they’ve got be able to work on teams well. And you always push for that as much as you can get to get the best out of those relationships as you can.

Next level is care. And care are those people who are without. You know, there’s people in developing countries that have nothing and we’ve been given a lot, and leaders have a responsibility to be on board, to go to trips to serve, and also to mentor young professionals that are just starting out and need somebody to tell them how to do a SWOT analysis and how to start up a marketing campaign. So, we’re supposed to help other people. That’s care.

The next one is chronics. And chronics, I’ve been in California, I raised the kids here in California, but in the beginning of my life, I was from the South. And we have a phrase in the South called “Bless her heart,” and “Bless her heart” means they’re kind of a hot mess all the time. They have chronic problems with money, and their job, and their marriage, and their kids, and their friend. They just are always in trouble.

And we spend a lot of time with these people, supporting them and having lunch with them, giving them advice and all sort of thing. But the only problem with chronics, bless their heart, and they’re not mean people, they’re nice people, is that they have what I call from psychology a flat-learning curve. They don’t take any insight from the homework you give or the advice. They keep making the same mistakes over again. It’s chronic. And we tend to give a whole lot of time to those people.

And then the last category is contaminant, and they’re those dangerous people. I mean, people that should be in prison and people who have serious character disorders that they want to destroy your business and your family, and you can’t spend any time with them. So, what I say in that is, so, to get the nutrients you need to have a balanced life, most of us look at those seven Cs and go, “Goodness gracious, I’m bottom heavy. I don’t mean physically bottom heavy, but I’ve got a lot of contaminants and chronics and care, and I don’t have very many at the top. I don’t have many coaches and comrades.”

And I tell people, “We’ve got to right-size this. Where’s your coach or your coaches?” I’ve got two or three because The Harvard Business Review says they bring about three times the value of what you pay for them, and that’s been my experience in the very least. So, where’s your coaches, business directors, advisors, personal directors, spiritual directors. And then where’s your comrades? Where’s that life team? And if you build that up then you start pruning back the bottom, that’s a pretty good life.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s talk about the pruning process. How do you recommend establishing boundaries and doing that well?

Dr. John Townsend
Tell the truth.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Go on.

Dr. John Townsend
Well, let’s look at the chronic category. Most leaders I work with have a whole bunch of people they’re spending enormous time with who really aren’t changing. They just really want to be around the leader because the leader is warm and wise and accepts them, and that’s great. But when they give them hard things to do and assignments and this sort of thing, they kind of come back and say, “No, I didn’t do it. I was busy. But what else you got for me?”

We have to realize we’re sort of just, in some nice way, we’re kind of enabling them not to change. And so, when you start finding that pattern, I mean, when people are doing what you’re saying, they’re saying, “Oh, gosh, I had that conversation and my business is doing great, my family is doing great.” Great. But a chronic is just not going to change. They’ll just keep kind of complaining that the world is against them.

So, sooner or later you’ve got to have a conversation saying, “I care about our relationship and our time is valuable, but I’ve noticed that things aren’t changing and you have real challenges in your life, and they’re real. But I’ve noticed that you really do a small percentage of what I’m asking. And so, we need to consider if this is really working for us, and let’s try it again, and I’m going to tell you three things to do this week, blah, blah, blah.”

So, you give everybody a chance like you would any kind of a conversation. And if they come back and there’s just more excuses after a couple of times, then you say, “Honestly, I really like you but I kind of spend a lot of time with people who really want to grow and change. So, instead of meeting you once a week, it might be once a quarter. But here are some other people or organizations you can go to.” You’ve got to be nice about it. I never cut anybody off, but I do resize things when I notice that a person is chronic.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m wondering about sort of energy drains in terms of colleagues at work. How do you think about interacting there?

Dr. John Townsend
There are people who are energy drains and it happens because there’s energy given and taken at work. But I kind of say it’s our problem. It’s not them, it’s our fault because you only experience at work what you tolerate at work, right?

So, if I’ve got somebody coming in and they’re, I don’t know, complaining or negative or whatever, and I give them 45 minutes that I don’t have, well, I tolerated that so I got it. But if I say, “I only got three minutes here, or five minutes, or whatever,” or I even have a tougher conversation. You know, Henry Cloud and I wrote a book called How to Have That Difficult Conversation You’ve Been Avoiding, that sometimes we could say, “I don’t have a lot of time. Sorry. I’ve got to get back to work.” Sometimes we have to say, “Can we really talk about this because there’s some things going on? And you can give me any feedback you need to but some things that are difficult that I want to talk about,” and you head to talking.

I think in terms of people that are mild, moderate, or severe, I mean, you always want to be mild. I don’t want to be moderate or severe. A mild person will say, “Yeah, sorry. I didn’t mean to bellyache so much. And, yeah, thanks. That’s good advice.” And they change, they’re mild. Moderate and severe might say, “Well, gosh, I thought you’re my friend, and you’re against me too.” And you go, “I’m not that but I got to see some changes.” There’s eight steps for that of how to deal with that in the book so you’ve got to determine what the drain is and whether you just take a mild approach or a moderate approach, but there’s tips for that.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. Well, so then maybe before we get to that final bit, John, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Dr. John Townsend
Yeah, I would invite and challenge business leaders to rethink how you are about your relationships and not to shame yourself because you might need to have a friend. We try to be so strong, we try to be Superman, we try to be Wonder Woman, but the reality is all the neuroscience says, “You need people just like they need you.” And I promise you, when you say to some people, “Can we make lunch about me? I just got a challenge.” It can’t be anybody.

It can’t probably be somebody who works for you, that’s not really appropriate, but somebody that’s a friend, outside or inside of business. I promise you, 95% of them will say, “You know, you give so much to me, you’re so much there for me. It’s an honor to be there for you.” Take a little risk and see what your people are made of.

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

Dr. John Townsend
I’m a big fan of Peter Drucker. He was called the Moses of management. He’s the guy that started all the management research that we now follow, and he was right just about everything. And I sort of read his stuff and learn from his stuff. He has a great statement, he says, “Culture will eat strategy for breakfast,” meaning we all need a strategy to grow our businesses, we all need to be great leaders and do the right things and the right products, service, mission, vision. But culture, which is relationships, if our relationships aren’t in place, it’ll sabotage it. So, always, always take the people part in consideration.

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

Dr. John Townsend
There was a study done by some Italian researchers about how people connect, and they used monkeys. And they had a computer with electrodes that went to your head. And so, they put computer electrodes on one monkey’s head and on the others, and the monkeys could see each other from a few feet away. And then they began looking at the brain mapping of what the heat points in their brain was because that’s how you know where there’s activity.

And what they noticed was when one monkey was, let’s say, anxious, the other would look at it and get anxious, and he had the same red spots in the same place as the other one. When one would get happy, the other one would feel happy. When one got angry, or sad, the other one did too. And they basically figured out that there are neurons that are called mirror neurons, like when you’re shaving, you look at a mirror.

These mirror neurons travel back and forth through eye contact where you see something in somebody else and you have a similar response. And they think they might’ve discovered the neurological basis for what’s called empathy. And every leader must be empathy. Some of us are gifted in it, some of us aren’t gifted in it, but everybody, every leader must learn the skill.

And from that we figure, we’re finding out that the leaders that could just pay attention to their people, I mean, you still make them accountable, you still got to have KPIs and goals and all that, but if you also can be a mirror neuron to them so you can understand what their life is like, your company becomes more successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Dr. John Townsend
I’m currently revisiting a book by Pat Lencioni, who’s a friend and a guy who really has helped us in the business world, it’s called The Advantage. It’s a great book that is worth several reads on how to have your company be high-performing through the right relationships and engagements.

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

Dr. John Townsend
Actually, it’s an assessment tool I developed called the TPRAT, Townsend Personal Relational Assessment Tool. My company uses it and I use it for clients. It measures how a person’s four, what we call, capacities, capabilities in life. One is bonding,
The second one is boundaries.

And then the fourth one is capability. It measures all the four of those categories – bonding, boundaries, reality, and capability – on a scale of one to ten, and you get a profile of four numbers.

And it’s like all these skills that you’re going to have to move up the ladder on that. And people like it, it makes sense. You can get it on my website, but it’s kind of a nice way for a team or a group to say, “Oh, okay. Here’s what we’re all working in, and here’s the ones that are strong in this. How can we relate better given these scores?”

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and you’re known for?

Dr. John Townsend
Yes. It’s probably a mantra that I use in my company that we train other companies with, and it’s that we all need competence and character. Competence means you’ve got to be good at what you do. You’ve got to get the training. You’ve got to do the elbow grease and really learn things at a highly-skilled level. But you’ve also got to have character. You’ve also got to be a person that has integrity, has great relationships, and can inspire other people.

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

Dr. John Townsend
My website is DrTownsend.com. It’s got a lot of information. We’ve got the blogs and the advice, and information. We’ve also got information about the Townsend Institute where you can get a masters in leadership or masters in coaching, all online with us, Townsend Leadership Group which is our cohort-based program around the country where a leader can meet with other leaders and with a person that I’ve trained to help them grow in their professions and SWOT analysis and EQ and all those things – DrTownsend.com.

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

Dr. John Townsend
I think of it this way. We’re all meant to be F-16s, it’s like those pilots, they go halfway around the world at very high altitudes and very high performance. And every leader wants to be that and should be. But you’re only as good as your fuel. So, consider who are you hanging out with? And who’s hanging out with you? And is it high-capacity fuel versus low-capacity fuel? You want to be with the highest octane possible.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. John, thanks for this, and good luck in all of your leading and relationships, and I hope you’re well-nutriated.

Dr. John Townsend
I think you just made up a new word. Thank you.

434: Building People and Killing Policies with Guy Pierce Bell

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Guy Bell says: "Every business has one thing in common when it fails. And that's too many policies to correct behaviors."

Turnaround artist Guy Bell shares hard-won wisdom on why and how to establish the right number of rules for teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How modern businesses value processes over people
  2. The problem with budgets
  3. Guy’s process for people building

About Guy

Guy Bell is an executive with decades of experience turning around struggling businesses. He’s also started up new businesses, acquired and on-boarded companies and led green field growth. He has held leadership roles in a wide variety of organizations, including equity-backed investments, public-traded companies and family-owned businesses.

In each of these situations, Guy challenged himself with one simple question: “How can I empower my team to meet their full potential?”

Guy is the author of Unlearning Leadership, which was named one of 10 leadership books that should be on your radar in 2019 by Inc Magazine.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Guy Bell Interview Transcript

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

Guy Bell  
Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, I’m excited to dig into your good stuff. But first, I want to dig into your background. You were previously a singer-songwriter. What’s the story here?

Guy Bell  
I grew up in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and my big dream, as a kiddo, was to get on stages and sing around the world. But ultimately, at that time, it was Minneapolis. And that was the world I was living in. And I had a real fun experience getting a chance to sing and record out at Paisley Park, Prince’s Studio, and you know, playing his bars in town or his bar at the time and other places, and really enjoyed that early experience. And it really has been oddly foundational for my business experience.

So that was a definitely an early kind of love that I figured at 18 years old. What do we know, right? But I knew then I was going to be a singer for the rest of my life. And here we are.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, I’m intrigued. And in what way was that foundational for the rest of your business?

Guy Bell  
You know, I kind of started off writing about this when I was getting into management. And I just look at the business world through the lessons of jazz, like there are no such thing as mistakes. You just play off of whatever kind of note you’re bending, if it’s not quite as you thought your finger was. And you learn to unlearn.

So in jazz, and when people become the best at their craft, they no longer play scales; they play the feeling, the mood, they know what a key they’re in, they understand the games, the rules of the game, and then they let go of that, knowing if that makes any sense. So that applies to business beautifully, in my experience.

Pete Mockaitis  
Well, so now, what I love about this, is you’re sharing some things that might feel a little softer, there. But your credentials are pretty smashing when it comes to your work as a turnaround artist. Can you tell us, what do you do there? And what are some of the coolest results you’ve generated there?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, it is. It is strange, and it does feel soft. In fact, when I first got into managing, that’s usually the feedback I got: it was too soft, and I cared too much. And I needed to learn to toughen up and all these silly things that didn’t make any sense. Because over the years now, as you said, I’ve run publicly traded, privately held, equity-backed companies. And I’ve done it from taking these businesses that were run by people with the school of thought that said, “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

And I came in at that one, though, it’s wildly personal. And it’s not just business, right? And so, you know, most of my turnarounds really, in this concept of the premise of who’s going to turn this around, but the people doing the work, and what are the common threads of what businesses miss, because they overmanage, they over-process out of fear

and out of a desire to manage risk, kind of overcontroling behaviors, and actions and they create policies to correct behaviors, and all these things that feel normal, because we have a good hundred years of doing this silly overreach for good reason.

Because people do make mistakes. People do take risks that are unwarranted. But what I’ve learned, I guess, Pete, and to kind of put it into a few bite-sized chunks, is I’ve learned something called Four Rules of Flight. And if you look at it from a business perspective, there are a certain number of rules that would relate to if you were flying a plane. So as an example, the four rules in flight are weight, lift, thrust, and drag.

If you take off, and you don’t have four rules, but you put together three rules, you have a car that looks like a plane. And if you’re there, and you add a rule—a fifth rule—you will crash. So when you look at business on a micro, and then on an individual level, and you understand that process matters, that there needs to be enough structure, enough of everything, but no more. What happens when we decelerate or we lose control of our business is, we don’t have enough rules.

And then conversely, which I found to be true in almost every turnaround, is people were over managing out of fear. When we start failing, we start judging. We start judging, we start applying more rules and regulations and structure, and we lose that ability to say when people are unleashed to reach their full potential, to give outstanding service, to come back and authentically say, “This process stinks. It’s not good, it’s not effective. Can we do it this way?” We don’t have those conversations anymore.

So that was one of those signature lessons that are pretty much universal. Another one quickly, and I’ll use what I’ve found to be one of the more controversial companies in America today, and for me, it’s a great lesson, and you could be controversial and still do it, right? And that is Amazon , “Day 1, Day 2”. He said 20+ years ago, if we don’t run this business every day like it counts, “Day 1” thinking, we will eventually become a “Day 2” company, which means at some point, it may take longer for a large company — and shorter for a small company — but we won’t exist because we’ll be managing out of fear. We’ll be keeping people from people.

And those kinds of philosophies have governed for better or worse, depending on how you perceive their culture, but it’s one thing above all else. And that is authentic. He knew that then, and he’s applied that year after year after year in his growth, and it’s a signature to his success.

I’ve found the same things to be true in every business that I work in, where we get caught up in belief systems that are unproductive, but they keep us from undue risk. And therefore we keep trusting that process more than we do the people, and that equation doesn’t work.

Pete Mockaitis  
Wow, Guy, this is riveting stuff. And it really feels like you’ve got your finger on something quite real and important and sensible in terms of just the reactionary with, you know, failures and mistakes leads to judgment, into fear, and to rules and processes and policies.

And so could you maybe share with us a story of a turnaround you went to, in terms of where were they, kind of in terms of financially, and the lay of the land? What did you do? And then what did they end up with financially in terms of results afterwards? Just because I think there’s some listeners who think this sounds almost too good to be true. Yeah, so add a dollar sign to this, please.

Guy Bell  
Yeah, so if you don’t mind, I’ll give you a bite of a couple of different situations. So one of the turnarounds—I was brought in was equity-backed investment. They were losing money and didn’t know to what extent. I was brought in to help them grow the company. And as it turned out, within a month or two, they weren’t ready to grow; they were actually ready to fold. And so for the first six months in that business, what we did is we got our arms around, “Do we have the right people in the right seats? Are we working on the right marketing strategies?” and you just go through the nuts and bolts of the business.

And we made adjustments to include the CFO, who was unwilling or incapable — probably a bit of both — to give us timely penals. And we were missing, you know, elementary parts of the business. So it’s really very tactical in that way, where you just kind of look through all the systems processes, you ask the question of, “What are we missing?” What are you missing that you need to get from us as an investment to improve or as support to get the right information at the right time, accurate, complete, decision making-ready?

So we did that. We turned it around that time. I won’t name the equity firm, but they were managing $3 billion, we were a small investment, they were ready to leave it and walk away because it was frustrating. It was losing money. As I mentioned, we turned it around and sold it for $64 million within two years. And so the keys of that, you know, turn around, our signature. And I’ll give a couple of examples that play out the same way.

I was asked to turn around a nonprofit university, 150-year old university based out of San Francisco. And when I came in, at first, it was a nonprofit looking to sell or exit out of being a nonprofit, because it was not having success. And for whatever reason, they believed that somehow selling would magically make it successful, as opposed to getting the right management team.

So I came in to that organization, after several interviews, and same thing, we couldn’t make payroll. We were a $75 million company, couldn’t make payroll. And so I went to the board and just said, “Look, nothing personal. And it’s not my ego saying this; it’s really just true. I need to have control of your marketing right now.” And at that time, I was hired to help turn around the company, but it was a role as a vice president or Senior Vice President of Operations.

Anyway, fast forward, we got the front end fixed, which is usually one of the problems, getting the marketing right-sized and getting the sales process in place. That was required to improve results. And in both cases, we got a better cost per successful acquisition. And we improved performance broadly over the 10 businesses, and specifically by individual, because we just looked at the darn data, right? And we didn’t go after chasing numbers.

We actually built into every person, which is a real shift in in most businesses, is they start managing to a number which is by itself stupid. They’re nice people and smart, but they’re making a stupid decision. As I learned over time, there’s some of the smartest people I’ve worked with that use a budget to kind of “drive performance”, as opposed to understanding the input, what is happening by individual salesperson to be effective. And how do we, as professionals, help each other, in that case, individual, improve their performance?

If there’s five kind of points of workflow, do all five work for that person? Are they effective at all five? And that is the work. And so we have to look at that accurate data every single day — sometimes, throughout the day, to ensure that we’re coaching, developing, understanding our business at the incremental level.

So fast forward, all of that to include kind of rebuilding into the talented people that were at that particular model. And actually, this is true, in almost everyone: the people that were kept from being effective leaders, whatever the work could be, just above an individual contributor, all the way up to running a business unit, what usually kept them from their potential was threats.

People were afraid at the executive level, of the critical feedback or whatever that caused this disruption, this ease of relationships. And so you just went back out and met everyone and re-engaged on a human level, rebuilt some trust pretty quickly, and unleashed them, you know, just said, “Look, I trust that you’re going to get this done the right way, let’s just do it transparently. And together. And there’s no judgment.”

And you know, 18 months later, we sold it. 18 months after selling it, they sold it again, for $275 million, I believe. And when I started it, it could have gone bankrupt in the next three months. So, really good outcome there, in both fronts, and in terms of the first sale and the second sale.

And I guess I could go on for a few more. But ultimately, I could even tell you a story where it didn’t work, if you like, but when it does work, the basic elements are, you know, pretty common.

So it is very detail-oriented, it is very kind of, what is in the weeds of every individual. I use a concept called “Every person counts, every day counts”. And when they don’t count, you have one too many people. Or you have the wrong person. So don’t hire one too many people. I don’t care how successful you are. Everyone wants to count. So therefore, for crying out loud, why not set the scene to make damn sure they do? Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis  
Yes, that’s good. That’s good. All right. So that is well-established in terms of reporting to some true results here, from these perspectives and philosophies. And so then, I want to hear a little bit about that perspective of not managing to a number, but instead of building into a person. Can you unpack that concept for us a bit more?

Guy Bell  
Absolutely. I mean, one of the crimes was—I was working in a publicly traded company. And there was — and this is common, but I’ll just use this example. So there was a board budget that had cushion. And then there was a top upper management executive plan that had a little less cushion. And then there was an operating budget that had no cushy. And in some cases, if we wanted to drive, “the result”, we made it really difficult to achieve their goals, which by itself, is one of the fundamental flaws of why budgets are nothing other than predictive ways of understanding the cash flow for investment.

But having said that, that kind of mindset of doing that makes it virtually impossible and demoralizing to an operator, often not always. But when it does, that, by itself is a really silly model to use as a performance model. So I say just all that crap away, and work on every individual, every single day, on whatever those process, key elements of success are, whatever the sales process is, and stay with them. You will get the outcome that you earn by the activities that you produce. You will come to those activities you produce with a kind of on-fire, more excited approach, when you’re coached on getting past the routine of memorizing a script, or doing what I tell you to do.

But instead, taking what we talked about, that is important because we know what works and making it yours. And that just takes more investment. It takes a little more time, it takes really good listening and studying that person to say, “Gosh, they stink at the memorized script in their voice. Their approach isn’t going to work the way I want it to work.” So let’s figure out another way to approach this part of that sales funnel communications to ensure that they’re authentic, coupled with they’re getting the right result for them.
And then ultimately, I’ve learned, I show people the budget, I talk about our goals, and then I teach them how to throw them away in a sense of what the baseline is. Now go after every single person, every single one…that we were off 20% over our budgets or routine basis, when they were decently laid out. And I would fight hard in those situations where I wasn’t the one making the decision, to ensure that it was rational, so that we could actually overachieve when we do what they don’t see, because that’s not how they think about budgets and performance. But we do. And we would outperform them routinely.

When it was my decision, I didn’t purposely give a lay down in the budget. I just said, “Here’s what we need to accomplish, we need to see some growth in these areas, and then we train into the fact that we want you to be successful. We want you to exceed what we need to invest, to reinvest what we want to see out of our growth this year based on macro data.”

So I hope that’s helpful. But budgets have a whole host of problems that we need to kind of unlearn and relearn the real value so that we can incrementally build into talent, into the business process, into authentic engagements. And I found that to be difficult to do when people feel like, “Dang, I gotta hit my number, I’m getting on a call every day or every Monday and getting beaten up, because my people are not performing the way that they should.” And it’s all driven around hitting a number versus kind of building the individual up.

Pete Mockaitis  
I see. And so then it sounds like if you’re focused mostly on the number, that’s not really helpful in terms of having a person improve. So I guess if it’s like, “Hey, I need you to have, I don’t know, 40 new customers.” “Yeah, got 31.” “Get better!” That isn’t quite as handy.

“Okay, so here’s the five activities you need to undertake in order to acquire these customers. Well, let’s take a look at each one of them and see how it’s going.” So could you maybe give us an example of how it’s done in practice? Maybe it’s with sales, or maybe it’s with another type of contributor, but I think I get a taste for a breakdown and the process of doing some people-building in that way.

Guy Bell  
Absolutely. So I’ll give you a couple of examples. And I’ll stay with sales for now. One is I took over a company that was losing money. We ended up selling for six times EBITDA, which was a nice exit for a group.
They were losing money, we turned it around pretty quickly, we did it on the back of this exact idea. So we were converting an inquiry to revenue, basically help it be agnostic. So any model can apply their own kind of metrics. But we’ve converted, we’re converting at about 5.3 or 5.4%. And in this business model, there are five numbers, and you can play games with them all day long.

But ultimately, you can’t play games with as you spent this much money, and you have this outcome. And so what, with this money…

Pete Mockaitis
This outcome we’re talking about, like a marketing investment, correct?

Guy Bell
Correct. Yes, this investment of $20 million earns 9,525 new customers. So there is an equation there, and then ultimately, in this case, it turns out to be about a 5.4%-ish conversion rate. So that wasn’t great. Maybe even, you know, weak. Then there’s another factor where we’re buying, you know, eyes and ears and interest. But we also want to earn it through relationships, right? So we built a model quickly, and we trained on it, to talk about the keys to making kind of this process work better.

And we budgeted to say if we don’t get any better at that equation, meaning the conversion from a cost of acquisition, to meeting a customer, new customer and marketing, to a revenue, we made the decision to say, “Well, let’s keep it at the 5.4.” We may have put in two tenths of a percent, whatever we did, but something small when getting the 7.6%, purely on not focusing on 7.6%, or hitting a number.

What we did is we shifted the entire process. We weren’t using the data, right? So we put the exact data in, we understood it on an individual basis. Throughout the day, throughout the week, every call we had, we reviewed it, we’ve talked about the building blocks. We didn’t talk about… we had them learn to, say, if your funnel of five key metrics are working the way you want, or aren’t, what are you doing about them? And what are you doing them about them by individual?

And it’s just that process of learning to talk about that engagement at a deep level. And as you do that, people are kind of learning new muscles, learning to practice in a little bit more concrete way, versus, as you jokingly said, Pete, but it’s the truth. I’ve seen it, unfortunately, too many times where people are like, “If you don’t hit your number, we’re going to have to let you go.”

And so what kind of training have you been doing? And most people insist, “Well, I’ve done a ton of training,” and they said, “Well, let me sit on the next one.” And they think it’s trading, right? But they’re not really getting into the weeds of sitting down and listening to that part of the process. So let’s say it’s a phone call converting to an in-person, converting to a “I’m in” and they sign a piece of paper saying I want to do this.

And then it converting into, you know, revenue, which is there. They’ve stayed for five days in our business, and they’re excited to be with us, right? So in that business process, we get caught up in in too many things that are trying to get to that number, because I’ve got to make sure that 8 out of 10 of them show up, and that they stay for whatever number of days are for the requirements to hit their number.

So getting out of that mindset to, say, when you set the right stage, you do it the right way. You sit with people individually, and you understand how this works, and you get them excited about doing it right. And when they do, — and I know — the results improve. They may not improve the same for everyone. Of course, they never do almost. They improve for that person because you’re helping them get better. And once that success happens, which in most sales cycles, if you’re unlucky that your sales cycle is a year, then it’s pretty difficult.

But if your sale cycle is daily, weekly, in a month, you can really see shift in the thinking quickly, just by the evidence alone. But usually, people at first resist a little bit, because they’re the smart person and they want to do it their way or they feel like they’re a little vulnerable, because they’ve never really gotten into the weeds and sat down with an individual and had to shift their thinking of what should be done because they were good at it before. “You should be doing what I tell you to do, not with naturally you’re coming to,” right?

So it’s just going to help them do that over and over again, you know, measuring how they do it, saying, “Hey, it looks like you haven’t really made any improvements here. Let’s talk about it,” and you kind of go through it again. And then when they have a success, then you give them the praise. And you tell them, you know, they deserve to be here. And that is it’s working.

So stay the course and they get a couple wins. And now they’re heroes. A few cases. One case in particular, there’s a guy in Ohio that was mathematically successful, and yet, just under his number, because he was managing two numbers. So he wasn’t my direct employee. But I brought a team out to sit down with them. And we walked through each of his team members and their performance.

And we talked about, you know, what’s working and not working. And he felt threatened at first, because he felt like, “Well, gosh, I can see what the company does. Why are you coming here and talking to me?” And so after we get done, he had his numbers for the next six months. So it wasn’t about hitting the numbers. It was about, don’t stare at the number, because you just miss it all the time. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis  
Oh, yeah. But what’s so intriguing here is that… but this doesn’t sound like revolutionarily brilliant. It’s not. Like this is sort of what we’ve always should have been doing. But soon enough… it really is cool. This brings me back to one of my favorite cases when I was consulting at Bain and Company.

I didn’t think it would be a fun case, but it really was quite fun. There were call centers, and they had a problem with attrition. The call center representatives were quitting way too fast. Now, attrition is high in that industry, because that’s not a really fun job for most people. But it was way higher for our clients and even sort of the industry norms and standards.

And so we found a lot of the same steps in terms of, first, we had to clean up the data. Like we didn’t have reliable attrition data. It was it. So no one believed it or trusted it or regarded it. So it could always be sort of just put to the side, like, “Oh, you can’t trust those numbers.” It’s like, “Well, let’s make it so we can trust them.” And so that was kind of my roles. Like we were just getting down to these details. “Alright, day by day, every day, someone is going to tell me, ‘I need these six call centers; how many people quit?’ ‘Month by month, this is what the attrition numbers look like.’”

And then all of a sudden, it’s like, “Hey, you had a great month, what did you do?” “Oh, well, we tried this incentive thing.” It’s like, you know, what, we realized was that we had some supervisors who were just real nasty, and quit way faster than the other supervisors. So we noticed, and we replaced them. And yeah, it was just sort of like, there wasn’t like one magical silver bullet we discovered in terms of, “Oh my gosh, people love candy Fridays.”

But there’s just lots of little things, like, “Hey, what are you doing? Oh, that’s a good idea. Maybe we should do some of that. It’s a great job.” Those numbers are really moving somewhere. And they trusted it. And they had visibility, because more and more people, it was kind of fun that they kept asking to get added to my list. It’s like, “Oh, sure, thank you. I am the keeper of the attrition numbers,” which is funny because we’re an outside consultant. Like, they didn’t have their own attrition numbers they could trust.

And so, it’s amazing how I hear you. I guess the resistance is, one, it’s a little bit more time, it’s a little bit more detail that you’re getting, maybe an executive doesn’t feel that he or she should have to get into this level of weeds or whatever. But you’re saying, “Yes, in fact, you do.” That’s how it’s done?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, you have to. And what everyone has in common, even the smartest of the companies with PhD analysts and people that you used to work with, and probably are just fantastic at gathering data. But are we getting the right data in the right way? Are we testing? Are all the other links broken? Are they not broken? And can we not do it? Does that person know where to go when someone’s watching, to say, “We’re pulling data from 15 sources, inevitably, and every 90 days, if you don’t test it, something breaks, and all of a sudden, you have to visually catch it,” versus having some way of making sure that your data is your life?

And when it’s accurate, it does change radically. So it’s not a very soft thing. But it is the beginning. You have to make sure you’re looking at the right information exactly to your point. And you said something that is just absolutely the truth. And what I find to be kind of fascinating is we over engineer, we overthink so many things to the point where, “Well, we got to figure out a way to save on costs and get a better process. And let’s go analyze,” we brought in, you know, companies like your old company, and we spent 10 million bucks.

And we learned the same thing: some of us already knew not to say that it wasn’t smart. It was smart, but you can’t decentralize a few things. But you can on the numbers, meaning, if it’s a high-touch business component, the business process, you’ve got to know the difference on some level, you got to make a bet on something. And I would say that’s where we lose traction.

Often in business, around efficiency is when we overthink the power of the human potential, the power the human being. And we try to find a kind of a Tayloristic Ford Model back 100 plus years ago that, now, is agile workflow. And all the amazing feats we have now is just outstanding process analysis and distribution of this great wisdom. But it only goes so far, if that makes sense.

And at some point, you have to be human again, to kind of really understand the power of that detail showing up in a conversation, in a kind of a lengthy understanding, of you know who we are and this and that, then it’s very easy to discern. Do you fire someone? Do you say goodbye? Do you move them somewhere else? Or do you stay the course?

Pete Mockaitis  
And to that story with that 5.3% go into the 7.6%. So were there was it kind of the same kind of a concept? Like there wasn’t one or two silver bullets? Like, “Aha,! We just have to do this.” But rather, maybe dozens of tiny discoveries associated with when you follow up. Don’t say this, but you say that it wasn’t like that?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, absolutely. And in fact, you know, I replaced a few people, as you know, often happens. But in this case, one of the most brilliant minds I’ve ever worked with, because he could do all the coding, he could study all the data, he could go in and write code, he could get into the back end of the website. All these things that were important, but I couldn’t do it myself, I don’t have all those skills. But he did. He would trust the data at the cost of the people.

And then I had a salesperson that would trust the people at the data. So yes, it was a dance, and we all learned, in a very fun way, when we kind of respected each other’s gifts and talents. We learned that this dance of it all matters. If you take any one of these things out, it does hurt the business. And you know, in some cases, I know how they perform after I leave. And I know a little bit, not always, but often, about what happens once they move on.

We stay the course of getting better and better at that. There’s been multiple exits since I’ve left some companies, and that’s exciting. But often, what happens is they go back to the behavior that is all data, or all hitting a number, or all kind of one-dimensional, because what should be this way? “There it is there. Therefore it should be here.” And they oversimplify, and then God only knows why they come to those conclusions. But it’s wrong. It does take a whole host of different subtle elements, and the data will point. But it will not do as you know. But you gotta get good data points, because it does help with time.

Pete Mockaitis  
All right, well, so given this thorough backdrop, What are the four rules of flight?

Guy Bell  
Yeah, weight, lift, thrust, and drag. Yeah, that’s the flight in business. If you look at it at a micro and macro level, every business has one thing in common when it fails. And that’s too many policies to correct behaviors. Free people up. And the only way you can do it, there’s only one way, is you have to trust that people are going to make mistakes, and that the mistake isn’t going to kill the business. That therefore it can be one less, until it’s that business killer. Again, back to there’s no one solution; every industry will have different rules. But if someone doesn’t pay attention to that, it is the beginning of the end.

So I would argue, one of the most important positions possibly in business is not someone that’s an executive, or a manager, or even an individual contributor. They’re all important. But maybe the most important thing to learn about four rules of flight is someone needs to say, “I give a shit—” excuse my language, “—about four rules of flight, and our business model, of whether it be oil and gas or education or retail, and it’s digital and ground.”

Some of them ensure that we’re staying true to the fact that we want to make the biggest decisions possible at the closest point to a customer that we can. And if we stay true to that someone, better yet, say, we’re going to tell the lawyers that are saying, “No, no, no, we had that risk. And it cost us X number of dollars because we had three lawsuits based on that behavior. Therefore we’re creating a rule, and then we kill the potential of making a mistake,” for sure.

But we also kill the potential of changing a customer situation, for sure. So to me, we measure the wrong things. It gets ridiculously complex, when you try to measure all of this additional kind of wonder state of what happens when you don’t know the unintended consequence. You may take your 55 lawsuits, which is usually what I walk into, and bring them down to zero, but at what cost? And 55 lawsuits came from, in their minds, too few rules. Not always the case, but often, there are too few rules, or they’re not the right rules. And perhaps they’re just simply bad training.

Perhaps you’re not setting the right stage to say when you have the freedom to make that decision, individual contributor working on a customer engagement, and they say, “As a customer, I’m not satisfied with this experience.” And you say, “Well, let me help you resolve it.” When you have that power, do you really know how to resolve it? And the answer is often no, but don’t give up on it; get better at resolving it, so that the customer gets a just-in-time answer.

The employee gets to expand their talents and contribute at a higher level, and therefore feel really good about solving something. This day and age, we often say, “My manager needs to talk to you,” and then no managers there. You know, all the goofiness that takes away their power? That’s just crazy.

Pete Mockaitis  
I hear you there. All right, so the four rules of flight then is not rather, “Hey, here are four key principles,” but rather the concepts that are in flight, they’re exactly four rules. And obviously in your operation, you should have exactly the right number of rules, correct? Not too many, not too few. Okay, most have too many. So we talked about budget troubles, what are some other rules or policies or traditional practices that you often see, just need to go?

Guy Bell  
Don’t create a culture; there’s no such thing. There are people that have PhDs in some form, and they consider themselves to be culture experts. What I’ve sadly learned, because I’ve made that mistake more than once, is a culture is a reflection of us leaders. And this is ultimately, even on a macro scale, a reflection of all of us. So we co-create culture. Culture is primarily driven in companies by behaviors at the top. And the irony of those four rules, kind of lessons, the four rules of flight, it would be, you know, one, too many policies. Two, your thoughts need to match your words, need to match your actions.

And when they’re misaligned, your business will fail. It may not fail tomorrow, it may not fail obviously, but you need to be aligned. And most companies choose to have a boardroom mentality, meaning what we think, and in the boardroom, most executives are less than kind. But you know, the kind around results that are positive, but not always. But they get down fire about, hitting our numbers, hitting our quarterly results, whatever these things are. And then we go sell the customer on the other side, a story of our business that…tries to make everyone feel good.

And then we go tell our employees a story that an HR department or an OD group comes in and says, “You know, well, they’re not too happy. Let’s go create a happiness poster.” That’s not the way it works. And it may be, you know, a good selling point for a minute or two years or five years or 10 years. But ultimately, either don’t have any of that crap and, you know, walk your walk, meaning if you’re an owner of a company, get a stable top management. It starts with them. They need to be able to say, “You know, what do we believe firmly?

“What are we communicating to our team? And so they can believe in it with us. And it’ll inform our execution, if we do that beautifully, elegantly. Regardless of if we’re kind of driven and we’re dehumanizing or not, the greatest people in the world, then damn it, stay the course.” Be who you are, as a company, as an individual group of owners, leaders, whatever that structure is the top. And then I would say, conversely, another really big mistake is not empowering everyone to become an expression of what that is, once you have a clear definition of, you know, by practice of how you look at your customers, how you’re kind of looking at one another and interesting in the conversation and empowering or not, right?

So whatever those variables are, that is the culture. And then from that place, really, how do we get into the individual contributor, a way that they can relate to it, however they are, wherever they sit, whatever they do? They matter, they have to matter. As I mentioned, if it’s one too many people, then don’t have them there. But if they’re there, they matter. So the culture is their expression in that exact same way with a different impact, but an impact all the same. So that’s one of those rules where I routinely… I’ll use an example.

I write about this, you know, you look at a company that everyone would have bet that 20 years later, Whole Foods would have been the most lovely place to work and the most beautiful culture because of how it began. It was the first of its kind, too unskilled to do what they did. And then you look at Amazon, who purchased them, was not known for being the most interesting guy to work with in terms of, you know, happy culture, and you know, feeling good about ourselves, but he’s executed at a very high level. And for better or worse, to my knowledge, they’re pretty well-aligned.

And so, two years ago, when I was watching this acquisition go through, and I kept thinking, because I know a lot of Whole Foods folks and I’m a consumer of both products. I quit consuming from Whole Foods, because it just became an experience that I felt, as a customer, was out of alignment. And I consumed more, frankly, from Amazon, who I felt like, you know, I read the articles, and I knew some of the backstory about what it was like to work there and stuff.

But it was authentic. No one walked in wondering what the experience was going to be like. And I remember reading an article that the founder and owner at the time of Whole Foods, said he met with Jeff Bezos, and we’re excited to come aboard. And he said, “Really, the difference I learned from Jeff and his company, was that I cared too much about people.” And I thought, “Dude, you have it totally wrong. You just you had it on a bunch of posters that you cared about people; you didn’t actually care about people.” And I’ll give you one more example of that exact lesson, I was running a publicly traded company.

And the CEO was an executive. The CEO came up in front of everyone in the management team and said, “You know, guys, we’ve got to get this turned around. We need to get people to feel like we care about them.” And I said, “Then just care about them.” And he said, “Well, what’s the point? What point do you want to you make?” And I said, “You said you want them to feel like we care about them, then don’t say that you don’t care about them. But if you really want to care about them, just care about them.” And he looked at me like, “Who are you?”

And we got to know each other well after that, but what’s happening is, I want you to feel like you have a voice. Do you want to have a voice? Do you really want respect? Either way, you don’t get to choose it. So that kind of thought process crops up, and then all of a sudden, it becomes you know, Whole Foods failing miserably. Because the thousandth time you say you care, but you don’t care, people trust their limbic resonance. Their body screams, “Man, this dude is not here for me. He’s not the person that created this company. I’m sure he’s a fantastic guy on a personal level, but he got caught up in something that was a concept not embedded into the fabric of that company in a way that everyone learns over time to trust the truth beyond our words,” right?

So aligning our thoughts, our words and our actions are critically important, too. Everyone counts; not some people, everyone. If you leave that, you’re in trouble. And then another one, it always starts with you. Always, not sometimes, not most of the time. So that means every janitor, every kind of entry level employee, everybody counts. And starts with you. You can change a company, you can change an experience, you can change a process. You’ve developed ways, but ultimately, you have to come in and say, “I’m not going to blame anybody. If I do that, I’m going to leave. But if I’m going to be here, I’m going to invest fully in what I have control and power over. And then I’m going to try to influence what I can see, feel and experience. And I’m going to do it in the most positive, affirming way. But I’m going to do it.”

If we can get to those four points, you know, four rules apply to many policies. Our thoughts, words and actions match. And then two, everyone counts in. One, it starts with me. That’s probably the closest version I can get to using that four concepts to simplify it.

Pete Mockaitis  
That’s good. Thank you. So when it comes to the caring, I’d love to get your take on it fundamentally, what is your top tip or suggestion when it comes to caring?

Guy Bell  
Wow, I love that. I would say the worst thing we can do is create the candy days in the lunches, where we go take a bunch of pictures and post them and make everyone feel happy, and that concept.

I think show up as you, and invite other people to show up as them, and let the messiness of life play its role. People are messy; we have bad days, and we don’t have separate lives, whether we like it or not, we’re not a husband, a wife, you know, a spiritual person, and you know, in this bucket, and then a dad in that bucket, it doesn’t work that way. And so what does it mean to truly invite other people into their fullness? To include you know, some of the mess and in that you earn some trust and that people start to kind of live into their fullness in a way that does matter and does get results. But ultimately you’re doing it to humanize the experience. You’re doing it because you care. And when you give a damn, and you authentically give a damn—or if you don’t—practice caring, practice listening, practice hearing everything, and then shift it if you want to go to business and say, well, let’s talk about a business process. I saw What’s going on? What do you think? And you’re four levels above them walking around the office? And they say, Well, I don’t know until Oh, yeah, I really do want to know, let’s talk about a little bit and never said they tell you their thought. And once in a while, you just get totally blown away by something that’s not in their backyard and you earn some trust, because you care enough to say I’ll bet you have an opinion. I’ll bet you see this from a different angle than I do. And then ask and let goofiness and silliness and stuff get in the way. But ultimately, you’re freeing people up to be everything to include transformative to include

You know, passionate, caring person toward the customers towards each other for the good of the company and the good of the community.

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

Guy Bell
Boy, I don’t have a list. So no, I’m good. This is fun. Thank you.
All right. Thank you. Well, now, could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Guy Bell  
Geez, I like Buckminster Fuller’s quote, and I am not going to get it exact. But it’s something to the extent that to really change how something is working, you have to start over. You can’t just add on. And so I use it a lot at the end of my speeches. Of course, I didn’t memorize it. I think Buckminster Fuller, pretty much everything he kind of has come to and shared, that we’re now aware of his lexicon of ideas, is helpful.

I don’t tend to use too many quotes, though. Having said that, because I do like the idea of more expanding into kind of what is the complexity beyond the quote’s point, but I like the rich complexity to that end. I wish I had a better ones to share with you, but I do find the ones where it’s teaching us to free up our thoughts. You know, there’s all kinds of wonderful thinkers that have, over the years, over the centuries, talked about what does it mean to be a free thinker. So I enjoy any one in the field of philosophy and or economics that talk about free markets and free thought.

Pete Mockaitis  
Cool. And how about a favorite book?

Guy Bell  
A couple of them, I recently I read The Innovation Blind Spot. And it’s really a fantastic read. I also read a book, Utopia for Realists, which is from a fascinating young guy from Europe, who is looking at sociological history and kind of challenging modern thought through data. Very smart guy. And then I’ve read a couple books, one called Sapiens and Homo Deus, they’re are all fascinating reads.

Pete Mockaitis  
And how about a favorite habit, something you do that helps you be awesome a job?

Guy Bell
I go to bed, ensuring that I free myself of the day. I used to stay awake all night, when I had challenges at work, or whatever the case would be, and it became a practice of letting go and playing in that field. And then waking up in my first hour, half an hour of every day is a practice of, you know, quieting and reflecting on the on the joy of the day, and I walk into it, then converting that into kind of more mantras and thoughts throughout the day that support the kind of day I want to have.

Pete Mockaitis  
And was there a particular nugget you share with clients or readers or audience members that really seems to connect and resonate with them? And they repeat it back to you often?

Guy Bell  
Oh, you know, I think the message of learning to let go of what you know is such a rich and complex story.

But when I get into the details of let go and know, people began to resonate. And yeah, so I get feedback on that message. Another is, very specifically, when people ask for concrete approaches, I talk about policies from the lens of if it’s a rule, make sure everybody knows it’s non-negotiable. If it’s a policy, make sure you’re writing it towards something you want to accomplish, not away from something you don’t want to see happen. And if it’s a best practice, put it out there and don’t make it a point until you need to. And I’ve had lots of groups that are HR-centric, like how simple that is.

So that one’s red, meaning if you want to call it color coded, so that you know those are non-negotiable, they’re laws by governing bodies, whatever it may be. Yellow is our policies; they’re meant to be broken, you need to learn how to break them no more than, you know, whatever your rule is, 5% of the time. And if you do have a conversation, and three, we put out great ideas that your peers have used over the years. And we keep refreshing that it’s a nice, simple way to kind of put some meat on the bones of how to simplify the business without dumbing it down.

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

Guy Bell  
guypbell.com. It’s my website, and you can reach me at my email at guypiercebell1@gmail.com.

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

Guy Bell  
When you get people right, you get business right. It is really the critical reminder: we are in a time of the fourth industrial revolution; let’s do everything we can to make that work for us. And I’ve seen it both ways where it’s been transformative around working for the company and for the people. And I’ve seen it actually used improperly. So, you know, look at the people, even through the lens of these outstanding AI solutions and deep learning, and we’ll get the best both worlds.

Pete Mockaitis  
Guy, this has been a treat. Thank you so much for taking this time, and good luck with the turnarounds you’re doing and the adventures you’re having in the future you’re touching. This has been a real good time.

Guy Bell  
It’s been a pleasure, Pete. Thank you. I appreciate it.

257: Innovating through Empathetic Collaboration with Turi McKinley

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Turi McKinley says: "Being able to synthesize what's important is probably one of the most under-appreciated and most important skills."

Turi McKinley talks intuitive design thinking as an alternative approach to problem solving.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The importance of human empathy in problem solving
  2. Three keys to apply the design thinking process in your organization
  3. Pro-tips for getting brilliant ideas flowing when you collaborate

About Turi 

Turi McKinley is the Executive Director of Org Activation at frog design. Turi’s 15+ years in design encompasses design research, interaction and service design, and currently focuses on driving change within innovative teams and organizations. Turi leads frog’s capability building and process design practice across frog’s global studios, and with frog’s clients.  With clients, she had led transformation efforts for GE as they developed a user centered software capability; for health insurance companies seeking to develop new customer relationships; and CPG firms developing ways of working faster and more iteratively.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Turi McKinley Interview Transcript

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

Turi McKinley
I’m happy to be here. Thank you for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, certainly. Well, so tell me, I understand you worked on a wide array of products, and I was intrigued by maybe some lessons learned when it comes to doing deodorant bottle design.

Turi McKinley
Oh, that’s an old one. Yeah, sure. So, we did a project, I think this must’ve been maybe six or eight years ago, but it was a U.S. client, it was a consumer packaged-goods client, and they were interested in understanding how they could change their products to be appropriate for the market in Mexico and South America. Very different areas but we first went to Mexico.

And the challenge, the thing that had happened in the market that they felt they needed to respond to was one of their competitors a couple of years ago had taken the deodorant bottle, particularly for the roll-on kind, and turned it upside down. And they did that because there was an insight that customers, when they buy these fluid products, like toothpaste and things like that, they want to get the last drop out of it. Literally, they want to squeeze the last drop out of the bottle.

So, with the roll-on where you can’t do that, turning the bottle upside down, very simple design change, helps the customer think, “Wow! With that product I’m going to get every last drop of that fluid deodorant out of that bottle.” So, they wanted us to help them understand how they could respond to that in Mexico and these other markets.

So, we went, and I think the design of the bottle was an interesting thing, and we came up with some really great solutions. But, for me, as somebody who comes from a research background, my background is in anthropology and design, what was really fascinating was observing how different the cultural context for sweating is in Mexico than it is in the States or Europe.

So, in Mexico you have a much more socially-stratified society, and being a laborer, being somebody who is outside and who is sweating visibly through their clothing has a really strong social context or social sense of being lower than other people. So, sweating rises all of those, that nervousness, concerns about being sweaty, and being seen as somebody who might have to be outside or be a laborer.

So, we started to observe these patterns where people were buying six or seven bottles of deodorant at a time. They were buying one for their gym bag, one or two or three or four at home to have a spare in case they ran out, one for their desk at the office, and one that they were taking with them out to the club because even if it wouldn’t stop them necessarily from sweating, the sense of reapplying the deodorant was necessary for calming that real strong sort of cultural nervousness about being seen to sweat.

Pete Mockaitis
Fascinating.

Turi McKinley
Very different than like my high school experience with realizing that sweat was an issue, you know.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then, when it comes to design, I guess there’s an upside down bottle as what how one competitor reacted to it, but I guess in another context in which it’s like, “Sweat means you’re a loser,” I don’t mean to put words in your mouth, but I mean, if I’m just going to really dumb it down and simplify so it becomes all the more critical to have it on hand everywhere. What do you do with that?

Turi McKinley
Well, you start thinking about, “Okay. Now, if we’ve observed this reason, this desire for protection from sweat, it’s not so much about deodorant, it’s not even so much about anti-perspirant. It’s protection from that social connection with being lower class.”

I can’t sort of tell you exactly what the solution was with the client went forward with, but some of the solutions we came up with were things that are really were portable that could go out into the club setting. So, if you think of, do you remember those strips that you would put on your tongue that would dissolve and they would have like – what’s it called?

Pete Mockaitis
The Listerine Cool Mint PocketPaks?

Turi McKinley
Listerine. Yes, those Listerine Cool Mint PocketPaks.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m looking at one right now. I’ve got them near my desk.

Turi McKinley
Right. And those packets, they speak to portability, right? You can put it in your pocket, in your bag, you can have it at your desk as you do. It’s very easy and you don’t have to fuss with liquid or spilling or any of that. So, if you take that kind of format and that kind of technology, now think about that around your underarms. Could we design something that would enable somebody to have that super portable pack to        freshen up when they are on the go, something that’s not a bottle stuck in their pocket when they’re out at the club, or in their purse?

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Turi McKinley
So, those were some of the kinds of directions that you start moving when you have the capability as a team to be able to say, “Our client makes fluid deodorant.” Okay, so the client wants a solution that’s about selling more fluid. But let’s take a step back, let’s really try to understand the person who they want to buy this product, and understand the cultural context, the emotional context within which they work, and identify a solution that will be really appropriate to them.

So, doing that research, spending time with people, and having as a team the freedom and the openness to look for the right solution, not necessarily the solution that the client has asked for, is one of the most important skills that I think has enabled Frog to be as successful as it has in the 13 years that I’ve been here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s cool. And, I guess, you’ve already got sort of a leg up on sort of my next question. I just want to get oriented a little bit. So, can you tell us a little bit about Frog design and your role as the Executive Director of Org Activation?

Turi McKinley
Sure. So, I’ll give you a little bit of a background on Frog itself. Frog is, we’re about 45 years old now, maybe a little more than that, but maybe 50 years. But we were founded in the late ‘60s in Germany as an industrial design firm, and our founder, Hartmut Esslinger, had a point of view on design which was that form should follow emotion.

Basically, we need to make products that are emotionally resonant to people, that speaks to who they are and to their needs. And if you think of German design back in the late ‘60s, it was form follows function, and the Bauhaus, and all of that kind of sometimes inhuman but very functional design.

Pete Mockaitis
I have the Dyson voice in my head now and I just can’t… vacuum cleaners is just there. German design equals Dyson. It’s just there.

Turi McKinley
I can see that. So, with that ethos of form follows emotion, Hartmut ended up meeting Steve Jobs back in the ‘80s, and they partnered to create the design language for the first Apple computers, and that relationship is also when Hartmut decided to relocate the company from Germany to California which is where our headquarters are today.

But it also started our engagement with the digital era. The Apple computer, if you think of emotional design in computing, that was really in many ways continues to be one of the best examples of design that people have an emotional relationship with. So, for frog, as we started working with digital, that idea of form following emotion was still very much a part of our design.

And I joined frog about 13 years ago, and at that time, I think digital and industrial design or physical design were kind of separate, but they were starting the movement that we really see having taken full force today of convergent design where you’re no longer a designer who is designing for a little black box, a digital designer designing for a little screen inside of a box. You are now thinking about the full experience of a product or service regardless of whether it’s a physical, digital, or otherwise off-screen experience.

So, frog, as a company, still has that human-centered design very much at the core of what we do. But, today, we really are a company that designs human experiences, and we’re trying to design these experiences that transform businesses and transform markets.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Cool. Well, designing human experiences sounds like a whole lot of fun. I like being a human and experiencing it and creating stuff, so that’s good. And now, I want to talk about some particular skills that any professional can use based upon your unique area of expertise. I first discovered you through the LinkedIn Learning Lynda.com course about Learning Design Thinking, and I just knew, it’s so funny, I knew the design thinking was really cool.

So, it’s like I remember I had a little training on design thinking for like one hour when I was working in strategy consulting, and they’re like, “This is like the completely other way to think about things,” as opposed to how strategy consultants, we have a hypothesis and we gather our data and we validate it or refute it, and then we refine.

It’s sort of like, “Design thinking is a whole another way to run you brain.” I was like, “Well, that’s cool.” So, I’d love it if you could sort of orient us a little bit to what is design thinking and how is that potentially useful for professionals?

Turi McKinley
Sure. So, design thinking these days is a term that gets written about a lot, and people are very interested in it. I think there’s sometimes a temptation to think of design thinking as a kind of magic. In many ways, design thinking is how you approach problem-solving. So, when I think of design thinking, there’s kind of four things that are the key components.

I think of design thinking as fundamentally a very making-based approach to problem-solving, and when you think of problem-solving that is design that’s rooted in human empathy and that’s done by collaborative teams of people who come from many different skillsets. As I was talking about frog as a company that today is designing for the physical world, for the digital world, for experiences that might suffuse a theme park, or influence a multinational company.

Design today, or problem-solving today, is so complex that it really can’t be solved by just one diva designer who has a great idea. You need to solve problems by having people of many different skillsets looking at the problem and being able to work together to understand the problem space, to understand and have empathy with the people who will use the product.

And one of the best ways to actually activate all those different skillsets and minds is by making prototypes together, trying it out, talking about, “We understand what the deodorant example. We now understand the social context within which deodorant operates within Mexico. We can talk to the person who might be able to make the strips and understand what’s the possibility here that we could find a solution that would be something that doesn’t exist on the market today.”

I think the difference with some of those traditional business approaches that you mentioned are that, traditionally, businesses are very good at taking a very structured approach to saying, “These are our business capabilities. This is what we’re good at. This is where we have a strength in the market. This is perhaps a new technology that we’ve created, or something that we want to sell. Now, let’s take that new technology, take our business capabilities, package them together and make a new product.”

They tend to be very good at that. They also tend to be very good at kind of incremental innovation, “If this is happening in the market now, we think that the next thing that will happen will be this. Let’s go test that hypothesis. Let’s match that to our business capabilities and let’s launch it.”

A design-thinking approach fundamentally starts from a different place. The problem might be, “How do we grow into a new market?” But, instead of starting with the business capabilities, you start by understanding the people in that new market, whether it’s somebody who is suffering from a rare form of a disease, or if somebody who is a Gen Z teenager now and we’re looking at a product that might be launched for them in five to 10 years, both of those are recent projects. But you start with the people and you use that to help you understand what might be.

Pete Mockaitis
What might be, just like in terms of what is, like the reality they’re in?

Turi McKinley
Well, yes. So, I think human empathy begins with understanding how people see the world around them. Understanding the business is about understanding the world within which the constraints, the opportunities, the strengths within which the business operates. Looking at the market is about seeing trends and what’s happening whether the new technologies, new opportunities that are shaping society, but fundamentally to get to an innovative new idea.

You, as a group, or as a team, need to be able to say, “What if.” You need to be able to take all that foundation, those constraints, that knowledge, that empathy and take the kind of lateral thinking leap to say, “Maybe this could be. What if this is where the world goes in five years? How will my company have an amazing relationship with its customers in five years if the world changes this way?

How might I change my relationship with my brand’s relationship with the market if I launch this new type of product?” that kind of thing.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so I’m thinking about maybe zooming in here on an example. Let’s say we got a professional, and I’m thinking about sort of mostly innovations that we can do sort of on a weekly, monthly, quarterly basis. I think some will be creating a whole new products and services that individuals will be purchasing.

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But I think more often the innovation has to do with processes that are happening in the realm of the regular work week, in terms of, “You know what? This is kind of dumb. Surely, we can do this better,” whether that’s, “Does anyone read this report?” or, “Are we making the best use of our meeting times?” or, “Wow! Email is sort of taking over our lives. Is there a better way?” So, maybe, could you maybe walk us through how a design-thinking style process might go down to refresh and replace a process that happens in a real place?

Turi McKinley
Sure, yeah. The work that I do with frog at the moment is very much focused on helping companies make those kind of changes.

Pete Mockaitis
Perfect.

Turi McKinley
Yeah, the Org Activation practice at frog is taking kind of what we’ve learned around what makes companies successful, and there’s three major things that we’ve been seeing that make companies successful. The first is that ability to take a human-centered design approach not just to your products and services, but to how your organization is structured.

The second is if companies are not able to really have the nimbleness to sense and respond what is happening in their relationship with their customer, very rarely can they be successful. And then, the third piece is that companies need to have the ambidexterity to have a small part of their business that’s really focused on thinking about where the market might go and taking big risks even as the whole organization might be much more focused on the moment and incremental change.

But to get there, to get to a company that has that ambidexterity, that nimbleness and that empathy, you’re right, often a lot of internal processes within the organization need to change. If we take an example, like you mentioned, around meetings. Are we doing it right? Are we getting what we need to out of the meeting? Are we able to get all those different voices actually listening to each other? Or is there something within our process or our way of work that is more focused on shutting people down than really enabling us to get to some shared ideas?

So, when I think of a good process for design thinking, there’s a couple of things that really stand out. One is that the teams need to be clear about the goal that they are attacking or that they’re going after. We tend to think in large businesses that the company strategy has given us a goal or the ask from our manager that we’re all aligned on. But that’s not necessarily the case.

Those things exist and they’re very important, but for a team to work together effectively they need to have the ability to set some shared goals together. So, one of the most important aspects of kicking off a design thinking relationship within a team is having the ability to talk about, “As a group, what are the goals that we have together that we want to achieve here? Yes, there’s the business goal, but what is the broader goal that we’re trying to achieve?” So, whether it’s a meeting or whether it’s a six-month process, having the time as a team to set some goals is really important.

One of the other kind of key aspects to design thinking is having a shared space. When I was saying kind of key aspects of design thinking, one of them is about collaborating, and the other is about making together.

Turi McKinley
I think with design thinking, it needs to be both collaborative and it needs that aspect of prototyping together and making solutions. So, having a shared space where your team is able to come back to use the walls, use the space to externalize the thoughts that you’ve had around, “how we’re going to solve this problem and work together off screen, face to face,” is sometimes an unrealized but very important part of effective design thinking. It’s having a shared space where you can work together to solve the problems.

Another key piece of the process is about having the ability to get out and build that human empathy with the users of your product or service. That might be having somebody who understands design research on your team. It might be having the tools within your company that enable you to get out and actually have a connection with your users.

But even without special teams, even without special tools within the company, the team itself needs to have a bias that, “The best way I can solve this problem is to understand how people think and feel about this problem, so that is both in the discovery process of what am I trying to solve, but also in the iteration of solutions.”

Pete Mockaitis
And that seems quite a sensible starting place. Could you maybe contrast that with is there a common practice that starts from a different place? And what is that in terms of just shining a bright light on the key distinction to make here?

Turi McKinley
Yeah, very often programs start with, or teams often start with the business requirements and the business constraints for the problem that they’ve been asked to address. And, ideally, the team that has design thinking at their heart will take the business requirements and the business constraints as one part of the discovery of the problem that they need to solve.

The other part that they will find a way to bring in is that human empathy so they can begin to, as a team, start thinking about, “What do I need to achieve for the business? What do I need to achieve for the user? And bringing in that multidisciplinary voice, what are the opportunities that technology begins to offer me to make those solutions?” And I’m speaking about technology broadly here. It might not be digital technology, but the how it’s solving the problem. When you bring those three things together, that’s where you find the best solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Understood. And so, then, maybe could you help bring this to life a bit in terms of, “Hey, here was a process within an organization that got refreshed or replaced via using a process just like this”?

Turi McKinley
Sure. We did some work several years ago now with GE. And GE, it’s one of the world’s most successful companies. It’s been around for a long time. They have an incredible engineering organization, and they also have a really interesting management structure where they move people around through the organization, and have a real focus on educating their teams.

But in 2010, GE discovered that, through an industry report, that by revenue they were the world’s 14th largest producer of software – by revenue. And when they looked at that, and they looked at GE software and the kind of services that they provided, they realized that while GE’s engineering is really about they make amazing things that spin, you know, train engines, drills, airplane engines, but a lot of the revenue was actually coming from the analysis of the data that comes off of those spinning things.

And GE had evolved in software practice very much in silos to respond to clients’ ask for, “I need to visualize this data. Make me a piece of software.” So, it’s a very reactive practice. And when they took a look at their revenue, they realized that that revenue could be under threat from a company like IBM that’s very good at processing data and information and providing analytics.

So, they made a very large investment to create GE’s software backbone, the industrial internet that GE has launched recently. But they realized that in parallel to that, that this software initiative would not be able to succeed if they didn’t build a culture within the organization that understood user experience, both at the management level and at the team levels. So, they needed to find new processes, new ways of thinking, new ways of work that would enable their product owners and engineering teams to understand the user of software.

So, we worked with them over the course of a couple years to help them identify within their very successful processes, “What were the things that needed to change to enable a culture of user experience to flourish within the organization? And what were the specific kinds of tools that could be created to really be positive actors that would help people take on these new ways of thinking and new ways of acting?”

Turi McKinley
So, GE needed to develop a set of processes and ways of thinking that would help their teams understand the users of GE software. So, we’re talking about oil field managers, we’re talking about people who manage fleets of aircraft engines, people who are responsible for servicing, managing the servicing of those kinds of devices.

There were many different things that we did, but I think one of the most surprising changes that helped begin to build the design-thinking attitude within the GE teams was, oddly enough, the creation of a PowerPoint. So, we created a PowerPoint that it’s not a PowerPoint that was used in presentation. It was a PowerPoint presentation that was meant to be used by a salesperson when they went out to talk to the customer who might be buying a fleet of aircraft engines.

Hidden in the margins of that PowerPoint were a range of different little elements that the salesperson could use in having a discussion with the client to build a dashboard for the data that would be displayed by their software. The reason this was important from a human-centered design perspective was GE salespeople were accustomed to saying, “This is what we can do. Of those things, what do you want?” Or, having their customer tell them, “I need this thing. Go build this thing for me.”

So, by enabling, by building a tool which supported a conversation of needs and opportunities, we were able to help the salespeople begin to talk about something they were very unfamiliar with, with their customers which was what software might be able to provide that customer.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay.

Turi McKinley
So, the design thinking aspect of that is really on two parts, and when you are trying to change an organization you need to be able to think of the end-user, in this case that oil field manager or the person buying a fleet of aircraft engines, but you also have to be able to solve for the mindset of the employee within the company, so in this case that was the GE sales team and how could we understand their needs and how they think about a problem to be able to find a tool or a way of work that would help them begin to shift their processes and how they approach their relationship with their customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent. Thank you. Well, now, I’d love it if maybe we could just hear a couple of the super brilliant actionable tactics that you found effective in terms of you’re working with different types of folks and trying to get brilliant ideas and creative flow. What are some things that any professional might use to get some more brilliant ideas and thoughts flowing when they’re collaborating?

Turi McKinley
Yup. So, super tangibly, I’ve been surprised at how many client org of my clients have trouble getting things like Post-it notes or other media that enables externalizing ideas and rapid moving and sharing of ideas.

Not that it’s hard to go to your local store and buy some Post-it notes because they’re super common, but some of the organizations I’ve worked with, the process of procuring Post-it notes through the procurement system is very challenging. Like the procurement team may have said that, “There is a limit of the number of Post-its that your division or your group or the supply closet can have.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, man. That drives me nuts.

Turi McKinley
Right. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
That just kills my inner enthusiasm really. Oh, boy. So, once you got the Post-it notes…

Turi McKinley
Right. Once you got the Post-it notes what do you do with it? So, the reason you have a Post-it note is not to use it like a notebook, to have lots of things for Post-it notes. The reason you have a Post-it note is to put one idea on a piece of paper so that you can share it with other people on your team. So, as you think about how you process or how you share, because design thinking is about collaboration, it is about how you share ideas with your team, think about using your Post-it note to be just one idea on a Post-it note, and make one or two words big. The big idea.

Use it like a headline on your Post-it note. Even if you make a few other words below it. But think about your Post-it note as a tool for sharing an idea and for putting it out there so that it can be grouped with other similar ideas so that, as a team, you can come up with, hopefully relatively quickly, a way of understanding shared ideas.

The other sort of next upskill from that is the skill of beginning to, when you look at a group of Post-it notes, ask yourself, “What’s important here?” Fundamentally, being effective in design thinking or really just collaborating with the team, the people who are most successful in driving collaboration are able to synthesize what’s been said in the group and share it back to the group.

So, there was a creative director here in New York who has since left, and he was one of the people that I learned a vast amount from. He would, in a, let’s say, hourly-long meeting with a client, he might be not saying anything during most of the meeting, but I’d see him making some notes on a piece of paper in front of him, and then some time, usually in the last 15 minutes of the discussion, he would stand up and he would go up to the whiteboard and take the things that had sort of been circled and grouped and thought about, and he was able to take that red marker, draw the two lines between things, and say, “This is what’s important. This is what we’ve agreed upon. This is what we understand now from this meeting.”

So, when you are leading a design-thinking team, you are leading a team that is open to ambiguity, that is out there generating a lot of ideas, there’s Post-its everywhere, the Sharpies are flying, but if those ideas are not able to be understood in holistic sense and synthesized into some understanding of what’s important, or, “What do we want to investigate next?” you will not be effective as a design thinking leader.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Noted. Thank you.

Turi McKinley
I don’t know. As I think of tools from the very basic, having Post-it notes, to kind of the meta level, those are kind of the two layers. Having the tools, having the shared space, being in the room together is crucial. But as a team, you need to keep that goal in mind and you need to have the ability to synthesize information and ask yourself what’s important.

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

Turi McKinley
Sure. I’m looking back at some of the questions you asked. When we were talking about physical space, one of the things that I think is really important with having a space for design thinking, is that the reason you’re in a space together is to take your ideas off screen and out of the air and put them into a format that can be shared by the team.

The reason you want to do that is that everybody is going to be coming to it with a different set of knowledge, and you want to create a format whereby people can share their knowledge and it can begin to be structured and synthesized into a new understanding.

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

Turi McKinley
Let’s see, a favorite quote. You know, I was talking about synthesis and how important synthesis is in the design thinking process. Fundamentally, when you are designing something, you’re trying to solve a problem but you’re trying to make it real. So, I think one of the quotes that I really remember a lot is from Thomas Edison, and it’s, “Vision without execution is hallucination.”

So, as you’re working, the goal of anything that we do as designers is to make something real in the world. So, as much as we think of ideas and go open, we are going open, we are generating ideas in order to find the solution that we can build and bring to life in the market.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Turi McKinley
So, I’m really a fan of imaginative fiction so I’ve recently been re-reading a number of the Ursula Le Guin books. She asks very interesting questions in her fiction. I think the one I’ve been reading most recently is The Dispossessed, which is imagining that we are in a world where anarchy is the way of the social rule, and somebody from this anarchist planet goes to a planet that is a market economy, and the book is about his experience of that.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, interesting. Thank you. And how about a favorite habit, a personal practice of yours that helps you be effective?

Turi McKinley
I listen to a lot of podcasts. When I go to the gym, I find that TED Talks are the perfect length for my 20 minutes on the treadmill or the jogging machine, and I feel like I’m not wasting time as I kind of explore new ideas as I run in place.

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

Turi McKinley
For me, on Twitter I am @turisays, T-U-R-I-S-A-Y-S, and @frogdesign is also great to follow on Twitter or LinkedIn, and visit our website.

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

Turi McKinley
I think being awesome at your job, the one thing I would say is figure out how you can be the best. I think my challenge would be that being able to synthesize what’s important is probably one of the most under-appreciated and most important skills that anyone working in a team can bring to the table.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, Turi, this has been a whole lot of fun. I wish you lots of luck and creative insights and a-ha moments in your design work and all that you’re up to.

Turi McKinley
Great. Thank you.