Tag

Management

434: Building People and Killing Policies with Guy Pierce Bell

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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.

414: How Culture Change Really Happens with Gretchen Anderson

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Gretchen Anderson says: "Everybody wants a culture that's aligned with what the business is trying to do."

Gretchen Anderson provides research insights on cultural shift from her work at the Katzenbach Center.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The four elements critical to a work culture
  2. The role of the critical few in an organization
  3. How to leverage the behavior you already have for the bette

About Gretchen

Gretchen Anderson is a director at the Katzenbach Center who has been working  with client teams across the globe for over 15 years. Gretchen has a doctorate in literature from Stanford University and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland, with her two children, Jane and Calvin. Her new book is The Critical Few: Energize Your Company’s Culture by Choosing What Really Matters.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Gretchen Anderson Interview Transcript

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

Gretchen Anderson
Hey, how are you, Pete?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I’m doing well. I’m doing well. I think we’re going to have a good time here.

Gretchen Anderson
Great. I’m really looking forward to it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to get your take, first of all, it seems like we’ve got something in common
You and I both listen to podcasts while falling to sleep. I want to hear all about this habit of yours in terms of what are you listening to and how do you do it. What is actually stuck in your ears?

Gretchen Anderson
Yes. For a while I was really into these headphones called SleepPhones. They had a great pajamas for the ears.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh that is nice.

Gretchen Anderson
Which, I loved that name. But then I actually just discovered I could put my iPhone under my pillow and I just let it play.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, okay. That’s great.

Gretchen Anderson
What about you? What do you do?

Pete Mockaitis
I think I’ve got something called CozyPhones, which sounds similar.

Gretchen Anderson
CozyPhones. Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And you’ve got SleepPhones.

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. I used to listen to strange recordings in the days before podcasts. Then I would get sick of them. But there’s some sort of perfect middle of the Venn diagram of it has to be interesting enough that it distracts me from my own thoughts, but boring enough that it doesn’t keep me awake. Obviously, Pete, Awesome at My Job is never going to be in that category.

Pete Mockaitis
You know just want to say.

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. But also I like that the voice is familiar. Sometimes I’ll listen to things on linguistics. Topics that are sort of adjacent to mine and that I find interesting, but are not directly relevant or else my mind will still want to pay attention.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Well, I’m intrigued by the SleepPhones. I’ve been using CozyPhones, which are nice, but they have a cord. I see the SleepPhones are wireless.

Pete Mockaitis
Thanks for the tip. I can get wireless there. I like to also listen to podcasts or Blinkist, which has all you book summaries. They’re a sponsor, thanks Blinkist, of the show. Or sometimes a TED talk, just the audio, because that …. You go, “Oh, okay.” Then once one goes, it’s like okay, that’s about the right amount of time. I’ll be asleep now.

Gretchen Anderson
for me if it has a dot of music, it wakes up like a bolt of lightning. Yeah. Honestly, the production values can’t be too high because I can’t have music.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you for digging into that element. You’ve already educated me with something that could be transformational.

Gretchen Anderson
I’m glad. I’m glad. I’m glad. Everyone will be awesome-r at their job if they get a good night’s sleep.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you on there. Can you orient us a little bit? You’re a director at the Katzenbach Center. You do a lot of work associated with company culture and simplifying that. Can you orient us to what do you do and why does that get you jazzed?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, so I run a knowledge center within a large consulting firm. I work within PWC. I run a center with a team that is the firm’s kind of incubation engine on topics around culture and leadership and motivation and performance.

Pete Mockaitis
I like all those things.

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, it’s really fun. I get to have – we do research, we write, we have articles, we publish this book that we’ll be talking about today, and we get to take this very cross industry, cross-the-globe view. PWC is a very, very large global firm. We get to be part of conversations about how ideas and theories, about how culture works in a business context are happening literally everywhere. It’s really fun.

We get to see what’s kind of universal. What’s the common X-factor that’s going to help both a local green construction firm in Baltimore and a giant global technology firm? What’s going to ring true for leaders at both of those organizations? That’s the really fun part about my job.

Pete Mockaitis
That is interesting, yes. You share some of your learnings in your book, The Critical Few. What’s the main message of the book?

Gretchen Anderson
The main message of the book is that culture, just like your strategy and your operating model, can and should be considered as absolutely a problem and an issue and an opportunity that gets leaders out of bed every day and that that motivational piece of the business if tapped and cultivated can be a source of positive energy for whatever it is that you’re trying to accomplish.

Pete Mockaitis
Positive energy, I like that. Well, could you maybe give us a picture of that in terms of maybe it’s a case study or a story or example of an organization that went from not so energized to wow, this is great.

Gretchen Anderson
we ground the book within a fictional case study about a CEO, who we call Alex. We did this in part because culture is such an intimate topic for so many organizations.

The book is the story of very much a composite of all the companies we have ever worked with. It’s the story of a fictional company, who has a CEO who’s come in that’s kind of a company in retail.

They’ve got a lot of things going for them, but a lot of things are tough. By working with this leader, we’re able to help him understand that working within and through the culture and the motivations that people have, he’s able to get the best out of that business.

Pete Mockaitis
Could you maybe orient us to what’s it look like when it’s not at its best in terms of the energy and the vibe amongst the people in terms of the daily grind versus the happy place toward the end?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. I would say the real switch is that people within an organization before they begin kind of an evolution on culture that’s kind of purposeful and kind of critical few-ish in the way that we describe in the book, at the beginning they’re thinking about culture as something that’s standing in the way of getting work done in the way that they want to get work done.

It’s the thing that people throw their hands in the air and say, “It’s the culture. What are we going to do?” or “I would love to get this done,” or “This keeps happening and it seems like it’s the culture.”

It goes from being something that they feel is out of their control and kind of obtrusive and causing kind of drag to at the end of the book, they feel like there are specific things that they recognize what their culture is, they see it’s sort of core traits of who they are, they see how they came to be that way over time and how they’re not going to change them quickly.

They also understand that by being really precise about the behaviors that more people could do more of every day, by being really precise and really descriptive, by motivating and rewarding when people do those few behaviors, they’re able to start seeing them self-reinforce. They’re able to start see them virally spreading.

The book ends with a scene in a retail store, where the CEO and one of his board members literally watch a guy not knowing he’s being observed helping a customer in a way that he wouldn’t before and sort of attaching that to understanding that he’s part of this new shift in the culture and the direction.

Pete Mockaitis
When we say, “Hey, it’s the culture. It’s out of control. It’s a drag,” can you give us some examples of particular issues or complaints that folks would affix to that? “It’s the culture. It’s out of control. It’s a drag. It is what it is.”

Gretchen Anderson
we hear companies talk about this all the time. These are going to be really familiar to you and your listeners. They’re going to be, “We spend too much time in meetings and nothing ever gets done.” They’re going to be things like, “We’re drowning in a situation where decisions can’t be made without consensus.” It could be, “The way that things are drawn on paper, nobody follows those processes. Everybody bends the rules.” It could be all sorts of things.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I’d love to hear then sort of what are the four critical elements that you zero in on?

Gretchen Anderson
if I had to sketch the whole thing out for you, it sort of is the overall message of the book and of our approach is you have to be very comprehensive in how you think about what a culture is, but you also have to be willing to just start by looking at a piece of it and focusing in there.

Culture is a kind of ecosystem that includes how people behave, and how they feel, their emotional energy, their mindsets. It also includes specifically how they behave and show up to work together.
You, however, you can’t influence people’s mental states because they’re private, because I can’t tell when they’re changing. But what you can do is you can be very specific about behavior. We talk about behaviors as a point of entry.

We also say the culture of an organization as it exists today is where you need to start from. If you were to say to me, “I want to build a culture that looks like the culture of this wonderful restaurant down the street,” or “I want to build the culture of that technology company that everybody always talks about,”

I would say, “You know what, Pete? The culture of your organization grew up to be that culture for a reason and it supported the way that business has gotten done to date. Let’s figure out where you start from and then we’ll figure out where you’re trying to get to next.”

To bring it back to those four elements – that’s how we talk about that first element of the theory is this idea that every organization has a critical few traits. if we’ve all got the name of the same business on our business card and we all show up and work here and we’re part of this ecosystem, we’re going to share some family resemblance things in common.

Those might be things like a relationship orientation or they might be things like a focus on metrics or faith in our leader or – they’re a set of characteristics that if you met somebody you’d never met before but they both worked in the same company, you’re going to presume that they share.

And importantly, each one of those traits is going to have ways that they’re supporting you getting work done and ways that they’re hurting the work that you need to get done. There’s this notion that there are critical traits and all of those traits have ways that they’re helping and hurting. You can’t change them quickly, so what you might as well do is figure out how to work within them to get more of what you need.

Pete Mockaitis
Now when you talk about these traits, do you have sort of a master menu, if you will? I guess when you think of culture sometimes we can think about particular continua or dichotomies, like, “Oh, it’s very relationship oriented versus process oriented.”

Gretchen Anderson
Yup.
It’s always a tension because have you ever talked to any organization that is purely one or the other, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Gretchen Anderson
It’s interesting. We started thinking this way about traits seven or eight years ago. At that time we kind of purpose built them every time. We did a lot of interviews and kind of by hypothesis sort of built up what do we think these traits are after every – we’d have a lot of conversations. Then we started to realize some of these traits seem original to a company, but there’s a lot of ones that we kept seeing over time.

We’ve built a survey-based tool to kind of pull those out. That survey-based tool is definitely on kind of a poll of like “Are decisions made in this organization by consensus or are decisions made by single point of accountability?” “Do I feel I’m rewarded only for the financial metrics I deliver or do I feel that there are a broader set of points on which I’m evaluated?”

Very few organizations are going to fall far to the left or fall to the right. There’s definitely like a kind of spectrum quality to where organizations show up.

Pete Mockaitis
I love when you get really specific that way in terms of, hey, decisions can go one way or the other and sort of somewhere along the lines and then they how you get rewarded also. Can you unpack a few more of those dimensions?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, sure. We also think about is it very hierarchical or is it very flat. We think about do things follow the org chart or is everything very loose and informal? It’s those kinds of like, where are the pulls?

Another thing that’s really cool that doing this survey over time, I mentioned we do research the Katzenbach Center. We do longitudinally. Every couple of years we run a survey across organizations that mainly have been our clients basically because we have their emails. But 2,000 people in 50 countries responded to our last survey, so we get a pretty global and kind of cross-industry perspective on how people view these kinds of things as well.

We asked some of those questions and then mapped them to the industries that they answered. We’re even being able to start to say these are the kinds of traits that show up in particular industries.

We are saying yes, every organization kind of has its individual thumbprint, by taking such a close look at each organization, not against some external framework, but sort of in a very intrinsic take it in its own terms way, but by mapping that over time and looking across a lot of organizations, we’re able to see some trends that don’t mean, “Oh, we’re measuring you against our scorecard.” They’re very much built on the organizations own responses.

Does that make sense? You’re kind of wonky like me, I can tell. You’re asking me very detailed questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Because I think the world culture can be a little fuzzy for some.

Gretchen Anderson
For sure.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of “It’s the way we do things around here. It’s like the vibe. It’s the feel, Gretchen.” I think the more that we make it all the more precise is like, “What I mean by culture is when you make decisions is it more like or more like that? When people are rewarded is it more for this or more for that?” If you have any more kind of extremes or ends of continua, I’d love to hear them.

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. Well, so some of the things that we’ve had a chance to see – one thing – and it’s actually come up in a couple of difference sources recently. Let’s talk about that spectrum of how we’re rewarded.

Am I, Gretchen Anderson, rewarded as an individual within my company? Do I feel like it’s just going to be metrics? I’m sorry. Do I feel like it’s just going to be financial metrics or do I feel like there are also going to be sort of how I made the people on my team feel and a sort of broader set of metrics?

We did a regression analysis against the 2,000 respondents. A guy in our network said, “It would be really interesting to take that data, do a regression analysis against how proud I feel to work where I work.” The highest correlation in any of those scores and questions we asked, the highest correlation was “Are my metrics broad?”

I thought that was really nice because I sort of know that intuitively. It feels better to me as an individual to feel as if my whole self – how I mentor people – it feels good to me as an individual to feel as if a broad set of metrics are applied to my performance than just one specific one.

But I really liked that our data – because we didn’t ask, “Do you your metrics make you feel good?” or whatever. We actually just did that correlation. That was really nice.

Then similarly, PWC has done a survey outside of the Katzenbach Center, a survey called Digital IQ. They did an external analysis based on market data of companies that are most innovative in a digital space, like highest digital innovation that they looked at externally rather than by asking them, “Are you digitally innovative?” It was a set of external market criteria. And then found broader performance metrics tended to correlate as well to higher digital innovation.

I thought that was cool. I try to take a point of view on culture. We try, within the Katzenbach Center, to say we’re not saying any kind of culture is all good or all bad and we’re not saying, “Look, here’s our scorecard of good culture. Take the survey. Uh-oh, you only got an eight.” That is not what we’re doing at all. We’re really trying to take every organization on its own terms and encourage them.

This is very much what the book is about. We’re encouraging every organization to look within, figure out what you’re best at, and try to do more of it rather than apply some external measure. But then the nice part is that over time and being very deliberative in this space, we’re able to start to actually say there are some things that we do see and believe really drive the kind of motivation that feels like  everybody wants more of.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s hear some of those. What are some of the things everyone wants more of?

Gretchen Anderson
What everybody wants is a culture that’s aligned with what the business is trying to do.

We argue the goals should be for if you are trying to do the hard caloric work of evolving your culture, that is about trying to find ways to make sure that individuals working within your company feel there is an alignment between the kind of messages I’m getting and kind of what I’m rewarded for and all of those things feel coherent for me with what I need to do to help this company perform.

In our mind when we’re saying, “You want to work on your culture,” we’re saying that should be your goal.

Pete Mockaitis
Very nice. Then that’s rather thoughtful then in terms of making sure you have that alignment as opposed to for instance, I think let’s say innovation. “Hey, we want to be more innovative. We want to have more ideas. We want to make them happen. But there are sort of behaviors and rewards and bonuses that are tied to never being wrong, for example.”

It’s like, “Oh, well, there you go. I feel kind of disjointed being here and it’s not so fun. Am I supposed to come up with wild ideas, which may or may not work or am I supposed to just sort of do the thing that we all know works, which would not be innovative?”

That’s nifty. Then I’d love to hear then, how do you zero in on particular behaviors and can you give us some examples of behaviors you might zero in on to support something and how you would get those reinforced?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, the idea is that those behaviors need to be not chosen at random, but what they need to be is they need to be a bridge between what we understand the culture to be today and where we’re trying to get to.

Let me explain it in the context of I’ve currently been having conversations – a wonderful guy reached out to me, who’s running a green construction firm in Baltimore.

He’s very much talking about “In this world that I’m in, how do I get everybody in my office from the back office staff to the frontline people, to be all more customer-focused, even if they’re not dealing with customers every day?”

We did this really fun workshop with them around given these kind of core traits of who we are, the sort of pride in our business, this sort of attachment to our leader and his vision and these traits of who we are, team oriented, safe and careful—what would customer service behaviors look like that would be grounded in the way we are today, that we all agree would help us kind of outperform our peers in the market on the dimension of customer service, but what might behaviors be?

They talked about like, might a behavior be a dress code, might we have a consistency of style and dress that would mark us as part of this company, that would be appealing? We actually had a wonderful conversation about one of the core traits that had come out in this company was a real organization-wide, autonomy was valued.

We had this amazing conversation about what might a behavior be of we understand how to dress for work that would respect that autonomy trait. We can’t roll something out organization-wide and make it really sound like a heavy new policy without it being tissue rejected by an organization in which people feel like they should be able to make autonomous decisions every day.

Again, none of this is magic, but what I’m trying to sketch and show was that by having these conversations and the ways that we’re grounded and the concepts that we talk about in the book, it kind of framed the right conversations such that they were able to talk about behaviors in a way that felt very realistic and practical and approachable and real.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. So what are they going to do?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. What they also decided to do and this is another really core part of the theory is they are going to work with the people in the organization to figure out the right answer. They’re going to work with the people in the organization, we call them the critical few people.

These are the authentic and formal leaders, who have a finger on the pulse of how everybody thinks and behaves there, who sort of intuitively know what the kind of emotional triggers are going to be for people. The leader there has decided to name a couple of those authentic, informal leaders, sort of put the case to them.

Again, I get to go all the way back to this overarching theory that the best that you have in your organization is already inside of it. A lot of times you need to guide an organization to understand that the answer isn’t going to come from something external, but from paying attention to the voices of the people inside.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. As you’re going about doing all of this, are there any particular tips, tricks, do’s, don’ts, key things you find yourself saying frequently as you’re making it happen?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, absolutely. A big one is it’s much easier to act your way into new ways of thinking than it is to think your way into new ways of acting. That’s from an author named Jerry Sternin, who wrote a book called The Power of Positive Deviance. We love that quote. This is about a sort of behaviors-first approach to making things happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Now could you give us a couple of examples of behaviors that have just been transformational in terms of you’ve identified this is the thing we’re really going to do and reinforce that just had powerful ripples for organizations?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, I could, but I want to pick on that question a little bit because I think innate to this idea is that the things I describe, there isn’t a behavior that is so magical that every organization could pick it up and apply it. It’s an adjustment from “Here’s what we’re doing today and here’s how it could happen better.”

It might be walk the front line and talk to folks every day and listen to what they say or it might be send every meeting invitation being very specific about what the outcomes of the meeting will be. It’s that there’s been energy behind that particular behavior and we’ve kind of agreed that if we commit to it collectively, it’s going to help us get somewhere rather than that there’s a – I wish there was.

If I could change every organization by saying, “There is a behavior and that behavior is hugging.” I would love to say that there is some universal solution or some behavior, but it’s amazing it’s usually the behaviors that organizations come to, it’s very important that they come to that consensus and that they describe those behaviors in language that makes sense to them, but it’s actually kind of hard to pull them out and show why they matter because it’s such an intimate answer.

Pete Mockaitis
I can understand that how for different organizations that, for example, the email meeting requests that are very specific on the outcome.

When you adopt that behavior, some groups would say, “Yes, what a breath of fresh air. That’s what we need so badly because we just meander all over the same place and we waste all this time.” Others would say, “Well duh, that’s how we’ve always done every meeting everywhere, every time, so there’s not a really a change or a gain to be made.”

Others would say, “Why do we need that at all? It’s self-evident. We all know what we’re trying to do here. Just two or three folks get together and we chat about how to bang out the widget better. It’s not that complicated. We don’t really need to do that.” I hear you that different behaviors will be the potent leverage prescription for different organizations.

In terms of how you zero in on what’s the thing for a given organization, it sounds like you identify the traits that you really want and then you talk to the people who are influential and have their finger on the pulse and are emotionally intuitive and with it with folks to see what they’re hearing and what they think would resonate. Are there any other sort of key practices to surface what might the kind of highly leveraged behavior be?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, absolutely, but let me make a small correction on what you’re saying. What you do is you leverage not necessarily the traits you really want, but the traits you really have. I know that sounds like such a small distinction, but it really is about you have your aspiration of where you’re trying to get to, but the important part is, you’re trying to ground it in a just where we are today that’s realistic.

Then you understand what we have, you understand what you’re trying to get to, whether that’s customer centricity in my example or in a highly-siloed healthcare organization we were working with recently, we understood that to be collaboration. That was the strategic aspiration that we needed.

But then the really critical thing to do as well is this notion of you choose what you’re going to measure and why. You resist the temptation and the impulse to try to find a comprehensive set of metrics that will measure everything and instead you say,

“When things start to change and feel different around here, where will we actually see that difference and how do we make sure we really pay attention to that and kind of drop a thermometer there such that we’re able to really get beyond people’s natural cynicism that culture can’t change, demonstrate, look, we said upfront there would be this proof point and we have it!” and use that measurement and the reporting of that measurement to be the energy that helps people move forward and move on.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us some examples of measures, so for example, collaboration, what kind of numbers might you put on that?

Gretchen Anderson
There actually was a really cool example from our own firm. We did in the Canadian firm within PWC, they did an organizational network analysis.

Everyone sort of took it as a – this sounds correct that we’re constantly asking partners in a professional services firm to collaborate with other partners outside of their business area. That sounds like a good idea.

But they did an organizational network analysis to figure out who sort of had the densest networks and whose networks stretched across – if I’m a partner in financial services, how well connected I am to partners in other parts of the business. They were actually able to correlate revenue per account to partners that had the strongest network relationships outside of their immediate area.

What a beautiful way to kind of specifically encourage a behavior to say “Let’s look at this behavior. Let’s measure how the networks map to this and let’s actually track it to revenue.” When actual business results can be tracked to something that we’re trying to encourage, that’s always really beautiful.

It’s rare and wonderful when you can come up with one kind of very clear metric like that. Usually we say, “Find every point at which – how many people show up for the program? Do we see an increase in engagement scores around particular issues we’re looking for? What are the things that you measure already and where can we see some kind of lift there?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so it’s nice certainly when you see hey, we want collaboration and we’ve got a nice proof point. Hey, look at this correlation partners who are well-connected with all sorts of different areas are having higher revenue per account, which makes sense because they’re able to recommend cool stuff to their relationships at the accounts. Then what is the behavior that you want folks to do more of when it comes to bringing more collaboration?

Gretchen Anderson
Within that example with the partners, I would probably say, if we want to figure that out I would want to kind of trail the partners who are doing it well.

I would want to trail them and say, “Are you flying to different client’s cities and setting up dinners with partners who you don’t often see even if you’re not on a pursuit together? Are you sitting down every morning and writing ten emails to people in the network?” I think it would look different. We would try to figure out what were people doing that seemed to be most influential and how can we get more people to do more of it.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you. Anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and talk about some of your favorite things?

Gretchen Anderson
Sure, yeah. I talked a little bit earlier about interesting trends that we saw in our kind of global survey in those results. We had a really from this very, very diverse 2,000 respondents, we had a very interesting thing pop up. Again, it was the sort of thing that we’d known intuitively through many years of working with organizations of different sizes and different maturity levels and industries.

We walk into an organization and we ask the leaders how the culture is and they very often have lots of positive things to say about it. Then when we go further down into the weeds, into middle management, into the frontline, it is definitely a different story and a lot of times kind of that’s where the truth lies. That sounds kind of obvious, but our survey data popped that out so baldly.

When we asked the question, “Do senior leaders have culture as an important topic on their agenda?” if you responded to that in our survey and you identified yourself as a senior leader, you were 71% likely to agree versus only 48% of people who did not identify themselves as being part of the leadership team.

We were like, “Wow, that’s remarkable.” That tendency to use culture more cynically further down in the organization is almost a universal based on our data. We thought that was really cool.

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

Gretchen Anderson
You’ll like this as a podcast host, from the podcast StoryCorps, I really like the quote, “Listening is an act of love.”

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

Gretchen Anderson
I wish I could remember the author right now – but read an article recently in HBR that was about how we like to believe that open office spaces make people behave in ways that are more collaborative. A huge amount of real estate dollars have been spent on that concept kind of in the past 30 years.

But a guy did a study, a HBR professor did a study using people’s Fitbits to track – there was a major change in an office layout and they tracked by Fitbits before and after how much people got up and walked around and talked to their colleagues. The open office space, paradoxically, made people stay at their desks more.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, is that because you can just talk to someone without moving?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah, or you’re slightly getting so sick of people that you’ve got your headphones I loved that point just in the sense of what we think in a top-down way is going to cause a certain behavior, is not necessarily what’s going to happen. If those leaders had interviewed everybody about what really would drive collaboration, they might not have started with real estate.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Gretchen Anderson
I love a book called Everybody Lies. It is about Google search data. It came out this year. It’s basically about how indirect – the ways that people query in Google forms a sort of more accurate record of predictor of how they’ll behave than kind of direct surveys. I’m getting at really, really interested and feel like the next frontier of culture work has to do around how do you measure behavior not by asking people, “Are you going to behave this way?” but really by indirect forms.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, yeah. Can you give us an example of one way we lie?

Gretchen Anderson
The great example from the book was around – it’s a really obvious one – but if you asked people, “Are you going to vote in an election?” versus if you found out how many people queried the location of their polling site. That second query almost entirely correlated to how many people voted in a certain district versus the question the day before, “Are you going to vote?” obviously a lot more aspirational.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Gretchen Anderson
It’s a good one, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Very good. Thank you.

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. I see that a lot just in talking to leaders about in order to get at culture, you always have to go at it slant. You have to kind of think about what motivates people and what they’re truly going to do.

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

Gretchen Anderson
That’s such a good question. I’m going to say something surprisingly old fashioned. I can’t survive without a notebook next to me at all times.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Gretchen Anderson
I travel with a yoga mat.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh good.

Gretchen Anderson
I won’t get on an airplane without my folding yoga mat in my bag. I think it’s a good sort of self-reinforcing one.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks? You hear them sort of repeating it back to you frequently?

Gretchen Anderson
I think it would probably be about how most leaders wildly overestimate how rational people are.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s resonating with me.

Gretchen Anderson
….

Pete Mockaitis
Rational in the sense of doing what it is in their best interest or doing what is logical or what do you mean by rational?

Gretchen Anderson
Yeah. I’ve taken this very much many years of working with John Katzenbach, the emotional drivers of how an organization behaves are – I’m not going to say more powerful than the rational ones, but so easy to ignore.

And that really understanding the people’s pride in their work, people’s sense of disenchantment when things feel incoherent, people’s motivation to work with someone who makes them feel good about the work that they do. Those are really powerful reservoirs of energy, but that it is much, much easier and tempting for most leaders to really focus on the rational reasons than be utterly baffled why things don’t line up like that.

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

Gretchen Anderson
I would point them to the website for the book. It’s TheCriticalFewBook.com. That will also point them to the Katzenbach Center at PWC. There’s a link through to that. You can also follow me on Twitter. I’m at GBrooksAnderson. You can find our book on Amazon.

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

Gretchen Anderson
I feel like in the many years I’ve been doing this kind of work, I both realized through my own personal experience as well as watching organizations work, I think you need to really pay attention to what gives you the most energy. You need to think about what are the situations in which I feel motivated. Just to find yourself in them more often.

I feel like so many people spend their careers and lives kind of beating themselves up for not feeling that motivation. It’s the quieting down and saying, “What do I feel energy around?” that usually leads you to the question that you and you alone were meant to solve.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely, thank you. Well, Gretchen, this has been fun. Thanks and good luck with all you’re doing there.

Gretchen Anderson
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure. I really appreciate the time.

409: How to Crush Complexity with Jesse Newton

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

Jesse Newton says: "Look for opportunities to crush stupid rules within your company."

Jesse Newton makes the case for simplifying your organization’s complex processes and getting rid of distractions.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The five factors that drive organizational complexity
  2. Key questions that clarify what’s truly important
  3. The communication mistake people make when simplifying work

About Jesse

Jesse Newton is the author of Simplify Work; Crushing Complexity to Liberate Innovation, Productivity, and Engagement. He is the founder and CEO of Simplify Work; a global management consulting firm that helps organizations throw off the shackles of debilitating complexity and reignite top performance. His clients include McDonalds and PepsiCo. Prior to launching Simplify Work, Newton was a senior member of Booz & Company’s Organization, Change and Leadership consulting practice and also spent a number of years consulting around the world with Ernst & Young’s People & Organizational Change practice.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Jesse Newton Interview Transcript

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

Jesse Newton
Thanks so much for having me. I’m excited to connect and talk about Simplify Work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m excited too. I was intrigued to learn that only a few people know that you are a New Zealander. How is this the case? Do they assume it’s Australia or what happens?

Jesse Newton
Well, people see that I’m living here in Chicago and they make the automatic assumption that I’m American. Then when I start talking, they immediately realize that that’s not a Chicago accent.

Then to your point, they automatically go to Australia or England. I even get South Africa. Then people are totally stumped. I have to say, “Well, there is another country in that part of the world and New Zealand is it.” I’ve been over here for ten years and it’s been a fun ride, but still, as you can tell, have not been able to let go of the accent.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, don’t ever let go of it. I think it’s fun. I think it will serve you well in many regards. I had a great manager at Bain who was a New Zealander, Blair Nelson, great dude. He would explain why they’re called Kiwis and we’re not talking about the fruit. He’d go through that.

What’s your take on Flight of the Conchords with Bret and Jemaine and what they’ve done for the New Zealand image?

Jesse Newton
It’s funny. There are a couple of shows and movies that have done incredible things for New Zealand’s image, at least from an awareness standpoint. You’ve got The Flight of the Conchords, massive success; Lord of the Rings; The Hobbit. People think that New Zealand is a land where goblins and wizards and dragons cruising around. It just sort of adds to people’s interest I guess in the place.

But it’s funny, a couple of shows have really raised the awareness, especially here in America, of New Zealand.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we saw Bret and Jemaine live when they were at Millennium Park in Chicago and that was fun. I think in addition to all these goblins and creatures, it’s a land of hilarity and very creative music. We’ll give you that one too.

Jesse Newton
I’ll take it. I was actually at that performance too. I thought it was ….

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no kidding. Well, we could have been in the beer line together.

Jesse Newton
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
And we wouldn’t have even known it.

Jesse Newton
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Your latest work, you’ve got a book here, Simplify Work. What’s the big story behind this one?

Jesse Newton
Well, like yourself, I have a management consulting background. I’ve been lucky enough to work around the world and with over 100 organizations. Basically, every company that I’ve been exposed to has really battled with complexity, so people getting stuck in just meeting overloads and reporting to multiple managers and trying to keep on top of emails and just unclear global matrixes, where people have no clue who’s responsible for what.

It inevitably results in people getting sucked into this complexity, losing focus of those few strategic priorities and becoming very reactive, becoming reactive firefighters. People just get stuck in this ongoing repetitive process of coming in and going through the emotions versus being very clear about what’s truly important, most important, and really prioritizing time, energy, and focus on those few things that matter most.

The experiences coupled with a ton of research really led me to write the book. I really am hugely energized by it. I think there’s just a ton of opportunity for organizations to let go of all those things that are getting in their way, to really liberate the best thinking in their people, liberate innovation, and also employee engagement.

People don’t like coming in and having to spend a huge tract of their week doing administrative tasks or having to submit expenses or spend half the year doing budgeting. They want to come into work and feel energized and passionate about the really interesting, creative opportunities they get to focus on and deliver real impact on the business. That’s done through careful design both from an organization as well as individually at what we can do to help to crush complexity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to hear, you said you did lots of research. Could you unveil some of the most compelling research that suggests just what’s at stake or what’s possible in terms of the scale of how bad and evil and toxic complexity is or the scale of just how amazing of a difference it makes when you arrive at that simplicity?

Jesse Newton
Sure, there are a couple little sort of statistics. There was some surveys, some research done by the Boston Consulting Group a few years ago. Something like 73% of organizations classified their operations as overly complex.

Coupled with that from an employee engagement standpoint, there’s a statistic that I think Deloitte did or there’s some research that Deloitte did that drove to a statistic on 80% of employees being not engaged, not actively disengaged, but just disengaged but not actively disengaged. Basically people are coming in, they’re checking out, they’re going through the motions, not really coming in and energized and ready to put in all of their effort and focus and capabilities into the job.

I’m picking that and connecting that with this complexity piece. There’s just this gigantic opportunity for companies to take a blank piece of paper and rethink how work is managed in their companies.

Then looking into the common sources of complexity – there’s five things. We look at strategy, structure, we look at process, system, and culture. Each of these important elements of an organizations really fuel organizational complexity within the business. Happy to talk about those a bit more, but then the other important piece is we, individually, also are responsible for driving complexity as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you maybe give us an example of an organization or some individuals in an organization that were just crushed by the complexity – they weren’t crushing the complexity; they were crushed by the complexity – and what that looks, sounds, feels like in practice in terms of their experience and productivity and how they came out on the other side and what the new world looks like?

Jesse Newton
Absolutely. I’ve got one direct experience, one … example and then another one that is from research. The first is from an organization that I consulted with recently, in the last two years. It’s a global consumer package goods organization. They were really battling with complexity. I was working with them in a commercial function, so sales and marketing.

They had really high-paid global experts spending a huge tract of their week doing those administrative tasks that I mentioned earlier, the expense processing, the budgeting, and basically were getting more and more angry and disconnected with the company because of their lack of time to do the most important things.

Interestingly during this project, they were hit by this huge global cyber-attack. The entire organization went down. People could not connect to the internet. They couldn’t connect to their email or their calendar, which meant that they couldn’t attend any meetings. All calls, all communications were driven online. This outage lasted for a couple of weeks.

Then when they reconnected and in discussions with these leaders across the marketing sales functions, I was gobsmacked when I heard that they actually felt incredibly liberated during the outage. They said for the first time in a very long time, they didn’t need to attend all of these extraneous meetings. They didn’t have to produce all of these extra reports and fill in templates and navigate through all these different sort of email channels.

Instead they were able to think about “All right, which individuals do I need to connect with directly to drive my most important priorities?” They picked up phones and scheduled face-to-face meetings. Sales people went out and reconnected with key clients and closed deals and built relationships. When I came back, I was very surprised to hear that.

Coming out of that, let’s take this as an example of how complexity comes to life within this particular function. Then let’s get very specific about those specific things that are getting in your way. Let’s do an inventory of the meetings that you attend. Let’s be very clear on the different reports that you need to fill in and the templates you need to fill in. How much time are you spending on each of these different activities?

Then let’s be very creative in how we remove those things or redesign how you get your work done so that those other extraneous things are minimized or handed to a different group or other ways of basically helping them to get more focused on those most important priorities.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Thank you.

Jesse Newton
The second piece was Apple. There’s a great example of when Steve Jobs re-entered Apple in ’97, he’s famously focused on simplicity. You see that in the design of the products. But organizationally, he also drove simplicity.

When he rejoined Apple, there was something like 26 products at Apple. Then he did a review of these different products. Apple strategy at the time was we need to have a product in every industry segment. We need to have a presence there because we’re a top leading IT company. When he joined and did the review, he funneled it down to about I think it was 6 products, so from 26 to 6.

The focus shifted from presence in all of these different industry segments to let’s make the best products that are going to change the world. That transition to a few enabled the organization to focus. His guiding orientation around focus and then top quality really drove that transformation of Apple, which then has led to the company becoming incredibly successful. A couple of quite different examples there on the power of that simple focus.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so could you orient us then? You’ve got five sort of drivers of complexity. If you were trying to bring about some simplicity, where would you start? Or since you’re a good consultant, you know all about the 80/20 principle in action, what would you say are the biggest drivers that really give you a whole lot of bang for your buck with regard to getting that simplification going with a modest amount of effort?

Jesse Newton
Sure, sure. The approach can be distilled into three simple steps. Really, the first is you’ve got to get clear on what’s most important. This could apply to an organization. It could apply to a function, a team, or an individual. That first focus on “Okay, let’s take a step back and think about what are the true priorities? What are the few things that are going to deliver the greatest impact?”

I think that’s critical. It has to be there because without it, you can’t effectively prioritize. You can’t say no to things without that clear understanding of strategic priorities. I would say that that first step is critical.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. How do you do that well?

Jesse Newton
Well, it depends on what part of the organization you’re focusing on or whether it’s individual. But if you’re at an organizational level, it’s strategy, so which products are winning, which services are winning, where is the organization going to win in the future. It’s those types of questions. What are our best capabilities? How is the market evolving? General strategy questions that you would expect at that level.

At an individual level, so if it’s someone … function, it’s “What are my priorities? What are the group’s priorities for the year? How does that translate to me? How can I deliver the greatest impact relative to those group level priorities as well as the organization’s?” and then work backwards from there. It’s sort of answering those sorts of questions.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, could you offer a few more sort of sub-questions, if you will, with regard to zeroing in on the group’s biggest priorities and how you arrive at those. I guess sometimes the group knows it and they tell you and sometimes they don’t and it takes a little bit more work to get there. Then at your own level, thinking about how you can make the biggest level of impact that bubbles up to the group. Do you have any extra favorite clarifying questions?

Jesse Newton
Like, “Are you clear on the company strategy mission and values? What is the purpose of your role? How do you contribute to the business of success? What are your priorities?” I list out a number of those types of questions within each of the areas.

What I think would be more valuable to sort of get to your question is those categories to focus on at the individual level, which I talk about in the backend of the book, those are really around “How do I reduce clutter? How do I get clear on what’s most important for me individually? How do I stop interruptions and distractions? How do I really nurture my own energy? How do I optimize email and meetings and plan effectively?”

Those types of questions I think, given the context of this podcast, would be quite helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh absolutely. I love them all. Let’s tick into each of them. How do we reduce the clutter? What have you found to be some best practices?

Jesse Newton
Yeah, for sure. From a clutter perspective, it’s everything from look at your desk. Is your desk covered in paper? Take time to get your desk clear.

Look at your filing cabinet. I used to be one of these people where I would put documents away that I’d think I’d get back to or that I think might be useful, but when you actually go through and do a review of all the paperwork you’ve got in your filing cabinet, you can probably get rid of 75% of it, which was certainly my experience, which is massively liberating. Just having a clear desk, having a clear filing cabinet enables you to think more clearly.

Likewise with all of the documentation in your laptop on your hard drive. Is it a spaghetti of different folders with numerous documentation? Go through and actually cull all those things that you don’t use. Make it really clear how to access the bits of information you use all the time. Clutter is a big deal.

I’d also encourage people to look at clutter in their own personal environment. Go into your wardrobe and look at your clothing. I still also have shirts that I would think I would wear at some point but never actually did, so just get rid of it. There’s a lot of value behind this whole minimalism movement that’s become quite popular. It is very liberating to get rid of all the extra unnecessary stuff.

Then this getting clear on what’s most important at the individual level, there’s two parts of it. Obviously, we talked a little bit about work and your role within an organization, but what I say in the book and what I encourage is that get really clear on what’s most important to you from a personal perspective, whether it’s family or health or religion or whatever it may be.

But get clear on both your personal and then work priorities. Then organize your time around it so that you optimize it for both. You’re basically focusing all the time that you have during the day and week on those activities that are most important to you, which leads into the third piece around planning.

Probably one of the greatest things that an individual can do to crush complexity is to plan effectively. Be very disciplined about your calendar and carving out time to think, and to collaborate, to respond to emails, to attend the most important meetings. But then also spend time with kids or do whatever you want from a health perspective, etcetera, etcetera. Being very disciplined about managing a calendar is also really important.

The avoiding distractions and interruptions. Our phones are like magnets. We’re just drawn to the phones. We’ve built these habits around needing to check our phones every few seconds let alone minutes.

During the day, if you’re trying to do something that requires deep thinking, work that is innovative or if you’re trying to solve some problems, it really impacts your productivity when you’re being interrupted by a WhatsApp message or a Facebook post or a LinkedIn message. It takes energy to regain that deep focus.

One of the suggestions is be very clear about when you do your best work or how much time you think it’s going to take to produce a piece of work that requires that deep thinking. Then shut off all the distractions and interruptions. Turn off your browser. Even turn off your email. Put your phone upside down and put it on silent. But allow yourself to really focus on that most important activity.

Optimizing email and meetings is another one. From an email perspective, one of the causes of people becoming over reactive is just the needing to respond to the latest fire or having to keep up with these huge email chains.

One suggestion is one email, one action. Don’t just continue to manage email during the day. Carve out time to manage email during the day. It could be every two hours or every three hours or whatever it may be. But don’t allow email to continue to interrupt you during important work.

When you’re dealing with it, act on it in the moment. If you can respond immediately, do so. If you think that you know it’s going to require more time, whatever it may be, then create that time on your calendar and be disciplined about going back to that.

But one of the things that contributes to people becoming overwhelmed is that they lose track of all these different emails they’re supposed to respond to and they forget about some. They become increasingly reactive to it versus in control.

The meetings, really question whether you need to attend every meeting. Have the conversations with the team and managers around optimizing the time. When you’re really clear on what’s most important for you in your role, you can be a lot more deliberate around what meetings you attend and you can say no to things because you’re very clear on your top priorities. That piece is important.

Then finally, nurture and protect your energy. I don’t want to sound too philosophical or like a Buddhist monk, but there’s a lot of value in meditation. I think the whole idea of human energy is going to become more of a buzzword in the next couple of years because we’re increasingly discovering that our energy is key to performance.

Having little mindfulness moments at work give you shots of clarity and energy. It helps to really elevate thinking and consciousness so you don’t get stuck worrying about the minutiae by being caught reacting to things. It helps reestablish that macro perspective.

Understanding your own energy and doing the things that it takes for you to recharge your batteries like going for a walk or that five-minute meditate or whatever it may be, will really help to keep you focused and also not burning out trying to keep up with everything. Those are the few things. I hope that’s helpful.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, thank you. Can you talk a little bit more, you said with email, one email, one action. How does that work in practice?

Jesse Newton
Yeah, going through your Outlook, pull up an email. The idea is as soon as you’re looking at an email, you want to be able to action it immediately. If you can’t, if it’s going to require a lot more work, if you have to connect with different people, whatever it may be, then that creates time on your calendar to come back to it.

The purpose being that you’re not losing track of email and you’re not letting them build up. It’s an efficient way of keeping on top of email without letting them sort of result in an email overload if you like.

Pete Mockaitis
That would be in contrast to, “Oh, got to do more stuff on that, just skip it.” You’re saying, “No, no, we’re not going to just skip it, but rather we’re going to put it somewhere,” in this case maybe an item on the calendar, so it’s out of the inbox and then it’s a calendar item?

Jesse Newton
Right. Or if you don’t need to respond to it, delete it. Or respond to it there and then if it requires a response. But you’re not creating more work for yourself in the future. You’re dealing with it in the moment, which is enabling you to keep up on the constant stream of emails.

Pete Mockaitis
When folks are trying to go about simplifying their work, what are some of the mistakes or challenges or hang-ups you see folks bump into when they’re embarking upon this?

Jesse Newton
I think make sure you have the conversations with your team and leaders. What you don’t want is to all of the sudden be not attending a range of meetings and potentially you’re impacting relationships without the context.

I would encourage people to sit down and just have a chat and say “Hey, I want to be really diligent about wasting my time and I’m clear that I need to achieve these things. I’m driving towards these objectives. Therefore, I’m going to be making decisions going forward on which meetings I really need to attend or how I respond to emails,” whatever it may be. I think just clarify that what your intent is when approaching simplifying work.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you. Okay well then, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Jesse Newton
No, I think, again, the opportunity is huge for organizations and for individuals. I think taking that big step back and either looking at your company or at how you approach work and thinking through strategically how can you do the best work and what’s most important.

What are the things that are getting in the way that are sucking my time or distracting me or pulling me away from the most important activities and what can I do or what can be done to really remove those things and redesign the way you do work to enable that focus I think can really serve to liberate peak performance.

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

Jesse Newton
Well, I’m not sure about favorite quotes on the spot. A couple of books that I read recently that I’ve really enjoyed reading that sort of reinforce a couple of important points. One of them is Steven Pinker’s Enlightenment Now. Have you heard of this book?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah.

Jesse Newton
Yeah. I’m the eternal optimist. I’ve always felt that the world is getting better. It was just wonderful to read that book and to see the facts and data behind how we are actually as a society improving. I think from an organizational maturity perspective and the … of simplify work I think it continues to sort of build on that idea of improvement, of progression.

We are now finally moving away from 20th century ways of managing work. Organizations are becoming sort of savvy around how do you tap into people’s intelligence and creativity, innovation. It’s not just about control anymore, which is very exciting. I think emerging technology will just continue to fuel that shift from an organizational structure perspective.

Then the second is Hardwiring Happiness by Rick Hanson. He’s a neuroscientist and has written a book on how you can basically change the structure of your brain by the way that you think and in particular … moments of positivity. You can basically build more of a bias towards optimism and happiness and contentment.

I think building on that, what I was mentioning earlier about managing and nurturing energy and the power of mindfulness and meditation I think this book is pretty revealing on the science behind actually changing the structure of your brain and building the right habits.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Can you share with us a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Jesse Newton
Favorite tool. Well, I think it’s just coming into work every day and having that reminder of “Okay, how do I – what’s the most important thing to get done this day?” and then immediately jumping into it. It’s just an ongoing – that reminder of “Okay, whatever is critical, I’m not going to put that off and do it in the afternoon. I’m going to do that out of the gate and focus more time and energy on that one piece.” That’s just one orientation that guides the work that I do.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget when you share it that really seems to connect and resonate with readers and listeners?

Jesse Newton
I think it’s just this idea of how do you increasingly tap into peak performance. We so easily get pulled into distractions or get interrupted or we get stuck doing repeatable tasks or in this … reactivity. I think the idea of being much more proactive and deliberate and focused can really serve to liberate peak performance, can help people to really tap into energy and passion and focus.

I think that’s the nugget. I really hope that people sort of step back from the book and feel inspired by the new found reality they can create both within the organization and their life by simplifying it.

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

Jesse Newton
Sure. I think look for opportunities to crush stupid rules within your company. Maybe time bound it. You can try and crush one stupid rule every two weeks. Or all the meetings that come in, question whether you need to attend those, likewise with email.

Approach work through a critical eye. What are the things that are pulling me from top priorities and really question if those are needed. And then have those conversations with your teams to discuss whether all of those things are necessary.

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

Jesse Newton
Simplify Work, the book, it’s available on Amazon. I’m available on LinkedIn. You can contact me by email at JNewton@SimplifyWork.com. I’m happy to get in touch and discuss the idea of Simplify Work.

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well Jesse, it’s been a good time. I wish you lots of luck in your simplifying and all your adventures.

Jesse Newton
Thank you so much.

390: Five Practices for Flexible Course Correction with Ed Muzio

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Ed Muzio says: "If you're a team, you have to act like a team. You can't bake a pie one slice at a time."

Ed Muzio shares how teams can function better through smarter iteration.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How many organizations are planning poorly
  2. Approaches for greater clarity
  3. How to make wiser group decisions

About Ed

Ed Muzio is CEO of Group Harmonics and an award-winning three-time author. An expert in the scientific study of measuring and modifying human behavior, he is a sought-after consultant to business and industry worldwide and a popular media source. His new book is Iterate: Run a Fast, Flexible, Focused Management Team (An Inc. Original, 2018). He can be found at IterateNow.com.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Ed Muzio Interview Transcript

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

Edward Muzio
Hi Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, it’s good to have you. I’m excited to chat about your good stuff, but first tell us a little bit about you learning the piano at the same time your kindergartener is learning the piano.

Edward Muzio
My kindergartener had a talent for music, so we got a piano and got him in lessons. I’ve always wanted to learn to play the piano, so I asked the instructor in the one-on-one lesson, “Can I take lessons as well?” thinking he would say, “You’re kind of too old for this.” He said, “No, adults can learn. It’s a little different.” We go every week and he does his lesson for 30 minutes and I do my lesson for 15.

What I can tell you is I’m ahead of him now Pete and I’ll be ahead of him I’m guessing another six months to a year because I can take on more complex concepts, but he’s going to get ahead of me and never look back because he has no problem with repetitious activity. He’ll keep learning. He has no problem making mistakes and trying because that’s just how kids learn. They fall down, get up again.

He has a sort of infinite patience in the sense of he does get frustrated, but it’s sort of like his whole life is about kind of bumping your head and going on, so he has no hang-ups at all. Plus his brain is so flexible. I’m watching him get better and better. I’m going I have six months, maybe a year and then he’s going to just be amazing and I’m going to be still pecking away at one note at a time kind of a thing. That’s going to be it after that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I have a feeling he’s going to love that moment. I can remember when I beat my dad in chess and I knew he didn’t let me win. It was powerful in the sense that it’s like, “Whoa, I am capable of learning and growing to a point in which I have never been able to attain before.” I read a lot of books about chess from the library along the way. It’s like, “Wow, there’s something to this learning, this discipline, this sticking with things that yields cool results.”

Edward Muzio
That sort of try, fail, try, check, try, fail, try again loop is human powerfulness in learning action. He’s doing it. I think you’re right. I think when the day comes he’ll be pretty happy and I’ll be pretty happy too honestly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, you talk about try, fail, try, fail that’s about as good a segue as you can ever get. You’ve got a book. It’s called Iterate. What is the story behind it?

Edward Muzio
Well, Iterate, it’s that same idea. Iterate is take a step, learn everything you can from that step – assuming the step was in the best direction you could figure out – but now check in again and see based on what you’ve learned what your next step should be. It’s a general concept.

Iteration is used by software programs that produce models for aircraft flight or weather. Iteration is used by plants as they grow. It’s incremental adjustment and it’s a learning loop, kind of like learning the piano, which is take what you’ve learned and incorporate it into the next step. My book, Iterate, is about what we know that management teams in really strong organizations do in that space to make sure the whole organization is iterating.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Well, so that sounds like a prudent, wise thing to do in terms of as you’re trying to accomplish things and make them happen. What’s sort of the alternatives that folks tend to try with less effectiveness?

Edward Muzio
Well, I like to talk about sort of the story of – you maybe have seen this in the book, but the story of walking to your car. You walk out the door of the office or the mall and you’ve got three minutes to get to your car. You start walking. What I just said happens. Every step is the best step you can take from there.

But what’s important about that is as you’re going along, you’ve got your feet, which is the workforce, and they’re detecting changes in the surface or they’re detecting it’s wet or something. They’re able to adjust without calling the CEO, which is your brain. Your brain set the pace and direction, get to the car in three minutes, but your CEO is not involved too much in the work of your feet.

Your feet use a resource. That’s blood oxygen. They can call to middle management, which is cardiovascular, get some more. If they need a whole lot more, that gets escalated even further. Then you do get the message in your CEO office, which is breathe harder or walk slower. At the same time you’re looking out over the horizon. You’re trying to see is that my car that I’m walking to, is there an obstruction in my way. You’re feeding information down.

You’ve got this sort of metaphorical organization, where information is flowing both up and down and it’s meeting at the right places and decisions are getting made at all levels just so that every step you take is the next best one from there. When you notice, for example, that you’re headed toward the wrong car, that’s the moment you change direction, not two steps sooner and not five steps after.

That’s the model. The alternative and what we see in a lot of organizations unfortunately, is this sort of make a plan and then manage people as if sticking to the plan is the goal. You make a plan, you start walking on the line, and then you have this scenario where the people are sort of metaphorically saying we’re not heading toward the car anymore and yet the institution can’t seem to turn.

That’s management by one strict plan at the beginning of the year. It is the alternative; however, it does not produce nearly the observable levels of growth or agility or market dynamic receptiveness or any of those kind of things than an organization, which can actually turn in small ways and big ways when new information comes out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so you mentioned a few potential indicators of performance or result. Can you share maybe any studies or research you’ve done that show what kind of a difference it makes when you iterate versus stick doggedly to the original plan?

Edward Muzio
There’s all kinds of anecdotal stories out there. What this book is based on is it’s based on actually about 70 years of research and experience. The research actually goes back to something called The Institute for Social Research, which was post-World War II, literally following managers around and writing down what they were doing and looking to see does management actually make a difference. Does it matter how you manage.

Then it tracks all the way up to we have information coming to us today about self-organizing systems like ant colonies out of the neuroscience field, which say ants kind of can find their way back and forth in these long lines because they leave a trail and they leave indicators of where they were and where to go next. That’s called … I believe. Don’t quote me on that.

We’ve got this sort of long line of research that all kind of comes together and says natural systems, computer systems, we know this is an effective way to solve problems. It’s intuitively obvious. You can go find the big bears in any space, like you’re look at sort of Intel for example. I used to work there during their growth years.

The famous sort of anecdotal story about Intel is in their early years they were competing with Motorola and someone from Motorola – this is folklore really – but someone from Motorola said, “I can’t get an airplane ticket approved in the time it takes you to adjust your entire approach to our market,” because they could just take this whole big company and just shift it.

That’s what we see in these inner shift companies is once we get these managers doing these simple five practices and doing them consistently, we start to see this agility emerge where we can stay the course for as long as we need to, but as soon as we need to turn, we can turn.

Pete Mockaitis
What are the five practices?

Edward Muzio
Well, the first one is called output and status broadcasting. I should say before I start, these are my words. One of the challenges in this work is language because if I say something that sounds like something you’ve heard of before, you’ll sort of assume I’m talking about that and that becomes problematic because really what we’re trying to do is describe behaviors.

As I talk through these, Pete, you have to sort of think about the behavior I’m talking about as opposed to the terminology. But just broadly speaking, there are five of them. The first, output and status broadcasting is managers are clear and repeated with their teams, everyone else about what they’re trying to produce with the resources they have under their control.

Secondly, they produce dashboards and plots and a particular kind of forward-looking data that shows two levels of the future, so they can sort of show graphically “Here’s where I thought I was trying going to go. Here’s what I now think is going to happen. Here’s the difference between those two things,” so that conversations can be held about the difference. That’s number one.

Number two is what I call work preview meetings. That’s those conversations. That’s management teams getting together saying where do we see this future variance, where do we see a difference between the goal we’re trying to achieve and the likely outcome of the path we’re on and what might we do with our resources to compensate for that.

One of the great sort of tragedies I think of North American management in general is that so much time is spent in meetings looking backwards, “Here’s what was done,” “Here’s a graph of everything I made up until this week,” “Here’s a list of all the things that got done last year.” Some of that is fine, but all you can do as a manager is move resources around at this moment to affect what happens in the future.

If you’re not mostly spending your meeting time talking about that, how do we change the resources around or not based on what we now understand about the future that we didn’t understand before, you’re having a problem. That’s work preview meetings.

That also gets into the third one which is called group decision making. That’s just the issue of once you’re in one of those meetings and you detect a variance, it becomes complicated what you should do about it and there’s some particular information about how to make good group decisions, things like, for example, voting is not a rational way to make decisions because people get focused on obtaining support rather than good information. It’s all around sort of coming to a good decision.

That leads into the fourth one which is called linked teams. We can talk quite a bit about this one, but the idea is that it’s not an org chart. We don’t have a set of individuals each with their own goals. We have a set of teams run by managers and each management team has a set of goals and works as a team so that everyone’s looking up at their manager’s goals instead of fighting with their peers on their own goals. That way those teams link together and do the work for the organization. All of that is necessary.

The last thing is the fifth practice and that is what we call frontline self-sufficiency. That’s the idea that an individual contributor, someone on the frontline has what they need to do their job and to do it efficiently and is so empowered to do it – I hate to use the word empowered. It’s more specific than that. But the net effect is they have what they need, nothing is in their way.

They’re so enabled I guess I should say to do that work that they can actually forecast their output. We don’t have frontline supervisors telling the staff how it’s going; we have the frontline staff telling the supervisor, “I’m on track,” “I’m ahead,” I’m behind.” That’s what leads to those forecasts that I was talking about because that’s how management ultimately knows what’s going on.

That set of five things really keeps the organization always taking a step, looking forward, saying, “Here’s what we thought was going to happen. Here’s what we now think is going to happen. What adjustments should we make? Here’s our decision to make them. Let’s do that and move on.” Then just iterating that cycle over and over again as they chomp away at their goals.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s dig into a little bit of this now. When you mentioned having dashboards and you have two levels to the future, what do you mean by that?

Edward Muzio
Well, dashboards, by the way, is one of those dangerous terms because everyone has one and they already think they know what it means. I do use the word, but I always kind of worry about that. Here’s the concept. Let’s take a really simple example.

This can work for complex things too, but in a simple example, I’m producing something, the line that I run, and I’m supposed to make 100 a week. In a typical sort of North American management situation, I would come to you Pete if you’re my boss and I’d have a graph. It would show week by week how many I made up to today.

Maybe if it was a good graph, it would also have some kind of a plan or forecast line that would show, “Hey, I’m supposed to stay flat. That’s the plan,” or “I’m supposed to do 10% more every week until I ramp up to this level,” so that’s the future. That’s pretty standard in management.

The problem with that is, of course, what you’re going to ask me is, “Ed, are you going to hit that forecast?” Then there’s going to be a long narrative discussion in which I sort of opine about that. Then you try and sort of figure out if I’m trying to hide anything. It becomes this very ceremonial dance.

What we need instead is I need to have a second future on that graph. I need to have what’s done in the past. That’s fine. I’ve got my plan line. This is what I’m supposed to deliver. Then I’ve got a second line that says based on my best intelligence today, here’s what I think is going to happen.

Now that second line might be right on top of the plan line, in which case there’s nothing to talk about, or maybe it varies. Maybe I’m saying, “Look, I’m not going to get as many as I thought,” or “Hey, I’m going to overrun.”

If that variance is big enough, that becomes something that you, me, and my peers and your management team need to talk about because someone else may need to adjust some resources or I may need to adjust some resources to deal with that fact, whether it’s good or bad. Even if I’m ahead of the game, it’s still potentially an issue for somebody who’s going to get overwhelmed by my output. Difference is difference and difference needs attention.

Pete Mockaitis
You said that there’s the plan and then the projection is your best guess as to how things are going to unfold here. I guess what gets interesting there is that there’s – you mentioned the dance, there’s all these layers associated with expectation and authority and punishment, shoot the messenger activities or not.

It’s almost like you have to have a somewhat mature and respectful culture to even deal with the fact that a variance exists. They might just be like, “Ed, no, Ed. Do the thing we agreed that you would do.”

Edward Muzio
Right. It’s funny. The North American management – I always call it the North American management model – we have this sort of mythology. It’s beautiful mythology. It says, Pete, you’re my boss. You say to me, “Ed, look, these are your goals. Go and get them. I don’t want to hear it, just go and get your goals. Don’t bring me forecasts that are different. Just get your work done.”

That’s the mythology. By that mythology you tell my peers the same thing. Then we all bring you our goals and you knit it together into what your boss wants.

The problem with that is that I am going to have variance and my peers are going to have variance. At some point I’m going to come to you and say, “I can’t do this unless you give me some of Fred’s money.” Fred’s going to come and say, “Don’t do that. I need more of Ed’s money.”

You’re going to become – and you know this if you’ve worked in any kind of management space – you become the referee. You’re almost like a parent in a dysfunctional household, where everyone is bringing you their problems, everything is framed as mission critical, and it’s your job to sort it out.

Meanwhile, your boss is looking at you saying, “Is it going to happen?” Your boss is looking down at you, you’re looking down at me and my peers, and everyone is trying to sort out kind of are these people lying to me, are they telling me the truth. It’s a very non-trusting culture, but it’s also a very preoccupied culture with trying to sort of sort out information.

What I’m saying is, you’re right, it is a cultural shift. We sometimes start it by saying, look, no news is bad news because we don’t know what’s going on, bad news is good news because we want to see variance early, and good news is no news because if there’s no variance, we don’t need to talk about it.

What that looks like sort of mechanically is on that graph that I have, I’m going to carry my past production and my past forecasts. Part of what you’re sort of looking for from me and expecting from me is that my forecasts are pretty good.

I’m not allowed to change my past forecasts to match my past production, so over time you’ll see, “Hey, Ed’s pretty good at forecasting his work. When he says this is going to go off the rails, I have a reason to believe him, the team has a reason to believe him. We probably should adjust to that.” Otherwise it just becomes like you said, sort of a fingers in the ears, don’t bring me bad news and don’t tell me – just go fix it kind of thing, but that doesn’t really work.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there. On the second practice, the work preview meetings, can you give us some perspective or tools on what are some great ways to provide previews?

Edward Muzio
One of them is that graph. I’m going to come in and I’m going to say, “Hey Pete, I’ve got this problem. I’ve got some variance. I need to talk about it.” Once you’ve got a team that’s presenting that to you and recommending to you what goes on the agenda, that sets you up to say, “Okay, of all these different variances, I’m going to put this, this and this on the agenda.”

One of the practices is as the manager of managers, have people tell you 24, 12, whatever hours in advance, “Here’s my biggest variance I want to talk about,” and then you be in charge of building the agenda and say, “Okay, from my perspective, these are the most important ones.”

Once you’re in the conversation, we have something called the OSIR – O-S-I-R. It’s an acronym – the OSIR report. That just stands for objective, status, issue, and recommendation. You manage me to make that kind of report.

You say, “Ed, you’re going to make your report now. Tell us about the variance.” I’m there with you, my boss and my peers. I’m going to say, “My objective is X, Y, and Z as you know because you’ve heard this from me before because of my output and status broadcasting. My status is here it is on my graph. You can see the variance. You’ve seen my graph before. You know how to read it,” so that takes a minute.

“My issue is the root cause of my variance,” whatever that is. “I’m short on people,” or “Things are happening differently than I thought.” “R is my recommendation. I recommend to the team that X, Y, Z happens,” “that Fred give me some of his resources,” “that you relax my deadline,” “that I do this or that thing.”

What that does is in about 3 minutes, it tees up the conversation. It’s not 10 or 15 minutes of me talking about reasons and root causes. It’s me talking for a very short period of time, putting a recommendation on the table, a strawman, and then saying “Okay, now here’s what I think we should do. What are we going to do?” You’re the boss, Pete, but we as a team are going to decide together what are we going to do.

Pete Mockaitis
That is helpful certainly, especially because if your variance is bad, it’s probably very natural temptation to make excuses and to share numerous reasons, external factors that can contribute to it just so that the folks who are reporting to you don’t think that you are underperforming because you’re maybe sensitive about it. You’re not delivering on what you hoped to be delivering.

But when you sort of summarize it in terms of this is the expectations that we go in this format, it’s going to take three minutes, I think that could really go a long way in reducing the length of long meetings.

Edward Muzio
Well, it does. One of the pieces that’s important is we always say discussions of status and discussions of history are minimized, not eliminated, but minimized.

We do in that same meeting – the first thing that will happen for the first let’s say five minutes is me and all my peers will just put up all our graphs all at once, that’s that dashboard concept, and say, “Here’s what I’m doing. This, this and this are going well. This one we’re going to talk about in a few minutes.” My next peer goes and says, “We’re all on track here.” Next peer goes and says, “These three are a little behind. We talked about that last week.”

There’s this very brief kind of quick status update that takes maybe ten minutes out of the hour if that. What that does, to your point, is it starts to let people see, so my peers and you to some extent, start to see, “Hey, Ed’s house isn’t on fire. He’s not just a collection of problems. He’s running this whole thing. It’s mostly going okay. Now he’s asking for help in this area.”

It’s a way of building trust because you’re right. If all we ever did was bring in our problems, then what happens is pretty soon my peers see me as nothing but a collection of problems. Then we lose trust. That little brief status at the front end, which educates us by each other’s graphs also educates us as to the fact that we’re trustworthy. Then from there we can go into that brief format and have a conversation. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. Well, then let’s hit the group decision making piece there. You mentioned voting is not the greatest of means to arrive at decisions. What are some key ways that we arrive at optimal decisions?

Edward Muzio
I always feel like I should preface this by saying this is not political commentary. This is business, small group decision making, but voting produces irrational result. Now, some people have said, “Well, we think that’s true in politics as well,” that’s to the listener to decide.

But what we know is if we put a group of people together and say, “We’re going to vote on the best answer,” then the focus turns to garnering support. I’m not going to worry too much about information. I’m going to say, “Hey, peer number one, if you go with me on this one, I’ll go with you next time. I’ll owe you a favor,” kind of a thing. That may be good for me and peer number one, but that’s not so good for the organization. We can’t do voting.

Consensus, which is we don’t do anything until we all agree has been shown to produce good quality decisions; the problem is the time. By the time we get everyone to agree, we’re too late for the business cycle.

We go into what’s called a consultative mode. Now traditional consultative decision making is Pete’s the decider, we’re all not the decider, we each talk to you one-on-one, and then you make a decision. That’s okay, but what we know is in these complex scenarios where everything is interdependent, I actually need to hear my peers talking to you and you need me to hear my peers talking to you because they’re going to raise an issue that I have information about.

We do what we call group consultative, which is each of us has a job to teach you what we know. That’s important. You basically say to us, “My agreement at this moment is off the table. Here’s how I’m leaning or not, but my agreement is off the table. Teach me what you know.”

Then I say to you, “Pete, if we don’t do this, X, Y, and Z are going to happen.” You say to me, “Ed, I think what you’re telling me is from your perspective, if we don’t do this, this, and this then X, Y, and Z are going to happen. Do I understand that?” I say, “Yes, that’s it.” Then that part of the conversation is done. It relieves me of the stress of feeling like I have to convince you to go my way. It also puts the focus on the information transfer.

You learn as much as you can from all the team members. In the process, they’re learning from each other. Then as the decider, we already know before we start it’s going to fall to you to make the decision. The decision you make is not necessarily the most popular decisions. It might or might not be.

It’s not a vote. It’s not a who spoke the loudest or who spoke the most. It’s you saying, “Hey, I’m the person in this seat and I’ve got the role of decider and based on what you all are teaching me right now, here’s my decision.”

Here’s another tip your listeners can use. Your decision isn’t done until the team can say it back to you both what was decided and your rationale for it. Not only Pete decided to give X number of dollars from Fred to Ed, but because he and we believe that Ed’s work in this area is higher priority or more immediate, whatever.

That’s important because we’re talking about managers, the managers have to be able to take that decision back to their teams and say, “Here’s what we as a management team decided and here’s why.” I call that commissioning. The decider makes sure to take the time that everyone understands both the decision and the rationale before we consider the decision to be complete.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, now when you started that conversation, “Hey, teach me what you know,” you said “I’m putting agreement to the side,” what do you mean by that?

Edward Muzio
Well oftentimes, I’m sure you’ve had these experiences and many of us have, we may know that you’re going to make the decision, right Pete? I’m going to say to you, “Pete, you’ve got to go my way and here’s why.” You’re going to start to detect some emotional content in there. I’m going to be animated and I’m going to maybe not even stop talking because I feel like you haven’t come around yet.

But once you say to me, “Look, we’re not at the part of the process where I’m going to agree with you or not. We’re just at the part of the process where my job is to understand you. Let me say back to you Ed what I think you just told me. Do I have it right?” If I say, “Yes, you have it right.” Then you say to me, “Well, do you have anything else to add, other information I need?” I go, “Yes, here’s some more.” We do that until I finally say, “That’s all the information I have.”

It’s a way of getting the information out of me while sort of relieving me of both the pressure and stress and also the reality of trying to convince you because then you can literally turn to me and say, “Ed, thank you. Thank you for the information. I’m going to consider that. I can appreciate that you’re – not only is this difficult for you logistically but it’s going to be really kind of an emotional thing for you. I’ve learned that as well. But I need to move on now and hear what the others have to say.”

It opens up the air time because everyone has something to contribute in terms of facts and information. Nobody feels that need to sort of filibuster until you come around.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, understood. That is helpful when you segment or separate those dimensions from each other. Now I’m curious, when it comes to frontline self-sufficiency, what tend to be the bottlenecks, the obstacles that mean we don’t have the frontline self-sufficiency, the recurring things that folks need but don’t have so they can’t do what they need to do?

Edward Muzio
On one level the frontline self-sufficiency is one of the easiest, maybe the easiest of the key practices to understand because the components all kind of tie together very simply. It’s really three things that lead to a fourth.

But your frontline employees need to have clear output goals, just to say that they know what they’re supposed to do and they can count it. They know what it is. That’s one’s pretty easy to understand.

Self-managed feedback, which means they are tracking their own work more frequently than management is tracking it. It’s not a question of management telling them what’s going on; it’s a question of them already knowing how they’re doing.

Then the third thing is what I call control of resources. That just means they have what they need to do the job. If there’s material or something they need, they can get to it. Again, that’s not always easy to do, not too hard to think about.

But the formula is goals plus feedback plus resources equals forecasts. What happens is once you have a workforce that’s equipped that way, they know what they’re supposed to do, they know if they’re doing it and how well they’re doing it, and how fast they’re doing it, and they have everything they need at their disposal to do it, then they start to be able to make those forecasts.

They start to be able to say when the boss asks on Tuesday or Wednesday, “What are we looking like for Friday?” They can say, “I’m on track. This is typical,” I’m a little behind, but it’s recoverable,” “I’m way behind.”

That’s the information that gets rolled up into that second forecast, that second future line where I say, “Hey boss, hey Pete, here’s what I know is going to happen in the next two to six weeks,” I’m getting that from the frontline because they’re the ones that actually know where we are. Without the frontline self-sufficiency, forecasting becomes sort of academic and hypothetical and the process does not work nearly as well.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. I’m also wondering when people don’t have those things, the goal is unclear or the feedback is incomplete or the resources are also incomplete, what are the things you see time and time again are among the most common things that are incomplete and missing from the self-sufficiency picture?

Edward Muzio
In terms of specifics, it varies, but I’ll give you a couple examples. One of the ones that’s often missing, not surprisingly, is clear goals. We have someone who they know their job is to let’s say get these orders filled, that’s a goal, but there’s not really a how fast or turn time or anything like that. If you sort of ask them how it’s going, they go, “It’s okay.” If you say “Are you on track, ahead or behind?” they sort of almost can’t answer you because it’s not a clear enough goal. That’s one failure mode.

Another one is maybe the foal is clear, but the resource control is an issue. It’s like you have to get these orders filled or whatever, but there’s a step in your process where you have to get approval for a shipment let’s say. Sometimes that approval takes two hours and sometimes it takes three days.

Then when I ask my frontline for a forecast, they’ll say, “Well, I’m okay, but I don’t know what’s going to happen because I’ve turned this thing in so it will be Wednesday or Friday.” That’s an issue of control of resources. It’s a different thing but it’s also in the way of that forecast.

It’s a good way to kind of look backwards and say if you can’t get a fair forecast or reasonable forecast, you can look back and say, “Okay, why can’t they do it? Is it because they don’t know what the goal is? Is it because they don’t know how they’re doing at it? Or is it because there are these things that are out of their control in the way?” It’s always one of those three.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s a helpful framework in terms of segmenting that into discrete pieces. I guess I’m thinking about sometimes we have no idea because we’ve never done this before. It’s new stuff. I guess sort of like feedback is missing and maybe not so much from management but just from almost like the work itself. It’s like we’re entering new, uncharted territory and I don’t know how long it’s going to take for me to learn how to do this thing or to build this thing we’ve never built before.

Edward Muzio
Yeah, that’s a reality. That can actually happen just like that, but one of the things we also know is there’s a whole major category of work out there that we call troubleshooting work, which is the phone rings – you think of a call center for computer repairs – the phone rings and the problem is put in front of me. If I’m the frontline worker, I don’t know what the work is until I get the problem.

In that kind of scenario, although it’s true that I can say, “Well, I don’t exactly know how long the next one is going to take because I don’t know what it is,” there are still tools we can use around those goals and feedback and resources to make forecasting possible.

One of the tools we use is batch queues. I can say, “I have this many issues, which are received and undiagnosed,” meaning it’s in my queue to figure out the problem, “I have this many issues, which are diagnosed but unsolved,” meaning I know what the problem is but I’m not done implementing it yet, and then “I have this many that are solved.”

Sometimes people will further segment those into something like category A, category B, whatever. These take longer than those. But when you start to see individual contributors who work on that kind of work use those kind of systems, what starts to happen is they can, again, start to make forecasts.

You’ll say midweek, “How are you doing?” now they can’t tell you what the next thing on the phone is going to be, but they can say, “Normally by this time of the week I have 15 things that are received and undiagnosed. Right now I have 42, so I am behind,” or “Normally I have this many of type B solutions to implement and I only have 10% as many right now, so I’m ahead.”

Even though we’re all doing things to some extent we’ve never done before, you can start to work around that a bit and still get some intelligence of the system about within some broad bounds, what does this week look like relative to your other weeks of doing things no one’s ever done before? We still need that information.

Pete Mockaitis
When it comes to forecasting, you mentioned being fair and you used the term ‘a fair day’s work forecast.’ What precisely does that mean and how would you contrast that with the alternative?

Edward Muzio
Well that I do a fair day’s work forecast is once I have those three things, if I’m a frontline worker, I’ve got those goals, self-managed feedback and control of resources, then I can know what I can accomplish reasonably.

I think traditional managers will be afraid of this, say, “How do I know they’re not going to sandbag or how do I know they’re not going to lie?” But what we know about humans is they tend to try and perform pretty well most of them. Once I sort of know what I can get done in a fair day’s work, I can start to make a forecast and say, again, “I’m ahead,” “I’m on track,” “I’m behind.”

That’s contrasted with in the North American management model, the boss tells me how much to do and then I either do it or I don’t. What happens? Well, for one thing, I can only do so much. My capacity doesn’t change by my boss’s opinion; however, my presentation of what I’m doing will change.

You’re going to tell me, “Get this much done or not,” and if I can’t reasonably do it and I want to survive, which I do because I have that reptile part of my brain that’s geared toward survival, then I’m going to paint a picture or tell a story or find a reason why that wasn’t possible and I’m going to sort of make it okay. If the boss is really setting unreasonable goals, nobody can do it, then whoever has the most reasonable story gets to keep their job. That’s how it plays out.

But now we’ve got some really bad information in the organization because we have these quote/unquote expectations that first of all aren’t realistic and now we’ve got this layer of storytelling on top of it, which is here’s how you get around that and that will get trained to new people.

This is where management ceases to be functional and starts becoming ceremonial. Now we’re getting the work done despite management instead of thanks to the feedback and adjustment of management. That’s what we’re really trying to avoid.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I think it takes a pretty good level of understanding in terms of what’s really on your plate and what you’re really committed to in order to have those. I think there’s a lot of people in work/life experience almost sort of like a chaotic sea of just too much and it’s kind of just all a big old cesspool of requests and action items. For many it’s a matter of what is latest and loudest, the most urgent and terrifying fire that they need to handle. It’s not a really fun way to live.

Edward Muzio
No, it’s more than that. … your cesspool quote. It takes years off your life. It’s not even funny. It literally does.

That goes back to that output and status broadcasting, which is one of the things we advise managers at all levels is you need to have three or five or seven things which you can use – it’s almost like an elevator pitch – to summarize the output you’re delivering. That output and that story and that summary needs to be presented over and over again to your next level, your next level so that people understand what they’re doing because we’re all subject to overload. We’re all subject to that cesspool of endless stuff.

If there’s not a clear drumbeat from management saying here’s what we’re measuring, here’s what we’re doing, here’s what we’re forecasting on, here’s where we’re going, then it’s just easy to get lost.

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

Edward Muzio
I think probably the last thing I would say is as you think about this, as the listeners think about this, I’ve found that there’s some confusion in that we need some more language around managing.

When you become a manager you start reading and getting advice about how to manage people, I like to call that managing with a capital ‘ing.’ That is true for anybody who manages people. You have to set goals, you have to deal with compensation, you have to help them solve their issues, you have to help them develop. That’s all tremendously important.

There’s another category of work that I call management with a capital ‘ment.’ That is being a member of the broader team of managers who together work in concert with each other and coordination with each other to coordinate and adapt the resources of the organization to achieve its goals.

I believe that most of what’s written for managers is written about managing with a capital ‘ing.’ My book, Iterate, is written about management with a capital ‘ment.’ I think it’s complimentary and equally important and often overlooked.

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

Edward Muzio
One that I really like is – it’s from Pema Chodron, who’s actually a Buddhist, but she says, “We’re all capable of becoming fundamentalist because we get addicted to other people’s wrongness.” I like that kind of on a personal level, but I also like it on a group meetings level. We’ve all been in meetings where someone was a fundamentalist because they were addicted to everyone else’s wrongness.

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

Edward Muzio
There was a study done years ago by a very famous guy named Asch. It was about social conformity. The idea was five people are around a table and you show all five people these different lines. Two of them are the same length and you ask them which two. The first four people give the wrong answer, but they’re in on it. The fifth person – the question was will the fifth person speak out against the group or will they go along. Overwhelmingly they went along.

But the piece that I find myself quoting is that thing’s been – that’s from the ‘60s. It’s been redone a lot of times, but somewhere around 2005 – 2006, somebody did it again with an MRI machine on the subject. The question was are they just sort of rolling over and they secretly know the answer, but they’re not saying it or is their perception being changed.

Asch, himself, always thought it was just a question of people – they just didn’t have the something, the courage or the stamina to speak up. What we found out was it actually changes your perception.

Group think is more than we thought. It’s not just about a lack of courage. Your perception changes. That just I think highlights the importance of if you see a difference, speak out in a group because even if you’re wrong, just you speaking out might help the next person who actually sees the real thing to actually be able to see it. You’re actually helping the perceptiveness of the group.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s a nice implication to highlight. Thank you. Yeah. How about a favorite book?

Edward Muzio
I’m just finishing up a book called The Insightful Leader by Carlann Fergusson. It’s about – it’s sort of the flip side of the coin to play to your strengths, which is how any one of those strengths, like results orientation or something, can become a hindrance. I think she did a really good job of explaining it got you here, but also it can become a hindrance and how to sort of keep your strength and not overdo it.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite tool?

Edward Muzio
A couple. Ladder of Inference by Chris Argyris. If you don’t know that one, you can Google it. It talks about how we build sort of our perceptions of what’s going on around us.

The other one is if you don’t know Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I won’t try and spell it, but just look for Flow. It’s about sort of having these great experiences of enjoying ourselves and it has to do with challenge and knowledge or ability being held in bounds. Those have been useful to me personally, but also professionally.

Pete Mockaitis
My hat’s off for correctly pronouncing his name. I imagine you’ve practiced it before.

Edward Muzio
I did one of my whiteboard videos – I have a series of whiteboard videos. I actually called his office and said, “Please just say his name to me enough times that I can get it because I don’t want to say it wrong.” Now I’ve got good notes on it.

Pete Mockaitis
I’ve Googled it myself. Well done. How about a favorite habit?

Edward Muzio
It’s sort of boring but I live my life by my calendar. I’ve got my calendar on a separate monitor next to me at all times. I schedule everything from meetings to things I have to do. I think I would be I would guess 80% less effective if I didn’t live by my calendar. I feel like that’s a good one.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks who are listening to you?

Edward Muzio
It’s from my mentor actually. The quote is “You can’t make a pie one slice at a time.” His name is Bill Daniels. He taught me a lot of this stuff when I first got into this space. It’s about that idea of those linked teams, which are you can’t assign Ed to one thing and Fred to something else and Pete to something else and then knit it all together later. If you’re a team, you have to act like a team. You can’t bake a pie one slice at a time.

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

Edward Muzio
A couple places. IterateNow.com, that’s just I-T-E-R-A-T-ENow.com. That’s the site for the book. It’s got my bio and my social media handles and things like that. My firm is Group Harmonics and GroupHarmonics.com. That’s where our offerings and classes and stuff are.

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

Edward Muzio
I think the thing I would say is we’ve been talking about without talking about culture, the culture around us. I think people tend to feel powerless. On that walk to your car, it’s like the culture is the weather.

But the culture really isn’t the weather; the culture has actually been clearly defined by people who have thought about it a lot as the collection of habits we took forward from the past. The implication is what you’re doing now is going to become the culture of tomorrow. If you’re walking to your car, it’s not the weather; it’s your habits. It’s how you swing your arms, it’s whether you smoke a cigarette, those kind of things.

I think my challenge is if you’ve got a world where it seems like management is more ceremonial than functional, don’t just say “Oh that’s the culture, nothing I can do,” and throw your hands up. Instead say, “Oh, that’s the culture. What can I do differently today that people will notice and repeat tomorrow so that I can change the culture?”

Pete Mockaitis
Lovely. Well, Ed, this has been a lot of fun. I wish you tons of luck with your book, Iterate, and all you’re up to.

Edward Muzio
Pete, thank you, likewise. Enjoyed the time and good luck with your show.

388: How to Not Suck at Managing with Aaron Levy

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Aaron Levy says: "When someone feels heard, one, they'll share more. They'll open up more. They'll give you more."

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Aaron

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

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Aaron Levy Interview Transcript

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

Aaron Levy
How are you doing Pete?

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Particularly the high-pitched pieces.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
We’ll say Christmas Eve.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Levy
Go for it.

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

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

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s good. Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Levy
Not necessarily, no.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aaron Levy
There you go. Okay.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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