Tag

Relationships

391: Preventing Burnout by Examining your Emotions with Dr. Shawn C. Jones

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Dr. Shawn Jones discusses the burnout epidemic and how mindfulness, reflection, and compassion can be used to combat it.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Three ways people experience burnout
  2. How to re-personalize what you’ve depersonalized
  3. Four best practices for preventing burnout

About Shawn

Shawn C. Jones MD, FACS is a board-certified ear, nose, and throat physician, head and neck surgeon with 30 years of experience in medicine and a thriving ENT practice in Paducah, Kentucky. He’s on a mission to combat the effects of the growing physician burnout epidemic by sharing his own inspiring story of recovery.

Dr. Jones shares his story of burnout and recovery in his book, “Finding Heart in Art: A Surgeon’s Renaissance Approach to Healing Modern Medical Burnout.”

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Dr. Shawn Jones Interview Transcript

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

Shawn Jones
It’s great to be with you. Thank you Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m excited to dig into your good stuff. Maybe we’ll start with your story, which is pretty compelling. What’s your tale when it comes to experiencing burnout?

Shawn Jones
For me it really started one morning, in retrospect, when I was getting ready for surgery. I was shaving actually and I recognized I wasn’t feeling anything. It really brought a sense of abject intellectual terror in the sense that I recognized I was experiencing absolutely no emotion. I subsequently did what any well-training highly-functional professional would do and I ignored it hoping it would go away and of course it didn’t. It worsened.

Part of my difficulty was that – and I think the difficulty with burnout for a lot of people is that it’s a very disorienting experience, so it becomes troublesome to try to figure out why you’re not feeling quite right and what’s going on. Actually it was the assistance of my wife, Evelyn, who nudged me to get some help and to look into things. That sort of took me down the road of getting some outpatient intensive psychotherapy.

I was subsequently diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder-related depression. It primarily was work-related stress that caused me to end up there.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell me a little bit about the work-related stress. What was going on? PTSD you often think of in terms of war time or trauma/tragedy, and here it was work-related. What was going on at work?

Shawn Jones
Well, I sort of personally liken burnout to, in terms of the work-related stress aspect of it, to sun exposure. You can certainly go to the beach and in one day get totally burned, but you can also over a period of time get small amounts of sun exposure that result in you having the development of a skin cancer or something else.

I don’t think we recognize as well the more chronic forms of PTSD, but all of experience some traumatic things in our lives. Sometimes if we don’t emotionally unpack those, I think they sort of always reside in the midbrain in the part they call the amygdala that remembers those things.

Particularly as physicians, we experience a lot of things that would shock or dismay or be an assault on the emotions and other aspects of our personality for normal people. We’re trained to deal with that, but over a period of time it sort of builds up and if I think you don’t deal with that in some way in a healthy way and unpack that and process it in a healthy manner then it can kind of rise [sic] up it’s ugly head and grab you and that’s what happened to me.

That’s part of the whole purpose behind my book was to raise awareness about how you don’t have to have an absolute blow out where something huge happens. It can be sort of a slow leak that takes your energy and your enthusiasm for life away.

Pete Mockaitis
In your book, Finding Heart in Art, what would you say is the big idea there?

Shawn Jones
I think that knowing that a sense of presence and awareness about who you are and your purpose can really drive you to staying true to yourself. It’s hard to give yourself to anything, to your profession, to your family, to your friends if you’re not in possession of yourself. Maintaining the connection to who you truly are and the true self is part of that. I think finding beauty in the world is part of what helps keep us healthy in that respect.

Pete Mockaitis
Interesting. I’d love to get your take then in terms of what are some of the practices associated with getting that connection back and keeping that connection strong proactively.

Shawn Jones
The three primary ways in which burnout are experienced or is experienced is through emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and a loss of a sense of accomplishment in the work that you do.

Particularly with respect to medicine, but a lot of work is steeped in deep fundamental meaning, it’s hard to figure out how in the world you would ever lose that. How could someone not feel a purpose or a calling or a real significance to doing that kind of work, whether it be fireman, policeman, CEO of a large corporation?

Quite frankly as that burnout envelops you and the emotional numbness takes over, nothing you do seems to matter, so coming back to center and recognizing the truth of who you are and why you were called to do what you do is partially rekindled as a result of reconnecting to life again.

That is done through the emotions, which are the voice of the heart according to the psychologist, Chip Dodd, who wrote a book called The Voice of the Heart. They’re not our heart, but they are the expression. The emotions are the voice of our heart, their outward expression.

Experiencing fully fear, loneliness, hurt and being willing to do that, then you get the gifts that those offer you, which are the fullness of living in what is essentially a tragic place and that connection to yourself, then you think you can experience through the recognition of media. It might be for me observing or looking at Renaissance art. For you it might be hiking Elephant Loop trail in Yellowstone. For another it might be making a guitar.

There are all sorts of ways in which we connect with who we are and become true to ourselves in an artistic sense. Part of that expression I think helps enliven us/enrich us and is one of the reasons those activities are referred to as the humanities because they have a way of keeping us human.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really intriguing here. When it comes to – you laid out three causes: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and the loss of the sense of achievement and significance. You’re saying that experiencing fully the not so pleasant emotions can actually be helpful and preventative against burnout?

Shawn Jones
Well, I think to a degree if you think about it, all of those things that I mentioned, fear, hurt, loneliness, anger, guilt, they are part of being human. One of the things that tends to happen when we experience them is we don’t like them. We don’t like the feeling that they bring, so we want to pack them away and not deal with them. Over a period of time that emotional detritus, if you will, builds up.

They are going to have their say one way or the other, but dealing with them allows you – for example, if your foot hurts, it might be because you have a cut on it. Recognizing that hurt and addressing it and bandaging it, caring for it, brings you the gift of healing. Each of the emotions are like that. They have a gift that they give you as a result of their full experience that you deny yourself if you aren’t fully willing to enter into them.

Part of being a surgeon, for example, is emotions don’t help me a lot when I have an emergency operation to perform at two in the morning. We’re trained in a sense and rightfully so to take our emotions about the experience at that moment and set them aside. I think sometimes, certainly I did, got so good at setting them aside, I never got them back out again.

I think that’s one of the reasons you’re seeing really an epidemic in burnout amongst physicians is because we haven’t been historically trained to get those feelings back out and look at them. I think that’s one of the reasons why … are having difficulty with that now.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m curious to get your take on it in terms of in practice what does that look like in terms of what you do in terms of, okay, I put an emotion aside and then later on I’ve got some quiet, some opportunity to work with it. What do you do next?

Shawn Jones
I think that’s really important because we all, we know that there’s a lot of data that suggests that isolation and being alone is dangerous for human beings. We all crave connection and relationship in whatever form for each of us that takes. Living in a community and having someone with whom I have a trusting relationship to unpack those feelings in a way that can be beneficial to me.

Even sometimes nobody has to fix anything per se, but to just listen to what I experienced and acknowledge the grief, the anger. “Yeah, that really sounds like that was difficult. What was that like? Wow.” Just having that connection with someone I think I really beneficial to experiencing the gift of having those feelings.

Then as we talked about before being true to who you are. Sometimes we get so busy and there’s so much screen time and busyness in every day, we never stop to take account of where we are and what we’re doing and being truly present in the moment.

Mindfulness is one thing that’s been shown to be really beneficial in helping to be able to center in that moment and be aware of what you’re actually experiencing, which makes it really helpful to come back later even if it’s necessary and unpack those feelings again at a later time.

Pete Mockaitis
When you say mindfulness, are we talking about meditation in terms of just sitting quietly and returning your thoughts to breath or how are you thinking about mindfulness?

Shawn Jones
Well, I think there are a lot of different ways you can do that. Mindfulness space stress reduction is popularized by John Kabat-Zinn, an Emeritus professor at University of Massachusetts, who has created a program there.

He essentially studied Buddhism. As he would describe it I believe in paraphrasing took the trappings of the religion or Buddhism out of that and used mindfulness as a way to center on the breath or other types of things that helps your pulse rate and does all sorts of beneficial things from not just your ability to monitor your body, but it is also been shown to do some really interesting things.

Richard Davidson, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, has demonstrated that never-before meditators do ten minutes of meditation three times a week for three months compared to a same group of non-meditators who don’t meditate. If they’re given a flu shot, the meditative group has triple the antibody response to the flu shot that the non-meditating group has. It improves immune function.

It has all sorts of benefits I believe that we haven’t really figured it out yet in terms of research, but it’s really been probably one of the most beneficial things to come out of neuroscience research in my opinion in the last ten years is some of that data that talks about mindfulness.

You can also for instance talk about meditative practices that are within the spheres of religion some people would have more comfort with for a lot of different reasons that is the desert fathers of the Christian stripe in that sense, like St. John of the Cross, the Cloud of Unknowing. Rumi was a Sufi mystic who meditated.

There are lots of traditions. All of them seem to have benefits to them, but meditative practices in general I think are very good at being able to discern and to let go and to be present in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s a real nice lineup there. I had not heard the study about the flu shot. That’s fascinating. We talked a bit about the emotional piece. What do you mean by depersonalization?

Shawn Jones
A classic example from medicine would be to speak of a patient in a very impersonal way, like “The gallbladder in room 247.” While in some respects, depending on the circumstance, that might be appropriate because of HIPAA and other things like that, that tendency to not relate to people as on a personal basis puts in a distance between you.

I think in that sense, the electronic health record in medicine has been a severe impediment to that when you hear stories of patients going to see physicians and the physician the whole time they’re in the examination room are typing on the computer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Shawn Jones
It’s not a human-to-human interaction. I think the same sorts of things are happening in corporate boardrooms around America, where people are on their phones and not present. I mean really present in board meetings and things of that nature. The technology that is meant to connect us is actually disconnecting us in many ways.

Pete Mockaitis
Right, so then in terms of your daily workday experience, what are some sort of simple ways we can bring the personalization back into it?

Shawn Jones
Well, I think a lot of this really requires intention. I have to set out with purpose on a daily basis to live my life a different way because it is so easy to get caught up and swept away in the moments and movements that occur to us when we’re very busy.

I think starting the day with purpose even if it’s just five or ten minutes of some meditative or centering prayer/practice is really helpful because it sets the agenda for the day just like you would if you were going to set the agenda for a phone call.

When you feel yourself getting out of control and sort of losing and being distracted, meditative practices will help you be able to take a moment, breathe, remember what you set your intention for that day, re-center yourself. That helps you, again, to be present, to not live in the past, not live in the future, but be truly present in the moment, which allows you to respond to situations and particularly crises in a way that is more appropriate for the subject and the event at hand.

I think those are two things that are really important. The other thing I’ve personally really tried to work on is what I think people refer to as mindful listening. That is making sure that when someone else is speaking that I’m looking them directly in the eye and I’m listening intently to their words and not planning on my response or what I’m going to say or how I’m going to interject.

I think those are three things that have really helped to make a difference on a day-to-day basis.

Pete Mockaitis
Now, when you set an intention, what does that sounds like in practice?

Shawn Jones
Today I’m going to make sure that I’m not going to be distracted. I’m not going to try to multitask. I’m going to be on task during the day. I’m going to listen intently to people and if I feel myself starting to become angry or to even respond and behave in a way, which I’m not inclined to want myself to be like, then I’m going to stop and pause and be intentional about taking control of that moment.

Just knowing that and setting that intention during the day – sometimes I’ll be in the middle of the day and it will all of the sudden hit me, I need to stop here for a second and sort of re-center myself and do what I said I was going to do today because I feel myself rising up in an emotional way in a sense.

I think that really helps because sometimes you can get carried away. People will come up and they’ll say something, “Oh Dr. Jones, you’re really going to be angry about this.” Before I even hear what the issue is, I’m already like, “Yeah, I’m going to be angry.” It sort of it helps to kind of take a breath and make sure that you’re being you and present in the moment.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. I’d also want to get your take on the lever there or the factor that loss of achievement and significance. Do you have some thoughts for keeping connected to that when you’re in the midst of work?

Shawn Jones
That was very difficult for me because I completely lost my sense of purpose to a degree. Somewhere deep down I knew that I’d always wanted to be a physician. I was one of those kids that even though no one in my family had been to college, I knew I wanted to be a doctor when I was five or six years. I never wavered from that.

Deep down I knew that was really who I was, but I just wasn’t feeling like I was accomplishing much of anything. There wasn’t any sense of satisfaction there. Mostly it was because I’d lost myself. I had become detached from my inner emotional environment in a sense.

I think finding that purpose is great. The last thing I think anyone ought to do when you’re feeling burned out is to make a quick decision and change jobs or get out or – I think it really is important for people to take stock of what’s going on and try to get some perspective on it.

Because I think, for me at least, the purpose was there all along. It was the way in which I’d engaged that purpose. I thought by working harder, longer, faster, more that I would find it again. Actually, I needed to do just the opposite. I needed to step off for a moment, take a rest and re-examine that and find me.

Because compassion is the recognition of suffering and the desire to do something about it, to alleviate it in another human being. It’s pretty normal, natural human response to suffering. But when you have compassion fatigue, which is part of that burnout spectrum, you lose the sense of your purpose, so having that compassion rekindled and recognizing that you can only give what you have, it’s really important that you have yourself to be able to give it yourself.

Many of us need to have more compassion with ourselves because we become very negative in our self-talk and that isn’t helpful in developing compassion towards others. Compassion is contagious and I think the more that we extend compassion towards others and towards ourselves then the more compassion we’re going to experience.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, yeah, it’s funny when you talk about you’re feeling sort of under-resourced, tapped out, you’re less likely to act compassionately that reminds me of the study of the seminarians who had to turn in a paper. I believe it was about the story of the Good Samaritan. Half of them were told that they were late. The other half was not. I imagine you’ve encountered this in your work.

Then they encountered someone who was just coughing tremendously, like directly in their pathway. Those who were told that they were running late or that the deadline was very near, with alarming frequency just totally blew right by the guy versus those who did not feel they were that rushed were able to stop and help. These are seminarians who had just recently covered that story.

Shawn Jones
Studied the Good Samaritan. Yeah. It’s amazing I think sometimes once we get headed in a direction, how hard it is to turn ourselves about, but that’s a great example of what it means to actually put into practice what logically you’ve put into a different part of your brain.

Pete Mockaitis
When you’re compassionate with yourself in the midst of negative self-talk, what does the corrective or compassionate response to, it’s like, “Oh, I screwed up. I’m such a moron. Oh, I did it again.” It’s like, “Why can’t I ever get my act together with this?” kind of whatever. There’s the beat up self-talk. Then what is the intervention self-talk sound like?

Shawn Jones
There’s a loving kindness meditation. Actually there’s a free eBook called Compassion – Bridging the Science and Practice that’s available. If you Google that online, you can pick it up. It was developed a combination of some of the best neuroscientists in the world. In fact it was at the Max Planck Institute in Germany in cooperation with Buddhist monks who underwent functional MRI scanning. It’s got videos and tutorials.

But loving kindness mediation is essentially is, “I feel good. I am good. I want the best for me. I want the best for other people. I desire only what is good in life and want to extend mercy and compassion and grace.” Really, it sounds almost too good to be true.

The first couple of times I did it, you feel kind of foolish looking in the mirror doing that sort of thing, but it is amazing how that comes back to you at times when the negative self-talk will begin to pop up. There’s really a plethora of data that suggest that those who have a greater profundity of negative self-talk are more susceptible to burnout. It really is important in terms of trying to mitigate against the effects of burnout that you work on some of those.

There’s basically two ways you can try to affect burnout. One is by increasing your resilience. Those are the things like mindfulness space stress reduction, making sure you get plenty of sleep, eating correctly, exercising, all the things we know that we need to be doing and be diligent about in terms of our discipline.

But then there’s also decreasing the work-related stress, making sure you set aside time to do the projects you need to do in a concerted way, being intentional about what you want to do during the day and not being distracted, making sure you limit your screen time as much as you can. Even with me I know that’s difficult because screen time is important for the electronic health record.

But doing the best we can to mitigate the things we know that organizationally cause stress because Christina Maslach, who’s done as much work on burnout at a corporate level than anyone, with Michael Leiter wrote a book in 1997 called The Truth About Burnout: How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It.

She said in that book that burnout is an organizational problem. It’s not a failure of people on an individual level. It is an organizational issue. Addressing it at that level is much more complicated and much more difficult because the things I’ll tell you to do in a hospital to decrease stress and burnout, might not work at Procter & Gamble, for example, or other – Google and Apple and things like that.

It’s going to be more generic recommendations about how to decrease stress, so it makes it more difficult to make application in each individual sense from an organizational standpoint.

Pete Mockaitis
Nonetheless, I’ll take a couple generic recommendations if folks find themselves in a leadership capacity, whether it’s for a couple direct report or for thousands, what are some of the generalized best practices to help prevent the burnout?

Shawn Jones
There’s an interesting study that says Americans more than any other culture, generally don’t take their vacations. I think one of the things that really would … is have their people take their vacations. It’s important for the work you do here for you to have time off. We give you that time off and we want you to take it. It’s not a negative and you’re not going to be a hero by not taking your vacation. I think that’s a pretty simple one to institute.

Then be really willing, as we talked about earlier, to listen to people about the things that cause organizational stress. With physicians, for example, and this is true of other leaders, if you allow one of your best workers to do what he thinks is most important 20% of the time, his risk of burnout is reduced 3 times. You can have him doing things he’s really not as interested in 80% of the time if he can do what really charges him up at work 20% of the time.

Finding out what people really are interested in and want to do in their job that fits your job description, the purpose of management in organization in my view is to fulfill the mission of the organization but to allow people the room and the space to accomplish that task while fulfilling the mission of the organization.

Sometimes that’s simply getting out of people’s way and not micromanaging them because that feels a lot of times like mistrust. If you don’t think I’m able to do this job and so you’re going to tell me how to move the widget from A to B and B to C when I’ve got a better way.

Pete Mockaitis
What’s also intriguing about that 20% guideline is that person may very well have a clearer, more accurate, astute perception of what truly is most important than the leader or the manager in terms of so it’s not just work 20% of your time on whatever the heck you kind of feel like doing and playing Candy Crush on your phone, but it’s like – it’s projects related to the organization that you find to be important.

Shawn Jones
Absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s pretty powerful.

Shawn Jones
Yeah. I’m sure Candy Crush is important somewhere, but it wouldn’t be in most places.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m researching the competitors on addictive app best practices. Cool. Well, Shawn, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Shawn Jones
I think that being really interested in ways to remain healthy in general is a way to incorporate this idea about burnout into your daily life. Most of us have an idea of the things we want to do on a daily basis to remain physically and otherwise healthy. This would just be putting another piece of that into that pie. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It just, again, takes some decision making process and some intention.

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

Shawn Jones
I really think that one by Cynthia Bourgeault is compelling to me. “What the caterpillar calls disaster, the master calls a butterfly.”

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Shawn Jones
What I like about that is there’s so much that we do not have control over in this life. Things happen and many times we react to that in ways that reflect our dislike of what’s just occurred, but we don’t know how the story ends. Many times when we look back what we thought was really a horrible thing that happened to us in our life turned out to be one of the best things that could have ever happened.

I think it’s important to recognize when we’re in that moment to realize there may be something else at work and to be open to those possibilities.

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

Shawn Jones
The one about the meditators with the flu shot response is one. But there’s another one in kindness research, where a researcher took a blue and a pink elephant and he presented them to very young children, 18 months and younger.

The first elephant, the blue elephant, would – a duck would try to open a box and the elephant every time would jump on the box and keep him from opening it. Then they would show a video with the pink elephant and every time the duck would try to open the box, the pink elephant would come over and help him open it. 95% of the children when presented with both elephants chose the pink elephant.

What that says in essence is that all of us are attracted to compassion and kindness. That’s what we innately are born with in many respects. It says something I think about the heart of human beings and the recognition of what we all desire in a certain sense and what we’re attracted and what we want to be. To me it really makes me feel hopeful for the world.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that is very powerful. I’m going to be chewing on that. Thank you. How about a favorite book?

Shawn Jones
A favorite book. I’ve been really enamored with historical biographies. I would say that Washington Irving wrote a biography of George Washington that was thoroughly researched. Part of it is how well it is written and the fact that Irving knew contemporaries of George Washington that were amazing.

But the character and integrity of George Washington is absolutely outstanding in reading the book and the kind of man he was and the kind of – the way he comported himself in different situations, absolutely courageous, was spellbinding for me.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. How about a favorite tool?

Shawn Jones
I think for me mindfulness is my favorite tool. It has in many ways transformed my daily life as well as my inner life in a way that has been so helpful for me in so many respects. For me, mindfulness would be that tool.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Shawn Jones
I enjoy exercising. Believe it or not if you saw me you wouldn’t think I liked powerlifting because I’m 5’ 10’’ and about 175 pounds soaking wet, but I really like deadlifting and squatting and doing Romanian deadlifts. There’s a lot of data that suggests that as you age maintaining muscle mass and functional strength improves your overall health. I enjoy doing that a couple times a week. It really helps me kind of unwind.

Pete Mockaitis
Can I put you on the spot and ask about the weights that you’re lifting?

Shawn Jones
Sure. I will do my best not to make this a fish story. I will tell you that I was in a gym not too long ago with a friend and he was lifting what he thought was a really great deadlift weight, like 350 pounds. A gentlemen came over and said, “Are you finished with that weight?” He said, “Yes.” Then he picked it up and did bent over rows with it. It was like, okay, we’re not at that level. But at first we thought, “Wow, this is really good.” But, yeah, my max deadlift is around 350.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, nice work. Nice work. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate for folks?

Shawn Jones
I think the idea that we all are attracted to the beautiful things in life and what beauty means to each of us is different. One example of that is if you look at the Renaissance masters, the early Renaissance masters, their idea of beauty was perfection. Nicholas Poussin, if you look at his paintings, there’s no dirt, there’s no grime – everyone is perfect.

It’s just beautiful, but it is a different aspect of beauty than if you look at the later Renaissance and the Dutch masters such as Rembrandt or Caravaggio where there is realism there. There is darkness and light. Mixed in with that is the beauty of the relationship between the people and the paintings.

For example, The Return of the Prodigal Son of Rembrandt, it is astounding how seemingly grimy and dirty and torn the clothing can be and yet overall it is aesthetically so deeply moving and beautiful. I think that’s a reflection of life. We have to look for the beauty in everyday life. If we look for it, we’ll find it. It will astound us and it will enliven us and enrich us, but we have to look.

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

Shawn Jones
My website is DrShawnCJones.com. That’s S-H-A-W-N for Shawn. They can follow me on Twitter at ShawnCJonesMD.

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

Shawn Jones
I think setting the intention and if you’ve not tried mindfulness or some meditative practice, it is very easy to start and there are a couple of apps even that will do it as much as I hate pointing to technology. Last night actually on NBC news there a story on Headspace, but there’s also one called Calm, which is very good, which is a great way to start without having to go to a class or do anything where you’re putting yourself out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Dr. Jones, this has been just – it’s been profound and beautiful. Thanks so much for taking this time and good luck in all you’re doing in helping to heal medical burnout and your other adventures.

Shawn Jones
I appreciate it, Pete. Thank you. It’s been great to be with you.

390: Five Practices for Flexible Course Correction with Ed Muzio

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

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

 

 

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.

384: Bringing More Joy into Work with Bruce Daisley

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

Vice President  of Twitter Bruce Daisley shares the key differences that make the difference between work delight and drudgery.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Two hacks for restoring your personal equilibrium at work
  2. The benefits of connecting with your colleagues through laughter
  3. Why working more than 40 hours a week is a bad idea

About Bruce

As European Vice-President for Twitter and host of the UK’s number one business podcast Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat he is in the centre of the debate about the way work and communication is evolving.

Daisley has been one of the Evening Standard’s 1,000 Most Influential Londoners for four years and is one of Debrett’s 500 Most Influential People in Britain. Campaign magazine asserted that Daisley is ‘one of the most talented people in media.’

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Bruce Daisley Interview Transcript

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

Bruce Daisley
Well, I’m really flattered to be asked, so thank you so much for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, well, I’m excited to dig in. I believe Dan Cable introduced us and his was one of my favorite podcasts episodes, so there’s a big, big expectation Bruce, that you’re going to bring it.

Bruce Daisley
Thank you. Well, let me try my best.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Well, you have defined yourself as “work culture obsessive,” which is a good turn of a phrase. Your body of work seems to show it. On top of a pretty demanding job, you’ve put out a great podcast, Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat. You’ve got a book coming out. What do you mean by being work culture obsessive?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, I think the interesting thing for me, I work at Twitter. I’m fortunate enough that when guests used to come to the London Twitter office from all around the world, almost without exception they’d say, “Wow, this is just an incredible office. We love the culture here.”

I had heard that previously. I used to run the UK team for YouTube at Google and all the time people used to either wander past my team or interact with my team. They’d say, “Wow, what a special team.” Unfortunately, I was misdirected into believing that that was down to a magical skill that I had.

I think a couple of years ago I became aware that maybe people at my work weren’t as motivated or as happy as they once were. I became obsessed not with sort of drawing on my own hunches about how culture is created, but more thinking, “I wonder how I could arm myself with evidence.” I think that’s the critical thing I’ve done really. With the passion of trying to work out how to improve work culture, I’ve set about trying to get evidence of how to do it.

In the course of the last couple years on my own podcast I’ve really just pestered and tracked down some of the people who’ve written the most interesting books that I’ve found.

I’ve been fortunate enough I think that when you contact someone who’s written a magical piece of research, something that’s just really fascinating and compelling and they’re not in the promotional time for it, they’re often very willing to talk. I’m so lucky to have got people who have written just some of the most fascinating books and got them to talk to me.

I guess, I’ve got a fascination in how to improve work and being evidence led on how to do that.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Very cool. I want to do dig into all sorts of fascinating bits of research. Maybe could you orient us right now? You are a vice president of Twitter for Europe, Middle East, and Africa. What does that mean or what does that entail in terms of your job and what are some of the practices that you’re seeing really make a big impact in terms of bringing about the joy of work?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. It’s a good question. I think when you do an original job like mine, it goes without saying that I’m fortunate that I’ve got very, very capable people in all of the markets we operate in. I’ve got a formidable person working in Spain. I’ve just got an incredibly talented person working in the UK. My job really is to try and provide sort of bursts of energy for those people.

Someone contacted me today asking for some help with a contractual issue. Effectively, I guess, I’m someone that the leaders in those countries can call upon when they need additional support. I’m like a router really. I sort of direct energy and I direct resources when appropriate and try and stay out of the way when appropriate as well, so an interesting role.

I guess the principle thing I would say in terms of how I’ve learned about the joy of work from those countries, I think the thing that the UK is very similar to the US on is that increasingly more and more workers are sort of eating at our desks.

When you go and explain that to someone in France or someone in Spain, you say, “Guys, it’s really important we start trying to take lunch breaks,” they look at you very confused. They don’t really understand what on earth you’re talking about.

It’s because those cultures have really recognized, historically recognized, the importance of lunch breaks and the importance of the social magic that’s created in those interactions. Unfortunately, it’s the more Anglo-Saxon part of the world that’s economized on those things.

For me, it’s understanding work culture and understanding how to improve work culture as being a real excursion into understanding the different national cultures around the world and what we can learn from them.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to touch on that national piece there because the engagement data on workers in the UK is even worse by a pretty good margin than it is for workers in the US. Do you have a comment on what could be driving that there?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. To give those figures – I think the engagement figures for US workers I think – all of us, if we looked at these numbers cold we’d say – I think the US engagement is 20-something percent. I can’t remember top of my head. The figure for UK workers is 8%. 8% of British workers feel that they are actively engaged in their job.

The only solace that I can provide to the British is that the lowest in the world is actually the French. According to the Gallup survey, the Gallup workforce survey, 3% of French workers are actively engaged in their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Even with the lunch breaks?

Bruce Daisley
I know. How bad. There’s certainly a global crisis of engagement. We seek so much of our own identity from our jobs. If you look at the evidence, people who do jobs are happier, they live longer, they feel more fulfilled in life, then those who don’t do jobs.

Jobs play a really important part in our self-esteem, but quite often they’re not set up correctly, they’re not focused on us achieving things in the way that we would most like, so we end up becoming slightly disengaged or sometimes very actively disengaged in the jobs that we do.

Pete Mockaitis
Right and I’m curious from your observations across countries, are there particular mindsets or policies? I wondered if it’s a little trickier – my understanding is in some European countries it’s trickier to say fire somebody. I think sometimes it’s trickier to find a job. Is that fair to say as compared to the US?

Bruce Daisley
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
I wonder if that had a role with it with regard to finding fit. It’s a little bit of obstacles there. Do you think it’s a factor or what’s behind it?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, I think – I wouldn’t necessarily say that those things have a direct impact on how engaged people are in their jobs, so you see – you do see a variance across Europe and you do see – it’s not necessarily that when it’s hire-at-will and fire-at-will that workers are more engaged.

There’s definitely cultural factors that play a part. There’s definitely elements in the job that play a part. Some cultures historically have been more hierarchical. Some national cultures have been more hierarchical.

When you look at workers, one of the key factors in people being engaged in work is the ability to speak up to the boss. It’s sometimes called psychological safety. The ability to put your hand up and say, “I don’t think this is right,” when you see something that appears to me maybe slightly against our expectations. The willingness to speak up to the boss is one of the most powerful indicators of workplace culture.

There are definitely some cultures that are more hierarchical. Some cultures where speaking up to the boss is really frowned upon. Definitely that plays a part. There are significant cultural differences between different countries.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. You unpack some of this in your book, The Joy of Work. What would you say is the main idea or thesis there?

Bruce Daisley
I split it into three parts. The fundamental part for me was when I was setting out on my own process of discovery I was interested in finding evidence about how we could bring some of the work that’s being done by experts into the world of work.

There’s no shortage of psychologists, anthropologists, people who’ve studied neuroscience, who’ve given us indications of better ways to be working. The challenge for me was that a lot of that evidence wasn’t reaching the workplace.

I split the book into three parts. The first part is just to try and restore us to a position of a more balanced equilibrium. I think it’s fair to say that the stats suggest that half of all office workers report feeling burnt out, but that’s also common to nurses, that’s also common teachers. The state of feeling burnt out by our jobs, by feeling exhausted by the amount we’re working is becoming increasingly ubiquitous; half of all of us feel it at any point.

The first part of the book is really just very simple ways to try and restore our equilibrium. I call that section in the book Recharge. Some of the sections there are often really small interventions. I’ll give you one example. One of the most effective things that anyone can do to feel less overwhelmed by their job is to turn notifications off on their phone.

Pete Mockaitis
Just like that.

Bruce Daisley
This is a really strange one. Because when you tell people that this is one of your interventions, they often look at me thinking, “Okay, this book’s going to be really trivial.” But let me give you the evidence on that one.

Half of all people – this was done by someone working at a mobile phone company of all things. He’s working at Telefonica, a European cellphone company. He was trying to get people to turn their notifications off for a week. He couldn’t get enough people to do it. He said, “Okay, if not a week, will you turn your notifications off for a day.”

To just give you an indication of how powerful this is, two years after he did that intervention, half of all the people who made that decision to turn their notifications off, still had them turned off.

Pete Mockaitis
One day.

Bruce Daisley
One day, two years. People when they try this they say, “You know what? I was just able to get a bit of calm back to my life. I was able to not keep checking that email icon that kept popping up. Black Friday offers or whatever it was that was drawing me back there. I was given a bit of head space.” Half of all people who did that still had it turned off.

Consequently, with that in mind, as soon as you realize you can improve work with lots of little hacks, with lots of little changes, then it becomes an exercise in finding what are the other hacks.


One of the other things that I found that was fascinating for creativity. When we look at creativity, there’s many different ways to categorize the brain, but one of the most common systems is that scientists talk about the salience network, the executive attention network and the third one, the one I’ll talk about, is the default network. These three networks sort of operate across the whole of your brain, but they do different functions.

The default network is this fabulous part of the brain which is – it tends to be where we dwell when we’re daydreaming. It’s all where thoughts organize themselves and bounce around, but often when you say to people, “When did that idea come to you?” it’s at a time when the default network is running our brains.

I’ll give you an illustration. Often people say, “Oh, had a good idea while I was in the shower,” “Had a good idea while I was going for a walk.” That’s not uncommon because that’s the time the default network is daydreaming and allowing little thoughts to interact with each other, to bounce off each other.

As soon as you know that, as soon as you know that creativity comes from the default network, you start thinking of what are the ways to activate that? One of the most powerful ways to activate the default network is to go for a walk.

If you’re trying to brainstorm, if you’re trying to get ideas down on a piece of paper, then often we find ourselves stranded in a lifeless sort of pretty dull meeting room often frowning into our laptops, or frowning onto a white board. Actually one of the most powerful things you can do is go for a walk. 81% of people saw an increase in ideas. Their ideas went up two-thirds when they did that. It’s a really powerful thing.

But the default network can be activated in so many different ways. My favorite example of the default network is the guy who wrote The West Wing TV show, he also wrote The Social Network film, a guy called Aaron Sorkin. He stumbled upon this. No one told him this, but he stumbled upon the idea that his best ideas came to him when he was in the shower. As a result of that, he had a shower installed in his office.

In a sort of fabulous interview – he was interviewed I think by Hollywood Reporter and he was asked about his habit for showers. He takes eight showers a day. He takes eight showers a day. He was asked about this. He said, “It’s not that I’m obsessively clean. That’s not why I’m doing it. I’m doing it because the sense of freethinking, the sense of sort of free association I have in the shower just gets me past any road blocking, gets me past any sense that I’m stranded in my thinking.”

For me, as soon as you understand that, you start thinking, right, then when am I allowing my default network to play and to create? The answer quite often is pretty infrequently. We fill our day with meetings, with emails. We’re not giving ourselves time to think and dream.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I love that example in that it’s sort of an extreme action. It’s like, “Hey, I’ve made this observation and it’s really working for me, so we’re going to go all in. Install the shower. Do it eight times a day.” That’s such a cool example.

Bruce Daisley
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
I want to dig into that notifications a bit. Not to get too nitty-gritty, but let’s talk it. Now the key thing about the notifications is simply the beeps and buzzes from our phone or is it everything. Don’t pop up on my phone screen visually. Don’t give me red badges. Is it sort of like all notifications or just the ones that can interrupt you from other stuff?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, it’s all of them, all of them. But what I will say, Pete, it gives you a real mental availability. My own experience at doing this of all the interventions, there’s 30 interventions in my book, which unfortunately it’s not being published in the US for another 12 months. But there’s 30 interventions in my book and I’ve tried all of them out.

But this one is you have to turn off all notifications. You turn off the number that sits on that email app. You turn off the thing that slides down on your screen. What happens is that I find myself in the morning and I go through that routine that we’ve all become accustomed to, which is you wake up, you check your message apps, you check your social apps.

Then it used to be that I always checked my email and increasingly now I forget to check email. I’ll find myself heading out on my journey to work and then an hour into my journey to work or just as I’m arriving at my office door, I think “Oh, I haven’t checked email.”

To me it’s incredibly liberating because often that sense when you’re checking email but before you get to the office, it either disrupts your morning commute and you find yourself trying to answer something badly at the kitchen table or it sort of creates a sense of sort of claustrophobia that you want to answer it but you don’t have time.

Of all the interventions, as I said, this is the most powerful one. It’s just an illustration I think that we can push back against the demands of work. We often feel helpless in the face of work, but this gives us scope to really push back and try and feel more refreshed, feel more recharged really.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. I like that term claustrophobia in terms of right now it’s sort of got a piece of you in term of your mental attention. It’s there. It’s like, “Oh I want to reply to that. I can’t right now. What will I say? Maybe this.” Now your brain is consumed with that and you’re sort of short changing your opportunity in the default system mode of transportation zoning out to get those creative ideas.

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, absolutely, absolutely.

Pete Mockaitis
You said 30 interventions, so I know we won’t have time to hit all 30, but if I may invoke perhaps the 80/20 rule. If 6 of them are yielding 80% of the value, can you give us what are the other half?

Bruce Daisley
The first 12 are all these recharges. Then probably the bit of the book that I found most fascinating when I was researching and it was something that the more I researched it, the more I became addicted and compelled to the science of it was this idea of human sync, this idea of human synchronization. The science of this is remarkable.

If you put a group o as soon as you realize you can improve work with lots of little hacks, with lots of little changes, then it becomes an exercise in finding what are the other hacks. f people who are strangers singing together in a choir, you observe that their endurance, their fortitude goes up. I’ll explain to you how in a second. When you put rowers together and you get them to row in time with each other, their fortitude and their endurance goes up. They become more than the sum of their parts remarkably. It’s choirs, rowers. When you put people together who dance, you see the same.

When I mention the fortitude, that’s one thing that scientists have found. They find it very difficult to measure the endorphin levels in people, but they find it very easy to measure the consequence of those endorphins. What they often do – and it sounds a touch callous – but they inflict pain upon people.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Bruce Daisley
Scientists, they tend to put these armbands around people’s arms, sort of things like what you might have worn or taught a child to swim in. But if you imagine you keep inflating those armbands until it starts creating a bit of pain on the arm of the subject.

What they found was that people who had rowed in time with each other could withstand twice the amount of pain of people who just rowed on their own. People who danced together, withstand more pain than people who’ve not danced together. People-

Pete Mockaitis
Now is this while they’re rowing and while they’re dancing or sort of at a resting state?

Bruce Daisley
Yes. No, so immediately when they stop, they can withstand the pain. It creates this magical thing. It’s really interesting. When we’re thinking about teams, the choir is a perfect example. You put strangers together and you get them to sing together and actually when you look at the evidence afterwards, they often say, “I feel a connection to the person I sung with,” even when that person was a stranger ten minutes before.

It has this remarkable quality. As soon as you understand that there is something about us being in sync with others that seems to develop this sort of fortitude, it seems to develop this connection, then you start thinking okay, are there other ways that we can access this. There are.

One of the most compelling bits of science about sync I’ve seen is scientists took about 4,000 unmarried couples who were living in a distant relationship. They were maybe sort of – one was in the West coast, one was in the East coast.

Pete Mockaitis
These are like romantic relationships?

Bruce Daisley
That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
So distance. Okay.

Bruce Daisley
That’s right. They tried to understand which of these couples stayed together. What they found was the couples that stayed together over the period of time that they were being observed had one thing in common. It was the ones who phoned each other every day to talk about trivial things.

When we have this human sync, when we take time to get in sync with each other and that often is conversation, but clearly the most magical form is this physical interaction, but we can observe it. The couples who spoke together every day, their relationships were more enduring.

We see lots of examples of this. One of the other bits that you see in this … is that there’s a wonderful researcher who’s looked at a lot of this work, a guy called Robin Dunbar. Robin Dunbar, he looked at animals and he observed that one of the ways that animals get in sync with each other is they do mutual grooming. It’s no longer acceptable Pete, unfortunately for me to stop and pick fleas off of you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m just thinking I’ve got a great hairbrush, just come on over.

Bruce Daisley
Maybe this is why we see teenage girls do this. We see the endorphin levels rocket through the roof when animals spend time in mutual grooming. However, he said they observed exactly the same behavior when humans laugh together, which is really interesting.

You’ve got this phenomenon of human sync. Chat activates it. Spending time around in synchronized activities with others activates it, but also laughing with others activates it. The consequence of sync is that it tends to make us more bonded with the people we’re working with. It tends to make us have a greater allegiance with the people we’re working with.

Anyone who’s thinking about how to make work better, thinking about how you can build some maybe sort of collective laughter into the working environment is a really important thing.

Of course, strangely a lot of us have stumbled upon that through our own experience. We’ve maybe been in companies where the company meeting at the end of the week, there was always a guy who stood up and made everyone laugh. That place seemed better than this place, but we couldn’t put our finger on why.

I think this for me is a good piece of science that says, as human beings we shouldn’t be ashamed of finding benefit in some of these things like laughter. We shouldn’t be ashamed in feeling more connected to our teammates when we spend time laughing with them.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really cool. That just gets me thinking in terms of how to get that laughter going. I remember one time I was in an office and we had just a little fun event in which everyone – well, you might dig this, former YouTube – everyone was to bring one of their favorite YouTube videos. We just sort of hung out. That’s what we did. There was maybe 20 people. Each person brought a YouTube video they thought was great and we all just laughed together. It was a whole lot of fun.

Bruce Daisley
Well, one of the best books on laughter is by a scientist called Robert Provine. Robert Provine said – it was a really interesting thing – he said even though I think there’s somewhere in the region of 70,000 scientific papers, so peered-reviewed papers into pain, there’s less than 100 scientific reviewed papers into laughter. Scientists often feel it’s a bit frivolous to investigate laughter.

He decided that he was going to do one of the biggest pieces of research into laughter. He pulled together all of everyone else’s research. Here’s what he found.

He found laughter quite often in an office – so I’ve talked there about optimizing an office for laughter – but he said often in an office, laughter is around things that aren’t necessarily the funniest things in the world. We often find ourselves laughing with colleagues at things that wouldn’t necessarily get on their own Netflix special.

But he said in many ways laughter, the way he describes it, is in many ways, laughter is like a human’s bird song. It’s like the sound we make to feel connected to each other.

Actually one of the things that laughter signals – there’s a wonderful bit of science that if you look at how animals play, one thing that dogs do is they often do a thing where they lean forward on their front two legs, sort of very similar to the yoga position, the downward dog.

Scientists who look at that say that that signals that no harm will pass here, that dogs know that if they lean forward on their front two legs, that even if they look like they’re about to bite each other, they know that it’s a signal that things are safe. One scientist said to me that laughter signals the same for humans. We laugh to signal we’re all friends here. This is just – we’re connected with each other.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s so good. This is bringing me back to my days at consulting at Bain and one of their best – the best lines in their recruiting materials – I think they’re still using it is “We laugh a lot,” which was true.

Then one of my favorite sort of events we had, they called it the Bain Band in which people would change the lyrics of popular songs to reflect sort of the dorky nuances of the consulting experience, so
Time After Time would be Slide After Slide. It wasn’t super hilarious, but it was your colleagues that you recognized up there being kind of silly on stage. You just sort of laugh a little bit like, “Oh yeah, that’s our life, slide after slide, ha, ha, ha.”

It had such a powerful bonding effect. I remember we would all rush to get with our favorite colleagues and have chairs next to each other. If someone was going to the bar for a drink, nobody wanted to leave their seats, “Oh get me one,” “Oh get me one,” “Oh get me one,” someone’s coming back with seven drinks in their hand somehow. Yeah.

Bruce Daisley
Isn’t it interesting though that so often and especially when times are difficult, so let’s imagine the last few years have been difficult for a lot of businesses, that one of the things that you know there from your own subjective experience backed up by the science that I’ve done is that laughter made you feel connected and made you probably in truth, want to work harder for the people around you.

But when times are hard, we find ourselves saying, “Now is not the time for laughter. Don’t let the bosses see you laughing in the office.” We often have this idea that somehow laughter is frivolous, somehow unnecessary. It’s a distraction from the job rather than it’s forging a link with us and the colleagues we work with that’s going to make us do our best work.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. That is good. Boy, just keep them coming Bruce. Laughter, any other big ones you want to share?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. For me that was so fascinating because the idea of laughter. But I think probably the one that’s been most talked about in the last few years is the idea of psychological safety. This is the idea, I think I mentioned earlier that the willingness to speak up to the boss. I was really interested.

I met a member of the equivalent of the Navy SEALS, a member of the special forces in the United Kingdom. He told me about their tactic of reaching this. Psychologically safety is this immensely difficult thing to achieve.

When teams feel willingness to speak up to the boss, what you tend to find is it produces a fluidity of discourse. It ensures that you don’t end up in a situation where the whole of the company knows that something’s bad but the bosses are asking them to do it.

If you look back at some of the recent memorable corporate failures, Nokia was famous for it had a culture where people were instructed if they couldn’t be positive, don’t do anything. As a result of that, when they were faced with the iPhone arriving and people starting to question whether their smartphone was good enough, the people who had dissenting voices and maybe wanted to speak up were really clearly told don’t speak up. This is not the time – there’s no value in speaking up.

I think what we’ve learned is the businesses where they can encourage this psychological safety are incredibly powerful. This is when the conversation I had with a member of the elite military came in.

He told me a really simple thing, which was they have a daily debrief. They have a – at the end of every interaction when they’re out in the field, this is the combat field – maybe they’ve just been on a deployment in Afghanistan or in some sort of war-torn part of Iraq or wherever. He said at the end of every day they have a quick standup. They all gather around. He said it should take no more than 10 – 15 minutes. It’s while we’re still in our combat clothes.

He said the way it works is that he describes what happens that day and then he will say what he did wrong or what he felt he could have done better. Then he invites everyone else to discuss what happened that day. The very act of a leader saying, “Here’s what I did wrong,” and demonstrating that they aren’t infallible, that they have got vulnerabilities is an incredibly powerful access point to everyone else doing the same.

Psychological safety is this really elusive quality. You see businesses talk about it increasingly. But I loved his simple access point for that because so often we come out of big meetings and we come out of interactions with – we come of big meetings or client interaction or we come out of a review and firstly we often gather the feedback a week later or we’re send an email round everyone saying, “That went well. Any thoughts?”

Of course you lose specificity in that because you lose the sense of people know that that one answer that one person gave that wasn’t right, you lose specificity. But by taking time afterwards and the leader being the first to step forward and say, “Here’s what I did wrong,” seems to give a really powerful access point to people feeling that they can share the same.

Again, these aren’t – I don’t think these are – they’re not going to be revolutions that are going to be patented by someone. They’re not going to be – on their own, they won’t transform a business. But the thing that was fascinating for me was following the evidence of what other people have done as an access point to improving the jobs that we do.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s fantastic. Particularly when you think about military in which rank is just so clear and you think that you need to be strong and to be a tough leader who’s being entrusted with people’s lives. If they can do it, anyone can do it.

Bruce Daisley
Right. He told me a fascinating thing. He said to me the biggest mistake that anyone makes about the military is thinking that we give orders all day long. He said the decision making is often far more consensual than you think because if we found ourselves just giving instructions that were unwelcome, it would be a failure of leadership.

That was a real revelation to me. We’ve got this idea that soldiers are just given marching orders and told where to go. He said, “No, far from it.” They very much regard themselves as people who are studying and learning from the world of work and wanting to improve upon it. For me it was just a revelation to speak with someone who had that experience.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, look, probably the one thing I will say is that the overwhelming debate right now in the world of work is the amount we work. There’s been certainly a contribution to this discussion this year by Elon Musk. I think he doesn’t make the best poster child for the 120-hour work week.

But Elon Musk has a couple of times this year said he works 120 hours a week and that he feels that nothing good can be accomplished at less than 80 – well, he said 40 hours is not enough to work and he feels that you need to work 80 hours a week to achieve anything.

I think the wonderful thing about that is that there’s no evidence for it at all. In fact, when you actually invite people to make evidence and to gather evidence on these things, you see that either we’re lying to ourselves, that we’re not working 80 hours, we’re – but we’re working 40 hours distributed across a week.

I was chatting to an investment banker today. She was telling me that she used to leave the office at 10 PM every night, maybe 11, sometimes 12. I said to her, “Wow, was it relentless all day?” She said, “No, no, no, no. It was the culture though that you didn’t leave till 10. There were times when we weren’t working especially hard.” She said, “There was a lot of time for downtime and laughter, but the culture was you didn’t work – you didn’t leave till 10 PM.”

Sometimes work is the lie we tell ourselves. We’re not being honest with ourselves. The wonderful thing is the more you look at the evidence – there was some fabulous evidence that I found – that really the most that the human brain can really work and what most of us work with our brains is around 55 hours a week. After that the marginal gains for each hour actually are negative. When we work 70 hours a week, we actually achieve significantly less than when we work 40 hours a week.

As soon as you identify that science, as soon as you realize that that’s the case, you start thinking, “Okay, well, maybe my objective should be to work 40 good hours a week to be energized, but to value my rest as much as my work.” For me that’s the path to enlightenment here.

If we can start thinking rather than doing 70 exhausted hours a week, let’s do 40 good hours a week and that’s a good week’s work. Or less. If people want to work less, then by all means. But I think the more that we can get balanced, it’s going to help us achieve greater creativity.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m right with you there. All right, so now could you share with us a favorite quote, something you find inspiring?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. This is a quotation that’s from – they often say, certainly in the UK, they often say that all quotes ultimately are attributed to Winston Churchill. If you say something, people will say, “Yeah, originally that was a Churchill quote.” This similarly, albeit that this is the mantra of the UK team, the cycling team. One of the most – I often don’t use sporting metaphors, but it’s one of the most accomplished transformations over the last 30 years, the medals that the UK cycling team has won.

But their mantra is this, their mantra is “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” What they mean by that is effectively, preserve your energy because energy is finite. Use your energy when you’re ready for your most important action. Don’t waste it. Don’t waste it on trivial moments.

For me, as soon as you think about that – there’s a similar quotation about our brains. It was in a book by a guy called Daniel Levitin a couple of years ago, about three years ago. I can almost remember this quote verbatim. He said, “Our brains are configured to make a certain number of decisions every day. Once we each that number, we’re unable to make any more irrespective of how important they are.” Right.

That’s a game changer for me because – the science behind that if anyone wants to look into it is called ego depletion. But as soon as you realize, okay, so me running around and working from seven in the  morning and doing all these things and reading all these papers and doing this then going to this meeting, then answering all these emails, it’s zero sum. You reach a stage in the day where you brain can no longer do any more.

As soon as you realize that then that cycling team mantra becomes really important. “Never stand when you can sit. Never sit when you can lie down.” If we’re going to achieve the most we can achieve in work, it’s not by working longer and harder, it’s by using that finite gunpowder we’re got in our brain for the most important uses of it.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, it changes for me all of the time. I loved – there’s a wonderful book by a professor from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology called Sandy Pentland. He’s called Sandy Pentland. The book is called Social Physics.

He took some badges, sort of like the name badges we might wear around our necks to get into most offices and he turned them into sort of microcomputers. Then he used those badges to start tracking the interactions that happened in offices. I have to tell you, when I read this book, I was blown away by it because it starts telling you the truth about what goes on in offices. Honestly, I sat there like this is like magic.

What he found was emails contribute about 2% of the output to offices. Meetings account for about the same. Most important thing that contributes to what goes on in offices is face-to-face chat, is face-to-face discussion accounts for two-fifths of everything that’s achieved in an office.

Probably, Pete, you’ve witnessed that there’s less chat going on in offices these days. People are busier than ever before. They often put on headphones as a way to cope with an office, an open plan office. People are doing – they’re finding less time for chat. I think for me seeing evidence and he built up the biggest amount of data of face-to-face interactions in offices ever. He was able to track this. It became just – it was eye opening for me what we were able to learn from it.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah. That’s a very good question. It’s certainly not – I love Twitter. I work at Twitter, obviously I love it. First and foremost, I used it. Probably the thing that I find has transformed the world of learning more than anything else though is my Audible app. I love Audible. I’m a keen runner. For me listening – sometimes I’m listening to a novel at the moment, which is such a wonderful palette cleanser, but listening to the latest book, for me it’s just a revelation.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit?

Bruce Daisley
I think probably the most important habit that any of us can have is to try and get as much sleep as possible and I try to get seven and a half hours of sleep a night. Normally with good success, but I’m not 100% sure that the sleep is always the highest quality, but that’s what I try to do.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a key nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with folks and they retweet often?

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, the thing for me is that some of the things that I’ve mentioned here to some extent this day in modern work is that we all feel guilty about work. We go home with 40 emails in our inbox. We didn’t get back to that person. We didn’t do this.

For me, the biggest learning that I’ve had this year is that all of the science suggests that creativity is destroyed by stress. As creativity is going to increasingly be the most important asset in our toolbox for managing the world of work, then we need to recognize that stress kills creativity. Focusing on that all the time will help us achieve more in our jobs.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, they can – I always welcome people hitting me up on LinkedIn. I’m very willing for people to connect with me there. I’ve also got social media, so you can find me on Twitter at BruceDaisley or you can search for the podcast which is Eat, Sleep, Work, Repeat.

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

Bruce Daisley
Yeah, I would say – the best thing I would say is take another look at the way that you’re working. I found that quite often I felt that I was the exception. We all think we’re the exception. You hear that the most that humans can work is 55 hours and your first response is “Not me. I can work longer than that.” I found when confronted with all this data, I did exactly what everyone else did. I argued with it.

Then I found myself on a Monday night sitting at the kitchen table, emailing at half past nine. I thought to myself, “What have you actually emailed in the last hour?” I hadn’t emailed. I’d reread one email four times. I’d gone and got myself another cup of tea. I changed the music three times. I hadn’t done an hour of work. However, what I’d done is I’d deprived myself of an hour’s rest. I think be honest with yourself about work. Work is the lie we tell ourselves quite often.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s awesome. Bruce, thank you so much for sharing this good stuff. It’s a shame that us Yankees have to wait an extra year for your book, but thanks for teasing so much goodies here. I’m really excited to put them into practice.

Bruce Daisley
Pleasure to talk to you Pete. Thank you so much.

383: Driving Adaptability in your Organization with Michael J. Arena

By | Podcasts | No Comments

 

 

GM’s Chief Talent Officer Michael J. Arena explores the idea of ambidextrous leadership to help lead your organization in its current state and in its future – at the same time.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Ways to positively disrupt the way you work
  2. Concrete ways to mine the ideas of your organization
  3. Why conflict is essential to the evolution of ideas

About Michael

Michael is the Chief Talent Officer for General Motors (GM), where he launched GM2020, a grass roots initiative designed to enable employees to positively disrupt the way they work, which was highlighted in Fast Company and Fortune. Michael is the author of the book Adaptive Space, which is based on a decade long research initiative that won the 2017 Walker Prize from People + Strategy.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Michael J. Arena Interview Transcript

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

Michael J Arena
Thanks Pete. I’m looking forward to this.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh me too, me too. Well you’ve got what sounds to be to me like a pretty fun job as the chief talent officer at General Motors. Can you orient us a little bit to what does that mean in practice?

Michael J Arena
In essence it’s really about how do you optimize human capital across the overall corporation, so how do we bring in the best people possible. In short, I’d like to say, how do we bring in the best people possible and then bring the best out in those people. That’s all about human capital and how do we get those people positioned to be able to leverage what they know. Yeah, it’s quite fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. Now in practice over the last few years you’ve been doing a lot of bringing out the best in people it sounds like. If you look at sort of the financial picture at General Motors in 2009, they’re filing for bankruptcy and now you’ve got some great profits. The business press would point to cultural shifts as being an essential part of making that transformation.

Could you give us a little bit of the behind-the-scenes or in-the-middle-of-things narrative for how this came to be and the human capital pieces play into it?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, absolutely. Just to clarify, I joined the company in 2012, so I can tell you – I can describe that journey from that point forward and more precisely around this role here in HR. I do think it’s about culture. It’s certainly – it’s been quite the journey.

I can remember when Mary Barra took over as CEO. One of her very first quotes and comments was this industry is going to change more in the next five years than it has in the last 50. What that means is you need to rethink everything you’re doing.

Culture is a core element of that. It’s not the only one. It is either an enabler or a stifler of what you want to do with things like business strategy and how you’re going to drive operational management, how you’re going to think about new consumers and new business models and all that sort of stuff. It’s been quite the comprehensive journey from that point to this with much of it still in front of us.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so could you give us a little bit of the particulars with regard to before the culture was more like this and now it’s more like that and here are some of the key things we did to bring about that shift?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, and again, I think it starts kind of with the industry. This was an organization and an industry that was all about driving execution, all about continuing to drive scale across the world. The game’s changed quite a bit. It’s now – we’ve got a – it’s now the future mobility.

We now need to think about what are customers demanding, what are customers – the best illustration I can give about that, then I’ll go back to the specifics of your question is people are moving to cities, just to put it in a real live external marketplace example. People are moving into cities and everyone’s becoming connected. The way you think about mobility inside of a city versus mobility in a suburban environment is very different.

We need to then get the business to start thinking about things differently. That certainly requires us to instill new sets of behaviors and to challenge everybody to think bigger than perhaps they had in the past. Again, to move faster as well because the world outside is moving super fast compared to what we’ve been used to.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, so it seems like we’re changing sort of the total focus in terms of what General Motors wants to be excellent at in order to succeed in a different environment with more people in cities and sort of car sharing and ride services, sort of a different landscape than it was in 2009. I’m curious to hear what does that look like in terms of day in/day out humans at GM interacting with other humans and how they’re doing it differently now?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, one of the big things we did to start to drive this transformation is we plugged in a program that we call Transformational Leadership. This was a partnership with Stanford. It’s a year-long cohort program with Stanford where we take the top of the organization, 35 people on an annual basis, go through this program.

The reason I call out that program is because it answers your question rather directly in that we’re not just shifting to the future, we’re thinking both about the current state of the business and the future state of the business in the same moment. We call that ambidextrous leadership if you will. That came out of that program.

Everything we talk about here is growth and core. We’ve got to be excellent at the core of the business. We’ve got to continue to be – operations, we have an operational excellence program. Operations have to be maniacally precise and everything we produce has to be durable and everything else, but at the same time, which is what makes it ambidextrous, we need to be thinking about the future. We need to be thinking about where is the customer tomorrow going to be and how can we get there sooner than anybody else.

There’s a lot of people talking about agility in the world today. The way I like to talk about it is most large organizations shouldn’t talk about themselves as being completely agile. They need to be agile in places. They need to be agile on the edge. They need to be agile in the growth side of the business because the growth side of the business is where the future is. They need to be disciplined and operationally excellent in the core.

In fact, one of the studies that I read recently that talks about this, and then I can share exactly how we’re doing that, was a Mackenzie study where they said organizations need to be both fast at times and stable at other times. About only 12% of the companies they reviewed were able to do those two things at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that makes a ton of sense with regard to boy, if you think about sort of any organization, sort of what it can handle well and what it can’t, I even think about customer service interactions in terms of it’s like if you want to check your credit card balance or sort of get some basic information and sort of – or get a replacement card or report a stolen card or do some fraud stuff or change the credit limit, it’s like that’s kind of very basic.

But if you sort of go out beyond the edges, suddenly it gets really I guess confusing for the people in terms of what they’re trying to do. It’s like we’re really built up and tooled up to do these dozen things very quickly and efficiently and systematically.

But now I’m trying to get my private mortgage insurance canceled with my new insurer – my new mortgage holder because they transferred them over as they do. It’s been rather challenging. It’s like, “No, no, no, I understand your policy, but in fact if you looked at the original text, the original mortgage, this is kind of how it’s supposed to work, so can we do that?” They’re just so flummoxed, like, “We’re going to have to look into this, sir.”

I think that’s intriguing to think about it. In some ways you want to just be high-scale, high-efficiency with doing that thing repeatedly with, frankly no innovation because it’s working great and other areas where you really got to adapt and see what’s new and what are people starting to really ask for.

Michael J Arena
Yeah, 100%. 100%. It’s funny that you mentioned banking as your example because I grew up in banking.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Michael J Arena
I remember that exact question coming to me at one point in time when I was asked by the president, the company I was working for, “Michael, how can we become more innovative?”

I told the same story you just did a moment ago. “Are you really sure you want to be innovative where you’re driving precision and you’ve built expectations for consumers and you want to be reliable and you want to create a consistent set of interactions or are you asking if you want to be innovative on the edges?”

At that point in time, this was before mobile banking, so it’s a great illustration. When it comes to something like mobile banking before it had existed, you have to be innovative there because no one’s ever done that at that point in time. No one had ever done that. You have to be agile. You have to think differently. You have to move, shift, flux, understand the consumer, shift with the market. You have to do that super fast.

That’s where we are now as a company on things like car sharing and what we’re doing with Maven, what we’re doing with electification, what we’re doing with self-driving vehicles. You have to be completely agile and you have to manage that side of the business with a whole different set of muscles while continuing to keep an eye on the core of the business and making sure that you’re doing that flawlessly.

My analogy for this is every organization is both a super tanker, which is critical to getting stuff done precisely and at scale and a set of speed boats that are being sort of tossed out into the white water so that they can move fast and agilely shift with the environment and then ultimately grow themselves into what the next core of the business is and should be.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you talk a little bit about sort of the people practices that bring that about? I’d be curious to hear if in the course of having meetings or interactions one-on-one, you’d say whereas before at GM people more so spoke or interacted or accepted or challenged these kinds of things, now it looks different in terms of their interactions.

Michael J Arena
Yeah, so the first thing to know is that in that model the era of one-size-fits-all solutions is inappropriate. You’ve got to use different solutions for the different parts of the model. Some of the practices are – we use a lot of design thinking on the growth side of the business. We’re out talking to consumers. We’re out engaging consumers in Manhattan and San Francisco and places that we might not interact with on a day-to-day basis traditionally.

Then we’re thinking about how do we bring those ideas back into the business and connect up with other parts of the business, build bridges, if you will, to do agile design and to move fast. Amazon calls them small two-pizza teams, very small teams that can first of all build something, like a minimum viable product or solution and then ultimately the reason the bridges matter later is scaling. That’s the growth side of the business.

Now on the core side of the business, you just incrementally have to ask yourself the question, how do we make this better every single day. How do we continue to get more nimble and more agile even in the core so that whenever the new growth part of the business comes to fruition, that the core is already ready to sort of cast it up onboard and take it on?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then in forming these teams, can you give us an example of something that you’re able to quickly react to and how it was done?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, so a couple different examples. The one that I can think of most notably off the top of my head is what we’ve been doing with Maven, which I’ve mentioned already. Maven is our car sharing platform. Maven by its very definition is access to a vehicle as opposed to ownership of it. We sell cars and in the core of the business we continue to and will continue to for quite some time.

But on the other hand just like there is Uber and Lyft, which are ride sharing applications, there’s a need to get from one point to the next inside the city. We found this sort of whitespace that no one was serving, which is how do get outside – how do you not own a vehicle, but maybe take that vehicle for longer durations than just from one of the end to the other end of the city.

Maybe you’ve got it for a couple hours. You’re driving it as opposed to someone picking you up and you’re actually deploying an asset – someone else’s asset – that may be sitting in the garage at some point in time.

This whole shared economy model, we went out – to be very precise – we went out and started interviewing people in the streets. It was in design thinking. What we found out was owning a vehicle inside of a city may be more of a burden than a benefit for some, but we can build a solution around that so that they still have access to a vehicle in such a way that they get the conveniences of it without the burdens of it. That’s where Maven really evolved from.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s cool. Now you were big in pushing a concept called GM 2020 throughout the organization. What does this mean?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, it’s, again, we’re now back in the core of the business. One of the things we want to do is we want to think about the core of the business in regards to how do we build the culture where people just can’t wait to show up to work the next day. People just really want to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Back in 2014, we launched this, I’ll call it a movement. We launched this movement where we invited – and this was back when we were really trying to attract young people into the organization. We were really just starting to as corporations as a whole create different environments that were, at that point in time, I would say were more Millennial friendly. I don’t believe that any more. I think that’s true for anyone and all of us.

But we launched this initiate where we thought about okay, if we were to recreate the culture or rethink culture or rethink the workplace, why not invite the people in the room that will actually be living with those outputs in the year 2020.

Literally using some design thinking methodologies and inviting 30 people into a two-day event, we went out, we took them out on buses, and we went and looked at all these creative workplaces first across Detroit. That movement, those 30 people, ended up growing into a movement that we call GM 2020, how do we positively disrupt the way we work.

They continue to grow into a much larger body of people. It’s thousands now of people that show up into these events, constantly thinking about how we can get better and all volunteers, but constantly thinking about how we can organically get better on a day-to-day basis.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s excellent. Then what have been some of the key adopted practices that have shown up in terms of doing work better and in a more enjoyable way?

Michael J Arena
The great part about this is that all kinds of ideas emerge out of this. One of the – perhaps my favorite story, there are plenty that I can share, but perhaps my favorite story was we were about ready to open up a new building.

It was a ten-floor building where generally what happens is you go in, you bring a facilities crew in. You bring in some architects. They look around the space and they decide what the footprint should look like. They plug in standard furniture and everything else. Well, rather than approaching it that way, what we decided was why not invite the people who are going to be working in that space into designing it.

We did what we called a two-day co-lab, kind of like a hack-a-thon, if you will, across two days. We invited in 35 people. We put them into teams of 5. We asked them to – we walked them through the space. We gave them the same parameters that any facilities team would have in regards to cost constraints and architectural barriers and all that sort of stuff.

We literally had these teams and teams of five build prototypes. After giving all those constraints and talking to individual users, which were their fellow employees, we actually had them build prototypes of what that space should look like. They competed against each other.

At the end of the – I said two days, it was actually 24 hours from beginning to end, from 12 o’clock to 1 o’clock the next day – at 12 o’clock the next day, they presented their working physical prototypes to a design team and the winning team actually created the design of the way that that building ultimately was created.

Pete Mockaitis
Very cool. Then how did they like it?

Michael J Arena
Again, it was very different then perhaps what would have been designed for them. One of my favorite stories was the winning team actually cut a hole in the – they said if you want to collaborate, you need to be able to look up and down across multiple floors, so they actually cut a hole in the center of the building in their prototype three floors deep. They said “This is will be the collaboration zone. The two floors above that will be the concentration/deep work zone.”

Whenever they did that, well, of course they’re not architects, so they weren’t thinking about how sound this was, so there was all this push back on, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, but architecturally that doesn’t stand up.” I’m thrilled to say that that team ended up becoming part of the overall design team.

They didn’t cut a hole in two floors, but they ended up – or in three floors, but they ended up cutting it in the two in order to make their solution work. They were thrilled, the short answer. They were thrilled at the end of the day with the new design.

That’s not a huge example, but there are all kinds of those everyday examples that I’m giving you now, like where people designed an onboarding app or people designed a learn and share so that they could do a career fair and all these little things that manifested throughout this community so that they’re able to move really fast and organically create these new solutions.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. With the hole in the floor, you could – one person could stand on one floor, the other person stands on the floor above and they look down at each other?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, exactly. Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
You could accidently – if you weren’t paying attention, walk into a hole and fall down.

Michael J Arena
No, no, it’s not quite that way. They had the railings and all that stuff up. But it was really much more to illustrate that we’re not separating ourselves from different groups. If we’re going to collaborate, we at least need to have this sort of proximity to one another as opposed to hitting our floor button and showing up.

It’s, again, a small thing, but as you engage people in making those decisions themselves, they become very, very proud about those outcomes and they figure out how to iterate on it and make it better over time.

Pete Mockaitis
So people don’t speak to each other through the floors? It’s more of a symbolic-

Michael J Arena
Yeah, absolutely. They see each other.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Michael J Arena
So they can certainly correspond back and forth. I guess I’m just sort of the dispelling the safety myth.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you. The railings certainly, that makes sense. We’ve got the safety covered. They would in fact speak through the hole from one floor to another.

Michael J Arena
Completely.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, that’s cool. That’s fun. Now, you’ve also got a book, Adaptive Space, that captures some of these principles that you put into practice. Can you sort of share with us kind of what’s the book all about?

Michael J Arena
I’ve talked around a lot of it already, but it’s this core concept of why are some organizations adaptive and are able to respond to the changing marketplace and the other organizations perhaps aren’t quite as adaptive.

As a researcher, this was even prior to my time I come into General Motors, as a researcher, four of us actually launched a research initiative, went out and studied 60 different companies, all Fortune, really, 100 companies, and asked that question, why are some adaptive and why are others not.

What we found, and this is the part that I talked around a bit already is that those were – every single organization had two things. They had these sort of core systems, we call them operational systems, which is the formality of how you get work done and they all had entrepreneurial pockets, even organizations that aren’t adaptive have innovative entrepreneurial activities happen within them.

What the adaptive ones had that the non-adaptive organizations didn’t have was what we ultimately called adaptive space, but basically it’s the bridge to get those ideas through the organization and pulled into the formal systems.

Think of it quite literally as how do you more intentionally mine the idea, everyday ideas throughout your organization, both big and small in such a way that it becomes part of the adaptive fabric of an organization that can respond differently to the outside market. That was a lot, but-

Pete Mockaitis
What are some of the – what was that?

Michael J Arena
No, I was just saying, so that was more than a mouthful for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh no, that’s cool. Then what are some of the practices associated with getting those bridges up and going in terms of these things make all the difference if you’ve got them versus don’t?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, yeah. The interesting part about this is it’s a social phenomenon. The interesting thing is the connections that you create inside an organization are more important than I think we ever believed they were before.

Think about it this way, we all want to think about who are the – how do we build a bigger network and how do we build our network inside of an organization. What we discovered was your network matters immensely, but your network needs to be different for different intentions.

I talk a lot about social capital. I’m in the talent space and spend a lot of my time talking about human capital, but I also talk about social capital. Human capital is what you know, social capital is how well positioned you are to leverage what you know. Remember, I said that every organization had entrepreneurial pockets, but not everybody was able to leverage that and that was because they weren’t connected appropriately.

A couple of the practices to get very precise with you is there are times where you need to create discovery networks. A discovery network is a network that’s actually going outside of the insular walls of an organization and finding out what the customers of tomorrow really need and want, like the Maven story I shared with you a few moments ago.

There are also times that ideas were too. Organizations, all organizations have lots of ideas. You’ve got to bring those ideas into the world. It’s important to have discovery connections because that’s how you stay relevant, that’s how you can move – you can keep pace with the outside market, but you’ve got to bring those ideas in and you’ve got to actually put them in the very small, tight, what Amazon calls two-pizza teams. We call that agile design in many organizations or scrum teams.

That requires a different set of connections. You want very trusted small groups of teams of maybe six that are taking ideas that were discovered and then bringing them into the world and iterating them, move them fast.

Then once they built a minimum viable product, this is where a lot of companies sort of fail, once you build a minimum viable product inside of a small pocket, you then have to start to think about how do I get that scaled on across the broader business. That requires yet a different set of connections that we call diffusion connections.

That’s – when you think about those different practices, it’s a different set of connections and a different set of practices for each of those steps, if you will, on any given product lifecycle or any given solution lifecycle into the business.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m really intrigued by the notion that you said that the ideas are a dime a dozen. There’s tons of them in a scaled organization. Boy, I imagine a critical lever that is really make or break here is effectively choosing, selecting, deciding which of these ideas are worthy of getting a two-pizza team to advance it and go after it a bit. What are some of the key ways that these decisions can be made optimally?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, you’ve got to be disciplined in that process. I’d say ideas are cheap. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek. They’re cheap if nothing’s done with them. If somebody just shares an idea and they don’t do anything with that idea to bring it to life, then who knows if that was a good idea or not.

An idea is nothing but an abstract, but if you actually take that idea and you build something around it and you go test that idea, which gets into your question, the best way to find out if an idea is worthy is to actually build some aspect of it, low-resolution prototype and get out and test it. Test it first with some friends inside the business, find out if some colleagues get excited about it. Then ultimately test it with consumers or would be consumers.

Then that’s not enough because it’s still this low resolution sort of fragment of an idea. It’s better than the idea itself I should say, but it’s still a fragment of a concept. You then have to decide, okay, what are the thresholds to know whether or not we can win with this idea or this is a real idea that would have real market impact or this an idea that’s worth our investment.

That’s a whole different series of practices and the only way to know that is to set up milestones around that concept or an idea and hold people accountable for getting to those milestones. If they don’t, you kind of decommission it and you say we can only take so many of these at a time.

Every organization has a finite set of resources, so you just simply decide how many people am I going to invest in this idea, how many people – what do they need to prove between now and the next milestone, whatever that is, and if they don’t prove it, do we have the courage to shut that idea down so that we can take those resources and reinvest them into something else.

In short, what you just heard me describe is there are parts of the organization where you need to act and think much like a startup.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. I think that’s excellent in terms of having that discipline and those clear thresholds that you’re identifying. I guess I’m thinking about backing it up a little bit earlier in the process. I imagine GM has thousands of ideas emerging. Then you may only pilot test out dozens at a time. Why don’t we say 1 out of 80, little ratio, shows up and gets the minimum viable product treatment.

How do you decide what hits that initial threshold, like, “You know what? We are going to spend some time, money, resources six people on this one.”

Michael J Arena
This is where I think it truly is a social phenomenon. I think our inclination – when you or I have a new idea, our inclination is to go take it to a leader and to go get it formalized. That may be the worst idea possible. That may be the worst step forward possible because you don’t even know if that idea’s good at this stage.

What I’m – and we’ve done this very much in the GM 2020 community, where we basically say, “If you think you’ve got a great idea, go find a friend.” That first friend is really social proofing your idea. That first friend – somebody who you trust, somebody who you respect, somebody who you think would get this – is your first litmus test.

Once you share that idea with that friend, if they look at you like, “Michael, this is really stupid. I have no idea what you’re talking about,” well, you might just be wrong and you might just decide that it’s time to shut it down. But if they’re excited about it, then our next step, what we talk about a lot is, go follow the energy.

If I share this idea with you and you’re excited about the idea, then okay, so who else might be excited about this idea. At this point it becomes more than it’s Pete’s idea, Michael’s idea together and we go find a few more friends.

This, what I’m describing to you, is much more organic than mechanistic, which is how we want to tend to think about innovation inside of a company. It’s much more social than process driven.

At some point, you need formal support. At some point once you know you’ve created network buzz and people are excited about this idea and they believe in the beauty of this as it’s co-created and it’s no longer just my idea, it’s all of our ideas and we can all find ourselves in it, well then the likelihood of securing support and resources is amplified ten-fold.

That’s the way that you get these, as I stated it earlier, these entrepreneurial pockets fired up and linked up across the broader organization for grander success.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Awesome. Well, any other kind of key practices you think the typical professional needs to know or do you want to move ahead to hear about some of your favorite things?

Michael J Arena
Yeah, well I guess one thing – because I haven’t talked about one – there’s one thing that everybody who’s listening to this conversation is wondering. Okay, that’s all fine. That sounds great. But what about the resistance? What about when somebody doesn’t like my idea? Then what do I do?

One of the things that I like to talk about is conflict sometimes – charge into the conflict. The conflict later – once you believe your idea is good, once we’ve got a band of a half dozen or so of us, then the conflict is really critical to the evolution of that idea. The conflict is essential to getting it scaled.

One is take that conflict as a compliment because you’re probably not doing anything innovative if you haven’t created some disturbance. Charge into it and start to think about it. Oftentimes what I like to say is you can’t really have a breakthrough without something to break through. If you’re not expecting some degree of resistance or some degree of conflict, then you’re probably not being so bold.

A lot of people ask me, “Well, what do you do with conflict? What happens whenever the antibodies kick in?” What I say is, “That’s awesome.” It’s about how do you pivot in response that that, how do you bring them in to the process so that you can pressure test those ideas, you can morph them and you can challenge them in such a way that you make them bigger and more scalable both within the business, but far more importantly outside into the marketplace.

Pete Mockaitis
Excellent. Thank you.

Michael J Arena
I just would not want to underplay sort of the value of tension even more than conflict, I wouldn’t want to undervalue that, but what I will say is tension too early in the process actually prematurely kills ideas. Tension later in the process becomes almost like this pressure testing sort of amplifier, if you will, to get lift off sooner.

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

Michael J Arena
You probably have noticed even though I live inside of a human capital job that social capital is an area that I spend a lot of my time.

One of my favorite quotes and this will get a little bit into the conflict thing is it’s a quote by Colonial Picq. This quote goes like this, “Five brave men, who do not know each other well, would not dare attack a lion.” I know that’s masculine, so I’ll pivot it in the next part of the quote. “But five lesser brave men or women would do so resolutely.” I think this is a team activity. What I’m talking about, you have to have friends. You have to find friends. You have to have people who are in it with you.

One of the things that I know is that if you try to do this alone and you try to take all the credit for yourself and you try to hold onto an idea, you try to hoard it – this idea can be anything, any kind of solution – you will not succeed. But if you find and enlist friends and you work together as a team, you’re chances of succeeding are amplified significantly.

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

Michael J Arena
Again, this whole networking space, I studied a lot of network theory. I guess the one that just jumps out at me right off the bat is a professor over at University of Michigan, Wayne Baker, a good friend of mine, went out and studied – we didn’t even talk about this – but went out and studied energizers and people who bring energy into an organization, which is one of the core network roles that I talk a lot about.

What he found out was that high performing, agile adaptive organizations have three times as many energizers as average performing organizations. That’s a study, where in the HR space we talk a lot about engagement. My belief is we’re going to be talking much, much more about energy moving forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Intriguing. How about a favorite book?

Michael J Arena
I guess in the last couple years books that I’ve read, the one that jumps out the most is Adam Grant’s Give and Take, like givers and takers. His whole philosophy, if you haven’t read it, is that long-term, givers, people who are constantly helping, supporting and lifting each other up are the winners in the long-term game. It’s a phenomenal book.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Michael J Arena
I think it’s easy to live inside of an organization and become somewhat inculturated. One of the disciplines – I don’t know if this is a habit – one of the disciplines that I have instilled for myself is to – I have, on my calendar I have, literally this is what it says, ‘critical distance day.’

Literally once every six weeks I have a day on my calendar where I have prescheduled, I’m getting out of the day-to-day business and I’m going to go do something very, very different. I’m going to talk to consumers. I’m going to go to a conference. I’m going to a university campus. But I’m going to do something to refresh myself to think differently than I would if I were just managing the daily business.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. Is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate and get quoted back to you frequently?

Michael J Arena
Yeah. I guess the one that I think of is we live in the era of disruption. We’re all talking about digital disruption these days. We want to talk about things like agile, but I personally believe that in the era of disruption, social is king. We’re going to be talking much more, much, much more about both energy and social capital as we move forward over the next decade.

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

Michael J Arena
The book, there’s a website for the book, AdaptiveSpace.net. They can certainly go on there. I’ve talked a little bit around some different network roles. There’s another website out there called NetworkRoles.com that they can actually go sort of take a self-assessment to better understand their own individual network role.

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

Michael J Arena
Stop talking about it and start doing it. Go find a friend. That first friend matters more than you can ever imagine. Find a first friend to partner with on whatever it is that you’re thinking about it is the first step forward. We oftentimes think of things and oftentimes don’t act on those.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Well, Michael this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you and GM lots of luck in all you’re up to.

Michael J Arena
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed the conversation.