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643: The Overlooked Fundamentals of Inspiring and Managing Teams with 15Five’s Shane Metcalf

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Shane Metcalf reveals his top research-based do’s and don’ts for being a great manager.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one meeting a manager should always make
  2. The teambuilding technique for great teams from the get-go
  3. How and why to keep an employee dossier 

About Shane

Shane Metcalf is a keynote speaker on building a world class workplace and one of the world’s leading pioneers in the space of cultural engineering and positive psychology. His insights have been featured in Inc, Fast Company, Business Insider, Washington Post, Tech Crunch, and Bloomberg. 

As the Co-founder of 15Five, Shane and his team support HR Executives with data-driven continuous performance management. 15Five has won numerous awards for their company culture, including the prestigious Inc Best Workplaces award, and is ranked #3 in the U.S. on GlassDoor. 

Follow Shane on Twitter and LinkedIn, and listen to him co-host the Best-Self Management Podcast.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

Shane Metcalf Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, welcome to the How to be Awesome at Your Job podcast.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, it’s good to be here and I’m hoping that I’m qualified. I’m, like, asking myself, “Am I being awesome at my job today?” And, you know what, I think I am actually.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, the website says you’re a visionary, so.

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hey, man.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s a lot to live up to.

Shane Metcalf
That’s all, you know, websites are amazing. It’s like, “Shane Metcalf. Visionary.” Yeah, one of the many illusions of the digital world, that I’m a visionary.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Well, I don’t think you envisioned getting a job after spilling orange juice on a customer but you’ve got a fun story there. I’ve got to hear it.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, I was, God, I was probably about 19, 18 or 19 and I was working in a restaurant called The Western Sky Café in the town where I grew up called Taos, New Mexico. And I’ve been in the restaurant industry for four or five years or something, kind of worked my way through high school. And one day I was waiting, I was serving tables, and I go to deliver a glass of orange juice to this gentleman wearing a white shirt. And, lo and behold, something happens and I spilled the glass of orange juice all over this poor gentleman. And he’s pretty gracious, and I made the most of it and I handled it however I do.

And then about 20 minutes later, somebody comes up to me and approaches me, and he’s actually the guy who was washing the windows. We’d hired a professional window washer to wash the windows of our restaurant. And he comes up to me and he says, “I was so impressed by how you handled spilling that glass of orange juice on that poor dude. I’m wondering, do you want a job? Do you want a different job?” and he offered me a job to join his window-washing company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And so, I still don’t really understand what I did that was so impressive other than like being apologetic and probably comping his meal and not being an a-hole after spilling orange juice on him, but, yes, so it got me a job. I think the lesson there is that we never see the big picture. We don’t understand how things that seem catastrophic and bad news are actually the drivers of creative evolution.

And zooming out a little bit, I mean, this is a very small example of that, but one of my favorite quotes is from this cosmologist named Brian Swimme, and he said that the driver of life’s creative evolution…” remember, this is a cosmologist so he’s thinking on this massive time scales, “…is always bad news, breakdowns, and chaos.” It was the extinction of the dinosaurs that paved the way for small mammals to proliferate and become humans. It’s just part of the recipe of evolution is that the things that look horrible are actually moving the storyline forward.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, boy, I could chew on that for a good while. And so, you move the storyline forward in terms of the experience of work and management and culture at your client organizations. Your company is called 15Five. First of all, what is that and what do you do?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. So, 15Five, we are a people and performance platform. And so, what does that mean? So, we build software education and services that helps to create highly-engaged and high-performing teams by helping people become their best selves. We believe that human development, like careers, are an opportunity for incubating human potential.

So, if we stop looking at our company as, “Hey, I’m going to hire a bunch of human resources to then kind of extract value from them and generate profit and then kind of throw out the used resources.” If we stop thinking of our people like that and actually looking at them as potential to be unlocked, we think that’s really where the best performance, the most creativity, the most engagement, the most retention, and, ultimately, the most rewarding experience we can create for not only our people but also for ourselves.

So, our software does everything from performance reviews and engagement surveys, to more manager-focused tools like check-ins, one-on-ones, peer recognition, real-time feedback. Creating more of these opportunities to communicate and have the right and most important high-leveraged conversations to improve everything inside of a company.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, if those conversations are high-leverage, it sure sounds like we should be having them. Can you give us a picture for just how high that leverage is? Like, what kind of results or lift or value do you see generated for your clients? Do you have any cool case stories or numbers to share here?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, sure. You can go to our website. We have over 2500 companies using us and there’s a lot of really interesting stories. No two companies are alike and so no two applications are going to be the same. But one of the things that I love hearing one of our customers, I had people like Credit Karma. She says loves 15Five because it instantly gives her X-ray vision into, “Which are the managers that are actually engaging their teams and giving feedback? And which managers are just not doing the basics of what foundational management principles really are actually being kind of required of us as managers, as people leaders, as people that are organizing other humans and helping to untap their creativity in problem-solving and the ability to move the needle forward?”

Pete Mockaitis
So, they can just see straight up, “Are the managers doing it? Are they in the platform having the conversations? Are they not?”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, and what’s the quality of their conversations, what’s the quality of the feedback. Gallup says, I mean, there’s a pretty damning statistic from Gallup. Gallup says only one out of 10 managers should actually be managers.

Pete Mockaitis
Based on their competence.

Shane Metcalf
Based on their competencies

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And competencies, strengths. It’s a bit of black box when you try to figure out, “Well, what are they determining that from?” But, bottom line, managing people is actually a pretty tough job. Giving proper feedback, getting people aligned with their strengths in their right roles is not always a simple thing and it does require a bit of attention and intention.

And so, what we try to do with our software is provide the scaffolding of what great management really looks like and make it easy, automate that. Automate the asking of the right questions on a regular basis. It’s a bit of a reinvention of the annual performance review. It’s slightly more frequent, less of a heavy lift, more future-focused than just looking at the past.

Also, not only tied to comp because there’s a big mistake in only tying performance conversations to compensation conversations because people are just trying to game the system to try to make more money, and they don’t go into the conversations as much around, “How can I actually improve performance? And what are the blind spots? What are the areas for me to improve upon?”

But then you have manager tools like the check-in, and that allows you to automate the asking of questions around, “Where are you stuck? Where do you need help with? What’s an idea you have to improve your role?” And you can front load your one-on-ones with getting this check-in so that you can sit down and actually have a coaching conversation versus a check-in conversation and waste that 30 minutes in person on just during what the latest is.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so much of what you’re saying is resonating big. I just want to make sure we’ve got the why nicely installed here. So, have you seen some rocking things in terms of the, I don’t know, Gallup engagement number, or the attrition rate, or sales performance? Or, can you give us a couple hot numbers?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. So, some of these things are hard to measure an ROI on. And so, the thing that I go back to is retention. We can go into an organization and through increasing recognition, increasing feedback channels, we keep people at companies longer, we keep the right people at companies longer. Engagement, we’re just starting to play in the engagement game, and so what I’m really excited about is, not too far from now, we’ll be able to run the assessment of engagement, get a score, and then, through the deployment of 15Five, of the check-ins and better one-one-ones, see the impact of that.

And it’s so customizable, so depending on what you’re struggling with as a company, you can then custom-tailor the questions to direct those conversations. So, say, you’re struggling with meaning, say, you’re getting low-meaning scores in your engagement surveys. You can then start asking questions and lead the trainings around, “What actually gives you meaning in your role? Where do you find meaning and inspiration inside the company? And maybe you aren’t finding it. Okay, cool. Well, let’s have a conversation around what that actually look like. Are you just separating your job from meaning and inspiration? Or is there an opportunity to merge those two? And, potentially, also, maybe change roles. Start bringing more of your strengths to the table when you’re actually doing that same role.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, let’s dig into, so we talked about the basic foundational scaffolding management stuff. Like, we had Bruce Tulgan on the show, and we talked about what he called the crisis of undermanagement and it still haunts me to this day, how I’m guilty of some of that, and how insightful it is in terms of, like, yeah, you actually don’t have a clue unless you’re doing some of these very basic stuff on a regular basis.

So, lay it out for us, what are the basic things that managers need to be doing? And what are the basic questions that need to be asked and how often? Like, give us the one-on-one. Like, what should a manager who’s like doing his or her basic job be doing in terms of conversations?

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, okay. Well, look, and some of this stuff is so obvious that I like to think that, “Oh, well, everybody is doing…every manager is doing a one-on-one with their people at least twice a month.” And so many times that’s not actually happening. So, let’s just start there. Let’s just start with one-on-ones because one-on-ones are a container to be having a conversation. It doesn’t mean you’re having a really high-quality conversation but that’s the foundation, so regular one-on-ones. And then how do you actually design those one-one-ones?

So, first of all, the one-on-one isn’t for you as a manager. It’s not for you to be holding your people accountable and making sure that they’ve done the tasks of their role. This is actually your employees one-on-one. This is the chance for them to actually have a direct channel to you to talk about the things that are either going well, the things they want, career development conversations, blockers, places they’re stuck in solving a problem.

And so, if you can orient the one-on-one as more of a coaching conversation, and, again, this is really kind of starting to shift out of the mindset as a manager, of a task manager, which is we want to be leaving behind, and more into as a coach, “I’m here to help you get your next job.” That’s how I think managers should be thinking about this, is, “I want to help you be successful so that you can go and get whatever job you want. Once successful, you’re going to get a promotion, you can move careers, you can move industries. And so, that’s part of the context here I have as your manager is to help you get your next job.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Shane Metcalf
And I think from an unhealthy perspective, it’s like, “My job as a manager is to keep you in your place so that you don’t try to take my job,” and that’s an unhealthy approach to management.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. So, there we go, some foundational pieces in terms of the right mindset, helping them succeed, and get whatever job they want, as well as having one-on-ones just occurring on a regular basis, at least twice a month, as you say. All right. And then those one-on-ones is not about, “Do this or this or this or this,” not about accountability on the task checklist but rather about serving them and their needs. And then what are some key questions that are important to cover there?

Shane Metcalf
Sure. Okay. So, other pieces of this that I think are going to be useful in terms of, “How do you then actually maximize your one-on-ones?” is, “Are you setting the right goals? Are you helping your people get clear on what they’re trying to accomplish in their role?” Honestly, we actually should go back to the beginning and really go back to role clarity.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Let’s do it.

Shane Metcalf
So, kind of surprising but one of the key things to psychological safety that we’ve discovered, not 15Five but Amy Edmondson and all the research being done on psychological safety, is that role clarity is a massive factor of whether people feel safe at work, whether people feel like they actually know what they’re supposed to be working on and what are the expectations, and the actual agreements of what they’re supposed to be doing in their job.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that resonates.

Shane Metcalf
And very few people have.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like when I don’t know, it’s so like, “What’s important here and what should I be doing? And am I doing it? Am I not doing it? I hope I’m doing it but I can’t be sure.” And, thusly, there’s always a lingering possibility that somebody be like, “Pete, you know what, you’re just not crushing it the way we want you to.” It’s like, “What does crushing really mean in this role, in this organization?” So, role clarity is huge. Most people don’t have it.

Shane Metcalf
And, look, that starts at the beginning. Like, you should be able to take your job description that you’re posting for that job to hire that person. You should be able to. That should be so well thought out and detailed that basically you take that, copy and paste it from the website, and that is that person’s role description. It should actually hold true.

If you want some examples of this, if you go to our careers page at 15five at 15Five.com/careers, you can see what a really well-thought-out job description actually looks like. Because, ultimately, the job description, we call them actual role and performance agreements. It’s the role, this is exactly what we want in this role, and this is exactly the performance expectations. This is what okay looks like, this is what great looks like, and this is what exceptional looks like in this role. So, that right there is something that the manager and the employee should be crystal clear. And it takes a little bit of work upfront but it’s frontloading the work in the beginning to avoid pain down the line.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And so, give us an example there in terms of on your careers page you’ve done the work of showing them before they even apply for the role, “This is what’s up and what we consider great versus okay on those dimensions.” That’s pretty cool.

Shane Metcalf
So, you have that clarity, and then people are coming into that position with that clarity. And then the beginning of that relationship, your first week with your new manager is super important. Lots of research has shown the first 90 days of somebody’s role experience at a job is going to be kind of a determinant of how long they stay. Onboarding is super important.

And, again, another thing that a lot of companies get wrong about onboarding is they make the onboarding all about the company, “Look at our values, and look at what we’re doing, and this is where we’re going. We’re going to be a rocket ship and we’re going to do all these things. Aren’t you excited to join our club?” That definitely has a place but you want to balance it with a lot of attention on the individual that’s actually joining.

Help them discover new things about themselves. Ask them what their personal values are. Discover what their strengths are. What does success for them look like in this role? Because, then, it’s actually, “Oh, wow, this company is curious about me and they’re helping me learn and grow and evolve on my own path.” And that’s going to win every single time. If you help your people learn, evolve, and grow, walk their own hero’s journey, you’re going to get better performance. They’ll either leave your company sooner if they’re not the right fit or they’re going to stay longer if they are the right fit.

So, in the onboarding process, we do what we call a best-self kickoff. This is generally about a two-hour meeting, and so you get assigned a new employee and it prompts you to do a best-self kickoff, which is going through a set of questions designed to really actually build rapport and have the manager and employee get to know each other.

And, again, it’s about frontloading some of the work here so you can build a better relationship. I mean, business is all relationship. Every single thing we do in business actually is about relationship. All collaboration is relationship. So, if you have more rapport, you can have more truth. If you have more truth, you can be more efficient with how quickly bad news gets communicated, how fast you learn about what’s really going on with your people and what the real problems of your company are.

And so, the best-self kickoff is just a series of questions to go through and understand things like, “How do you like to receive feedback? What’s your preferred method of communicating? Which channels do you like to be on? Should I text you? Should I Slack you? Should I email you? Where are your work boundaries? Do you have obligations at home that really have you not be available at certain hours?”

Those are the kinds of questions that so rarely get answered and agreed upon and established in the beginning of a management relationship, and so without those things, there’s a bunch of expectations which are always going to lead to disappointment and people being, like, “Oh, my God, I can’t believe that they didn’t give me a public recognition and just gave me a private high-five.” And maybe they really love public recognition and you would’ve found that out if you’d only done the best-self kickoff.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, that’s so good and I’m reminded of one of our guests, Mary Abbajay, wrote a book about “Managing Up,” and she said exactly this, like, “Here’s something that make all the difference in the world with your manager relationships is to have the conversation about, ‘Hey, what are your expectations and preferences on all these dimensions?’” And so, just get that understanding from each other. And she says that in her experience, like less than 1% of people have had this conversation.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
But it makes all the difference in the world in terms of having a great relationship. And so, if you’re not as fortunate to be a 15Five client organization, you can still engage in these conversations and get some of that clarity and expectation setting to proactively diffuse/preempt just a billion kerfuffles and moments of irritation down the road.

Shane Metcalf
Absolutely. And, like, if you can keep kind of an employee dossier where it’s like, “Okay, cool. This person on my team, their family is this. Their strength, their top-five strengths are these. Their preferred method of communication, the way they like to receive appreciation is this way.” You have an incredible resource to have that person feel deeply seen and appreciated.

And that’s how you’re actually going to get the best out of that person. You can give them all the perks and rewards, but if they don’t actually feel seen and appreciated by their manager, it dramatically shortens the life cycle of them at your company as well as it just kind of limits the amount of success and joy they’re going to have in their role at your company.

Pete Mockaitis
And let’s hit the dossier and some of the big points. So, top five strengths, I mean, that’s easy to get a StrengthsFinder or whatnot as well as maybe some reflections.

Shane Metcalf
And it is. So, like, the two evidence-based strengths profiles are Gallup and VIA Character Strengths. At least that’s what my head of people science tells me. And the strengths are really interesting because strengths, I like to say the first time I did strengths, I did my top five from Gallup and I got them and I read the thing, and it kind of felt like a bad horoscope. It’s kind of like, “Meh, okay, kind of resonates. Whatever.” It didn’t really make an impact.

It wasn’t until later that I actually worked with a facilitator and a coach on strengths that the lightbulb really went on. And I think most people are in that kind of bad horoscope relationship to strengths. And strength is unbelievably powerful but it takes a little bit of digging. It takes a little bit more contemplation to really unlock them.

And so, I would highly recommend, if you’re a manager, make a study of strengths. Help your people not just take the strengths assessment but then really be in a months-long conversation, and really you should be in conversations about your strengths your entire career because the more you look into it, the more it opens up, and the more you realize, “Wow, okay, I really could develop these strengths into my superpowers as a professional.”

You want to talk about how to be awesome at your job, it’s strengths. Use your strengths. That’s the secret. It’s that simple and it’s that complex.

Pete Mockaitis
So, a big part of the game is really digging in beyond, “Oh, Activator. Okay,” “Ideation, all right.” It’s like, “No, no, seriously. What are the kinds of places where I’m getting like all these ideas? What’s the kinds of activities I’m doing as I’m getting those…?” To really dig deep such that it’s not just a, “Hey, good for you, Shane. Here’s a star for this strength you’ve got,” but to really zoom in on, “How do I cultivate that into a superpower?” and I guess what I’m finding personally as I do this sort of thing is that a lot of the gain is getting all the stuff that needs doing that are not my strengths done in different ways without me.

Shane Metcalf
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And it’s hard. It’s hard to let go of things, whether trusting people, developing processes and systems and talent in others, just like, “This is yours. You own this now. I’m saying goodbye because I’m okay at this and you’re great at it, and it just makes more sense for it to be here,” but it takes a lot of doing to make that handoff.

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. And I think as managers, essentially, we’re orchestrators. We are the ones with the greater responsibility to make sure that we’re helping our people actually understand their strengths. And this is kind of a recent revelation that kind of blew my mind is that every strength has a need and a contribution. Like, “What does this strength want to contribute and what is the need of this strength?”

And you can go look up like Gallup strength needs. I think you’ll find a chart on this. But it kind of opened my eyes of like, “Wow, right.” Like, part of what’s so difficult about designing cultures and designing really thriving companies and cultures is that, fundamentally, I think culture is about meeting human needs. And so, we have universal ones around belonging, and connection, and esteem, and growth, and autonomy, and mastery, and all these things. But then there’s the nuance ways that it shows up.

And, okay, Pete, you have a different top five strengths than me, I’m assuming. And maybe we have the exact same ones. It would be interesting to compare but those are all going to have their own unique combination of needs to feel truly fulfilled. And so, designing a culture where you can meet a broader range of human needs is how you win the culture game.

Business, traditionally, was like, “Hey, we only care about you as a professional. You’re a cog in the machine. We don’t even really care about your thoughts about things, let alone your feelings about things.” And, now, we’re just broadening the scope of this. We’re saying, “Actually, we want to support you in having a great life as well as a great career, because we’re in personal development as also professional development. And so, we’re going to support/nourish the whole being, the whole human.”

And I think there’s distinctions there because we’re not actually supporting the whole human. There are parts of us that truly are better off to not be addressing in the professional context. But there’s a much broader range of the whole human that we can address as business leaders than we’ve traditionally been led to believe.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. Okay. Well, so I love it, Shane, how you walked us back a little bit and we zoomed out and we say, “Let’s just get the fundamentals in terms of role clarity, understanding expectations associated with the role and how we cared to interact with each other, having that deeper sense of person knowledge that builds out the dossier with the top strengths and such.”

So, then now that we’ve established some of the fundamentals that almost no one establishes, let’s hear about some of these one-on-ones. What are some of the questions and content that we should be covering over and over again?

Shane Metcalf
So, again, it’s not only because it’s part of one of the main products in our platform but because I think it’s actually good practice and the science backs us up on this, is asynchronous check-ins that lead into your one-one-one. And so, what I mean by that is take a few minutes to write down the answers to some basic questions in advance of your one-on-one.

And those, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” there’s a great quote, “A problem well stated is half-solved.” Get your people to state their problems and articulate exactly where they’re stuck, and they’re already half-solved. They’ve already done part of the work.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, this reminds me of just, I don’t know, junior high, high school, maybe middle school, I know, learning ages. Some folks would ask a question of the teacher and it was just, “I don’t get it.” And you can even see the teacher is frustrated, like, “I guess I could repeat what I just said. I mean, I don’t know,” versus, I noticed that the good students would ask the more specific questions, like, “Okay, wait. So, what’s RNA polymerase’s role in this whole DNA process that’s going down here? Because I see what these things did but what’s the RNA polymerase?”

So, yeah, I think that that’s well-said in terms of we have a little bit of precision and clarity and specificity associated with, “This is where I need help. This software platform makes no sense to me and I’ve asked four different people, like, how the heck to do this thing and none of them seem to have a clue. So, I need to know how to do this function in this software platform,” which is way more specific than, like, I don’t know, “Expenses suck,”

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, of course, but I also know that we have heard. Anyone who’ve been in business has heard ridiculous complaints that are only complaining and aren’t actually addressing the problem. Instead of saying…and so instead of like getting into your one-on-one, and then the person just bitching about expenses, you’ve already asked the question, “What are you struggling with? Where are you stuck?” and they say, “I’m really struggling with my expense report. I just don’t understand how to classify the lunches that I’m supposed to expense, and it just really confuses me and it just hurts my brain.”

The beautiful thing is that does not belong in a one-on-one. That is something that you can then go and answer ahead of the one-on-one, and say, “Oh, you categorize it as a benefit, a company benefit, category 12.” Boom. Done. Handled. Cleared. And then you can get into the deeper meatier issue of maybe like they also bring up that, and maybe they put this in private comment, “I’m really having a hard time with Sally, and we’re having a lot of conflict, and I’m pulling away on that team.” That’s the kind of meaty stuff that that one-on-one can be of use to coach this person on and to challenge them, and to actually challenge them through the values of the company, to challenge them to lean in and go direct with that person.

So, “Where are you stuck? What do you need help with?” phenomenal question. “What’s going well? What are you proud of? What are you celebrating?” The power of small wins cannot be underestimated. There’s a great book, a woman Teresa Amabile wrote The Progress Principle, and it’s all this research they did on what actually makes the biggest difference in improving somebody’s inner work life. And so, they had a bunch of professionals keep these journals of tracking their inner work life, how actually they were feeling at work.

And the number one determinant they found was an experience of making progress on meaningful work. And one of the easiest hacks that create a sense of progress was they actually record the small wins. And so, those are kind of just preliminary basic questions that you’d be asking ahead of one-on-ones so that you can then go in and actually have that time to get into the heart of what this person really wants.

And sometimes that’s problem-solving with issues at work, and sometimes those are actually career conversations of “What do you really want?” Like, okay, like you’re pretty happy in this role, but you know that sales isn’t actually what you want long term, and you want to start thinking about maybe actually products is calling your name, or maybe customer success is that.

And so, that’s where we get to put on the coach hat and really start thinking about, “How do I help this person get clear about what they want? And then once they know what they want, how do I help them get it?” In my experience, it’s that even when that person…even when that conversation leads to helping that person get clear that they don’t want to work at my company, it’s a good thing because they’re obviously not going to be fully engaged if they don’t want to be there.

And if you help them pursue their career as a DJ and quit, we actually had somebody do that. They were like, “Yeah,” because we hold these annual in-person company retreat, and I had an aspiring DJ and he loved DJ’ing the retreat so much he was really inspired. And through a lot of support from us, actually went to pursue his career to produce electronic music.

And, for me, that’s just the coolest. As an entrepreneur, as a founder, those are the stories that fill me up because when people actually come into alignment with doing what they actually want to be doing in life, that’s how we’re awesome at our job. That’s when we’re not wasting our time doing something we don’t want for a paycheck. It’s like doing a job we don’t like to make money for a house that we don’t ever spend any time in, and that’s just a miserable cycle. And I think we can do better in the business world on that.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s great. Thank you. Well, Shane, we hit some big ideas and I’d love it if maybe you could just give me a couple just like, hey, top do’s and don’ts. You’ve looked at a lot of research, seen a lot of correlations across a lot of things as people are checking in and have the exchanges and answering questions. Can we wrap it, before we hear some about your favorite things, just a couple top do’s and don’ts based on what you’ve learned on management from your unique vantage point?

Shane Metcalf
Do get personal. There’s obviously nuance to this. But care about the whole person. Care about what they really want. Get curious about what they want out of life, what they want to experience, how they want to grow, and what they want to contribute. Go back to those three questions and dig deep and really understand who this person is and what are their intrinsic motivations in life. That’s going to build a better relationship. It’s going to establish more trust. And it’s, ultimately, I think going to produce a more productive working relationship.

Don’t. Don’t neglect your people. Don’t skip your one-on-ones. Don’t always cancel them because something more urgent came up. That’s going to communicate that you don’t care, that that person is not really important, and that you aren’t invested in their growth and development.

Do study strengths. Go deep into StrengthsFinder. Understand your own strengths and be really honest with yourself whether you like managing and whether managing other people is something that you want to do and you’re intrinsically motivated by. Or, is it did you get into management because it was the only way up the career ladder but, really, you’d love to actually still be coding and doing IC work?

That’s a really interesting one because most companies have it setup as a trap. Why do we have so many crappy managers that shouldn’t be managers in the first place? Because it’s the only way to gain social status and make more money. So, as company builders, as HR professionals, we need to design career progression tracks that accommodate for other ways of progressing in the company other than just being a manager.

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

Shane Metcalf
This is a poem by this guy Jed McKenna that wrote books on spiritual awakening. It’s pretty short. It’s called Open Sky.

“If you are not amazed by how naïve you were yesterday, you are standing still. If you’re not terrified of the next step, your eyes are closed. If you’re standing still and your eyes are closed, then you are only dreaming that you are awake. A caged bird and an open sky.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you.

Shane Metcalf
And so, stay on that own bleeding edge of your development, your own evolution. We need to be on a continual journey of examining our own beliefs, reexamining what we hold as true. Adam Grant just came out with a really cool new book called Think Again which is about questioning our underlying assumptions about things and rethinking how we approach the world. And we need to be doing that. The world is changing, our jobs are changing. If we don’t reexamine them, we will be left in the dust.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And a favorite book?

Shane Metcalf
An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization. Phenomenal book about, “How do we actually create cultures that focus on developing all the humans inside of them rather than just our high potentials?” And that learning and development is something that needs to be baked into our daily process rather than to some retreat or an offsite.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite habit, something you do that makes you awesome at your job?

Shane Metcalf
Oh, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Shane Metcalf
Phenomenal habit. Can’t recommend it enough. Various ways of doing it, everything from an inversion table to like a yoga swing. And so, every morning I do my Morning Pages, I write out three pages, handwritten, of stream of consciousness, and then I hang upside down for five to ten minutes. And then the other one inside of that is Wim Hof breathwork to alkalize the body, oxygenate the whole system. That’s kind of like my trifecta right now is Wim Hof breathwork, Morning Pages, hanging upside down.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And is there a particular nugget you share that connects, resonates with folks; they quote it back to you frequently?

Shane Metcalf
The journey of helping somebody become their best self is a long-term commitment. It’s not something that just happens once where you have a momentary commitment to somebody. It really is a long-term journey, and we need a long-term commitment.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah, so you can sign up for our content at 15Five. You can just go to our blog. I think it’s at 15Five.com/blog. You can find me on LinkedIn, Shane Metcalf. You can also follow our podcast HR Superstars where we’re interviewing kind of the leading experts in HR, people operations, culture, management, leadership. And that is you can find that at HR Superstars if you just search in any of the major platforms.

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

Shane Metcalf
Yeah. Really understand if that’s the job you want. If you fell into your life kind of by accident, and now are just in the habit of inertia, and feel like you can’t actually break out, and that’s a really dangerous place to be. Because if you’re just staying in your job because, “Well, what else would I do? Or, I don’t know how to do anything else,” it probably means you haven’t really examined the rest of the options.

And we’re always free. We can always make new choices even if it means some sacrifices and to kind of shake things up in a pretty radical way, but life is short. Let’s really actually live the life that we want to live and connect with our deeper sense of purpose and passions and be aligned with what we truly are meant to be doing here.

Pete Mockaitis
Shane, this has been a treat. Thank you. I wish you and 15Five all the best.

Shane Metcalf
Pete, thanks so much for having us.

642: How to Identify Your Career Season and Land Your Dream Job with Ramit Sethi

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Ramit Sethi shares how to find your career season and jobhunting insights for landing your dream job.

You’ll Learn:

  1. What makes a job the dream job
  2. The question you should ask your career role model
  3. How the briefcase technique can get you the job or raise

About Ramit

Ramit Sethi, author of the New York Times bestseller I Will Teach You To Be Rich, has become a personal development expert to millions of readers in their twenties, thirties, and forties. He started his website, iwillteachyoutoberich.com, as a Stanford undergraduate in 2004, and he now hosts over a million readers per month on his blog, newsletter, and social media. 

Ramit grew up in Sacramento, the son of Indian immigrant parents who taught him the art of negotiating. Ramit went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in technology and psychology from Stanford University and has used this understanding of human behavior to create innovative solutions in self development. Ramit and his team build premium digital products about careers, personal finance, entrepreneurship, psychology, and personal development for top performers. The IWT community includes over 1 million monthly readers, 300,000 newsletter subscribers, and 35,000 premium customers. Follow Ramit on Twitter and Instagram.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Thank you, sponsors!

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Ramit Sethi Interview Transcript

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

Ramit Sethi
Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Ramit, I’m excited to chat with you for several reasons. And one thing, you wouldn’t know it, but the very name of this podcast was inspired by you, I Will Teach You To Be Rich. I was chatting with my roommate in the bath, not the bathroom, in the kitchen, and we were thinking about different options, and he said, “You know what, I really think How to be Awesome at Your Job is where it’s at. It’s like ‘I Will Teach You To Be Rich.’” I was like, “Yes, exactly. It’s so clear this is what you’re going to get here. If some guys can teach you to be rich, I’m going to show you how to be awesome at your job. That’s what’s up.” So, thank you for that.

Ramit Sethi
Very straightforward. I love it.

Pete Mockaitis
Word. Well, straightforward is one of your specialties and you’ve got a whole lot of straightforward wisdom in your course Find Your Dream Job 2.0. Tell us, kind of what’s the big idea or thesis behind the whole thing here?

Ramit Sethi
When people talk about a rich life, it’s funny, you ask them, “What is your rich life?” and they almost always say one of three things. They say, “I want to do what I want when I want.” And I go, “Well, what do you want to do?” And then they just stare at me blank because they’ve never actually thought beyond that answer. So, that’s one.

The second one is they say, “I want to have a million bucks,” which is fine, but a million bucks, if you’re 60 versus 30 or if you live in Manhattan versus Topeka, Kansas is completely different. And the third and most haunting answer they give me is, “I just want to pay off my debt.” So, to them, their rich life is simply getting to zero.

Well, one of the things that’s been happening more recently, especially online, is people talking about freedom and looking down on jobs, basically saying, “If you have to work at a job, you’re a loser because only entrepreneurs are successful, etc., etc.” Now, first of all, I’m an entrepreneur but I’m personally offended when people say this because that’s just not true.

The majority of people make their wealth through a full-time job. There’s also lots of good reasons to work at a job. You can create something together that’s bigger than you can ever create alone. You can learn skills that you could never learn alone. You can have an impact, and on and on and on. And I happen to know this first hand because I have coworkers, employees who work with me to create an amazing business and help millions of readers.

So, I just want to first start off by saying let’s get rid of this misconception that a lot of people on Twitter are talking about, which is that if you have to get a job, you’re a loser. That’s BS. A job is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life, being an entrepreneur is a perfectly valid way towards a rich life. We choose.

So, with that said, I wanted to help people find a dream job, not just a normal job, not just a job where you’re like, “Oh, God, it’s Sunday evening. Ah, I have to take a deep sigh thinking about what I’m going to do tomorrow.” But, really, the tactics that top performers use to find jobs that pay them well, that challenge them, so that was the origin behind the Dream Job program.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so finding dream jobs, sounds like a great thing to do. Tell us, there are a lot of career coaches and voices out there in the world, what’s kind of distinctive about your approach?

Ramit Sethi
Well, when I started out in college, I had an odd hobby which was I love to interview. And so, I got a small group of my friends together. This was our hobby, we love to interview, so we’d get together, we’d compare notes, “What did they ask you? What did you say?” And we started landing job after job. So, I received job offers at top-tier companies like Google, Intuit, a multi billion dollar hedge fund, and one of the key differences with many career options out there is there’s lots of people who can give you on a resume, you know, 1.25-inch for margins. Irrelevant when you’re looking at top-tier jobs.

So, I always have a philosophy which is study the best. And if I want to find a job, I want to find people who have gotten jobs at top companies because they understand the game at a completely different level than everybody else. So, after I graduated and I had these job offers, I wondered if it was just me. Sometimes you can just be very good at something, and I decided I wanted to help some of my friends to see if I could teach this to them.

So, I remember one of my early friends, she had dropped out of law school and she was feeling very despondent because her parents and family expected her to become a lawyer. She’s like, “What am I supposed to do? I have all this debt.” I said, “I’ll help you find a job but you have to do everything I tell you.” And she was like, “Okay.” And she didn’t think she had any transferable skills. Of course, we all do. We just don’t know how to position them. So, I helped her get a job at a top tier Wall Street company. And then two and a half, three years later, she came to me, and said, “Can you help me again?” She switched to technology and got another top-tier job there.

So, over the course of the last 10 years, I’ve helped thousands of people find their dream jobs, switch industries, get substantial raises from $10,000 to $80,000, and that’s really what separates the material that we teach from the average career coach out there.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, one distinction you assured is, “Hey, we got some results. Shebam! That’s what it’s about.” That’s awesome. Well done. And so then, how was the approach towards those results different than maybe the mainstream?

Ramit Sethi
Let’s take the most common advice in the career space when you’re looking for a job. What do you it is? If people look for a job, what’s the most common advice that they run into?

Pete Mockaitis
I don’t know, follow your passion, see a bunch of things online.

Ramit Sethi
Yes. Oh, my God, both of them. It’s just drives everybody nuts, right? As if you’re supposed to go outside in the rain, open your mouth and lift it up towards the sky, and passion just rains down into your mouth. That’s not how it works, my friends. And then, “Oh, let me see. I don’t like my marketing manager job. Hmm, one day my boss finally says something disrespectful to me and I decide to leave, what am I going to do? I’m going to go to some random job search website. I’m going to type in ‘marketing manager’ the very job title that I don’t like and then I’m going to delegate my job search to an algorithm and upload my resume and wait.” What a passive approach to life. What a passive approach to the eight plus hours a day you spend in your job which turns into a career.

I want to propose a totally different approach. So, first off, if you are going for a $250,000 a year executive position, the way that you approach your job search, the companies, your informational interviews, is going to be completely different than if you are a lawyer transitioning to being a social worker. Completely different. So, I want to start by introducing this concept which you will not have heard anywhere else called career seasons.

Just like in life we have different seasons, we dress differently, we travel differently, we have the same in our own lives for our careers. So, let me give myself as an example. When I was in my 20s, I loved working hard, I was willing to work weekends, 60, 70 hours a week, no problem because why? I wanted to grow and more money, more responsibility, more skills. That was the growth season. And some of you listening right now, you’re in growth season. You’re like, “Yeah, pay me $15,000 more I’ll put in all the time you want.”

Okay, what happens as we get a little older in life? Some of us have families, elderly parents, hobbies, and we decide, “You know what, I think I want to focus on my lifestyle. Yes, I want to perform at work but I’m going to prioritize a job that lets me have a lifestyle outside of work, maybe pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m.” And then, for some of us, for example, the lawyer who decides they want to be a beekeeper, “I’m sick of being a lawyer. Okay, I’m out of here.” They want to completely reinvent themselves. They are in the reinvention season.

So, if you are going to a career coach or a random website, how can you expect to find your dream job if you’re getting the same advice as a lawyer reinventing themselves or a senior executive gunning for a half a million dollar a year job? You first start, as we teach in our dream job program, how to find your career season. And you can only choose one, not two. That’s the most common mistake. You choose one and then we show you exactly how to filter and find the right jobs for you.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And that was a handy framework right there in terms of those are three very different flavors. And so, let’s talk about growth then. Yeah, I got to pick one. That’s what I want to go for as the best fit for most of us listening, although, personally, I think I’ve recently emerged from growth into lifestyle.

Ramit Sethi
Wait, wait, before we go on. Can you just tell us, how did you know you switched because there are always telltale clues? How did you know you switched to lifestyle?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I suppose it’s like, I guess, I think about it financially in terms of I don’t see any reason for me to work more to earn more. I could work less and earn less, but, fortunately, the way my business is working, I work less and earn about the same. So, it seems like I can do that and I’d like to do that and, you know, got two kids and a wife, and they’re toddlers. How did I know? I think it’s just more and more times bumping up against something, it’s like, “Why am I trading more hours of which are scarce for more dollars which are, hey, fortunately, these days, not as scarce? This doesn’t seem to make much sense to me.” And so, yeah, those kinds of things.

Ramit Sethi
Well, that’s awesome and I hope everyone listening really think about if that resonates with you because, for example, when I was 22, everything you just said would’ve made zero sense to me. I’d be like, “What are you talking about trading? I have infinite time. Get out of my way. I want to grow my career. I want to get promoted,” all that stuff.

But you’re completely right. When you have toddlers, when you’re married, when you have the financial stability to really think about, “What do I want with my limited time every day?” Then, suddenly, you may recalculate, or you may say, “You know what, I love growth. I’m going to double-down on this.” So, anyway, thanks for sharing that. It’s very insightful.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure. My pleasure. So, let’s say folks are in the growth season and they’re thinking, “Let’s do it up. Let’s find a new opportunity that’s going to mean more fun, more impact, more money, more responsibility, more learning, more, more, more,” how do they go about it?

Ramit Sethi
The typical way, as we know, is go update your resume and then put it on a website. That’s fine if you want to compete with five other million people who are doing the same thing. I prefer to narrow down my job search, and this is what we teach our dream job students, so that you can answer this question, “What is your dream job?” When I ask people that, they say things like, “I want to help people.” Okay, I do too. But what I really want you to be able to do is to answer that question with something like this, “I want to work at a B2C technology company in the Bay Area which has between 15 to 50 people, as a marketing manager or senior marketing manager.”

That is extremely focused. And when you have a crisp answer like that, suddenly, you can identify the 10 to 20 companies that match, and, like a shark, you can start circling it. And I’ll talk about what do you do when you circle those companies. But remember, you are a shark. You’re going after your target versus, “Let me throw my resume up in the wind and see where it lands.”

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. And how does one arrive at that level of specificity?

Ramit Sethi
Well, you want to start off by saying, “What is my dream role? And what is my dream company?” So, dream role, a lot of people, again, they sort of just fell into the current job title they have. They graduated college, they became whatever title, and then maybe they got promoted or they just kind of got bumped along. And so, here they wake up, they blink their eyes, and they say, “Okay, I guess I’m a blank, blank, blank.” And then when they search, they search for the same title they have.

We want to start off by saying, “What skills do I have? And what do I want to be doing?” So, I’m a marketing coordinator, marketing manager, insurance salesperson, etc., and you can start by doing the research, which we show you how to find other people who have that title or had that title, and say, “Do I like what they do? Do I like their career trajectory?”

The best part about doing this research is you have a crystal ball into other people like you. So, if you are, I’m just using marketing manager, it could be any job title. If you are a marketing manager, you can look in the future and see what other people, who used to be a marketing, are three years from now. Senior marketing manager, maybe eventually CMO. Is that what you want? What does a CMO do? Okay, great. Now I’ve turned a job into a career and I’m looking forward. Awesome. That’s part one.

You walk out of there saying, “Great. I know my job title. Now, company.” Most of us sort of look around at the companies around us geographically and we go, “Okay, I’ll apply to a few companies and wait.” Again, that’s the approach that everybody takes. Nowadays, particularly if you want to work remotely, there are lots of opportunities and ways to do it. So, when we do our research and we show our dream jobs students, they start off with the companies they know I’ll just give you an example. We had a woman who worked at Guitar Center, you know, those places where you go and buy a guitar.

Ramit Sethi
She’s in some kind of marketing role. And then she got promoted, she ended up working at Disney, and then she went and got promoted and worked at some other entertainment company in L.A. And as I was following her career on LinkedIn, it occurred to me, “Wow! This lady, first of all, she’s a top performer. She’s gotten promoted every two to three years. Second, let me look at her trajectory.” For example, if I was starting out, I would’ve never thought of working at Guitar Center. It’s just not in my purview. But guess what? Someone who worked at Guitar Center then went to work at a world-class company like Disney.

And, suddenly, I’m saying, “Wait a minute. Can I work at Guitar Center? What other companies are similar to Guitar Center?” So, you can piece the puzzle together, as we show you how to do this research, and you end up with a spreadsheet of roughly five or so job titles and 20 or so companies, dream companies, and now you start putting them together and going out and circling your targets. That’s how you do it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, now with Guitar Center, that turned up in LinkedIn sort of, I think about that Wayback Machine, you know, sort of like back in time at a previous phase. So, is the method by which we surface those Guitar Center opportunities thinking, “Well, what’s the super dream in terms of like long term?” and then say, “Well, who’s got it? And what did I do before?” Is that kind of the strategy?

Ramit Sethi
Yeah, that’s absolutely one part of the strategy. Yes, you want to look at where people are today. Everyone has got two or three dream companies in their head, and Disney tops the list for a lot of people. Great. Let’s look at what marketing managers or senior marketing managers at Disney do and what did they used to do. Now, we can start to trace it back. So, that becomes a very powerful reverse-engineering technique.

But there’s also more to it, right? We can sit at our computers and Google around LinkedIn. But what if we actually talked to this person who now works at Disney or the next company? We’ll say, “Hey, can you give me 15 minutes of your time? I’ve studied your career. It’s fascinating to me. I dreamed of one day working at Disney.” And this is a classic informational interview.

First of all, people are terrified of doing this. They get all in their head, “Oh, why would anyone talk to me? I don’t know what to say.” Well, guess what, we just decided to show you the exact script for when you have these calls. This is exactly what you say. It turns a lot of people will take your call, especially if you approach them in the right way.

And so, you get on the call with this person, him or her, and you can do it through Zoom, and you say, “You know what, I wonder if you could just tell me how did you go from here to here? What was the thought process? Why this company not that?” And, suddenly, you’ve looked at their LinkedIn but now you’re going so much deeper. They’re going to actually tell you why they made those decisions.

And, of course, if you impress them, which you can in not too difficult of a way, those people often say, “Hey, if you decide to apply, let me know. Send me your resume. I’ll make sure it gets to the right person.” So, suddenly, we’re completely side-stepping everyone applying through the front door and just waiting for the black hole doom to reject them, and you’ve got someone who either works or used to work at the company who’s recommending you for an interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s good. What I like about that informational interview approach is it’s a bit different in terms of we’re zooming into the thought process and decision-making of that person and modeling a potential career after them as oppose to merely gathering fundamentals about their current job, which I guess you could do at the same time, like, “What’s it like working there? What do you like about it? What do you not like about it?” It seems like there’s another level of richness there associated with, “How are you thinking about the career game in ways that can inform how I’m thinking about the career game?”

Ramit Sethi
Well, I love how you described those layers. You see, when people think about informational interviews, as I said, a lot of people are afraid to even pick up the phone. But when you really understand how to use all the layers of an informational interview, it’s almost a no-brainer that you need to be doing these in your job search.

I’ll give you an example. So, let’s say that I’m in the lifestyle season, okay? I need to pick up my kids at 3:00 p.m. every day. And so, I’ve narrowed it down to three dream companies and I call somebody who used to work at the company, I say, “You know what, I’ve followed your career. I’m thinking about applying to this company and I just wanted to understand what’s it like to work there?” And they say, “Well, first of all, nobody ever takes any vacation.” And I say, “Oh, really? Why is that?” He says, “Well, it’s a really hard-charging culture, and they bonus you heavily but nobody takes a vacation. And I would say I worked two Saturdays a month.”

Well, guess what. If I’m in lifestyle season, “Thank you so much. I really appreciate the feedback.” That’s an instant no on your spreadsheet. Think about it. So many of us never even get clear about what our career season is so we start off just arbitrarily applying to all these jobs and then our application doesn’t match up with the culture of the company. How could it, right? Because if this company is hard-charging, and you’re talking about, “Oh, I’m looking for work-life balance,” they’re just like, “Get out of here.” And, of course, you never hear back why you got rejected.

So, following the dream job approach lets you unpeel all these layers and, yes, you’re frontloading the work. You’re doing more work on the front-end and it’s going to take you a little bit longer. But I would rather spend two times the amount of time and get eight times the results, then arbitrarily send out my resume and just wait to get back a flood of rejections or arbitrary interviews.

Pete Mockaitis
Totally. Yeah, so that’s great stuff. Let’s just keep rolling through the process here. So, we’re getting some great clarity, and we’re doing the informational interviews, and in so doing, we’re zeroing in, getting a clearer and clearer picture of what’s up. And let’s just say our dreams have come true or partially true, and we’ve got an interview scheduled at a promising opportunity, what do we do?

Ramit Sethi
You need to have the perfect answers for the obvious questions you’re going to get. So, let’s start at the very beginning. Most people walk in with the mental model of, “I’m going in the interview to answer questions.” Wrong. If that is your mental model of walking in, you’ve already lost. Your job is to communicate your key messages in an interview. Now, yes, of course, you’re going to answer questions. Of course. But if you don’t communicate your key messages, then all you are is just a random person. You’re like a puppet answering questions.

Pete Mockaitis
That mindset shift is just like every political debate ever, “I don’t care what you’ve asked me. I’m going to convey my talking points.”

Ramit Sethi
That’s correct. And I have to say I hate using politicians as an example of effective communicators because sometimes I just want to strangle them. But they absolutely get their key messages across. And I’ll give you an example. So, this starts all the way back at your resume.

When you write your resume, again, people think that your resume, the job is designed to share your chronology. Nobody cares about your chronology. Your job is you’ve got 10 seconds of a hiring manager’s attention, “What is your narrative? What is the story that somebody gets after looking at your resume for 10 seconds and then they close their eyes?” For me, it was the technology and psychology guy who understands human behavior. Okay, so that started with my resume and it flowed from my cover letter. And then when I walked in the interview, that was one of my key messages on and on and on. It’s all consistent.

So, for everyone right now, if you’re listening, you’re like, “What the hell is this guy talking about?” Pull out your resume, close your eyes, and then open it for 10 seconds. Close your eyes again. What is the narrative or how would you describe this person whose resume you just looked at? If the answer is from 1986 to 1999, they worked at XYZ, you’re never going to get that job. So, you want to start off with your narrative. Then you walk in the interview. You have a narrative; you have your key messages.

Here are some questions that you’re going to get in your interview that you need to have the perfect answers for. “Why do you want to work here?” “Tell me about yourself.” “What did you do at your last job?” and “Do you have any questions for me?” Those are table stakes. You’re going to get them so you better have the perfect answer and you better be able to deliver in 30 seconds, 60 seconds, or 90-second-versions.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so can you give us the framework then? How do we nail each of those four?

Ramit Sethi
Well, let’s start with “Tell me about yourself.” Well, let’s do a roleplay right now. All right. So, I’m going to ask you that question as if I’m interviewing you and then you just tell me about yourself. This is the best part. Okay, ready? Tell me about yourself.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m so not prepped, Ramit.

Ramit Sethi
You got 18 seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s so funny. I know, like some of the right answers but I haven’t worked it in years because I haven’t interviewed.

Ramit Sethi
Ten seconds left.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, Ramit. Well, I’m passionate about discovering, developing, and disseminating knowledge that transforms the experience of people, and through my podcast which reaches over 14 million people how to be awesome at your job, and become the first ever podcast to have courses adapted on LinkedIn Learning. I am thrilled at how I have transformed people’s experience of work away from drudgery into things that light them up, and hear about their victories. So, that’s what I’m into these days.

Ramit Sethi
That was pretty good. I mean, you got a slow start but that was very good. Okay, so, clearly, you’ve talked about yourself before, which I love. I think of interviews as the greatest gift we give ourselves. We get to dress up, we get to talk about ourselves for 45 minutes, and then we get to find out if we were effective communicators or not. It’s binary. Yes or no. I love it.

So, when somebody says, “Tell me about yourself,” most people are not prepared for that question, and they start off by saying something like this, “Well, I was born under a palm tree, and I really love peanut butter, but after I went to college, I was not sure what to do so I was listening to…” and it’s just like, “I don’t care. Nobody cares, okay?” These are questions where you know you’re going to get them so we want to prepare ahead of time and rehearse them so that we can actually be natural in the interview, and it’s a great opportunity for you to also build in your key messages.

So, you might say, “You know, there’s three real things that interest me. The first is technology, that’s why I studied STS when I went to college and that is why I’m really interested in building systems that scale from one-on-one to one-to-a-million. The second part is psychology. I’m really interested in human behavior. So, at my last job, I specifically took on a role of blank, blank, blank, and we focused on doing jobs to be done, research, and customer usability testing before we ever launched the product. And the third thing that I’m really interested in is XYZ.”

Al right, that’s just a very, very simple crisp approximately 20, 25-second answer. Notice that I didn’t go through the chronology because nobody cares. Notice that I focused on my key messages that I’ve already reinforced in my cover letter and resume. What’s the point there? The point is not to talk like me. You need to talk in your own style. But the point is, know what they are really asking. They’re not asking about a chronology. Please stop going through your resume point by point by point. They’ve already read it.

What they want to know are your key messages. What’s interesting? What drives you? Why are you here? So, we want to prepare for these questions ahead of time and have the perfect answers ready.

Pete Mockaitis
And what I really love about that approach there in terms of “There are three key things that interest me,” is you have complete control to hit what your talking points, your core message, and it’s flexible in terms of, surely, you can say something about how something you did in your career fit that interest.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, of course.

Pete Mockaitis
So, that’s very easy to do.

Ramit Sethi
So, in the program, we brought in people, and you can actually see them interviewing with me, and you can watch people’s before-and-after transformation. It’s quite magical. There are some advanced techniques you can use too. You can use something called verbal values. So, you can do things like this, you can say, “You know, in my last role, we focused on customer usability, did testing, and we were actually able to drive up conversions by 32%. Happy to talk about that if you’d like to. But moving forward, we then moved on to XYZ.”

Okay, notice what I just did. That thing called the verbal value where you dropped down and you say, “Oh, I’m happy to go into that in detail if you’d like,” but you keep moving forward. That gives the interviewer a sense of control and, if they are interested, they go say, “Hey, tell me about that.” And you’re like, “Oh, I’m so glad you asked. First, we start it off by doing ABC, and this produces massive insight.”

In the program, I did another thing which I really love. I brought in hiring managers. And when was the last time you actually had real hiring managers with a hiring budget who sat around a table and told you how they hire people and what they are looking for? Never, because they don’t do this, but we brought them in because I know these hiring managers.

So, they came in, and one of the managers said, “My favorite interviews and the people who always get an offer are the ones who teach me something.” I said, “What do you mean?” She said, “Well, we brought in somebody who was a performance marketer and they basically said, ‘Let me show you how I ran this campaign last time,’ they pulled up their laptop, and they started walking this person through.’” The interviewer was completely…like her questions were out the door. This interviewee started driving the interview, and that’s exactly what she wanted.

So, what’s the key takeaway there? It’s not, throw the interviewer’s questions out and pull up your laptop. That’s not the point. The point is you have control over your answers, and your hiring manager wants to learn something. They want to see someone who is assertive in the interview.

Pete Mockaitis
And, frankly, it can be kind of boring to have a full day of interviews.

Ramit Sethi
Who are saying the same things, “Oh, I’m really passionate; I love the synergy.” Oh, God, what makes you different than anyone else?

Pete Mockaitis
And so, if you learn something new, it’s like, well, one, you’re just sort of stimulated, they’re memorable, and that’s killer. And so, actually, I wanted to specifically ask you about the briefcase technique. And so, we’ve kind of hit that a smidge here. What is the briefcase technique?

Ramit Sethi
The briefcase technique is this powerful concept that we pioneered which is used to get substantial raises, land jobs, or lock in freelance contracts. So, I’ve used this many times and so have my own employees used this with me, and I hired them. So, it works like this.

You walk in whether it’s to get a raise or to land a job, and you say, “You know, from my understanding of speaking to several former coworkers and people who currently work here, I understand that the key strategy right now is to improve customer conversion. And based on that, I’ve actually laid out a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan of what I would do if I began this role on February 1. And would you like me to show it to you?”

What percentage of hiring managers do you think say yes to that question?

Pete Mockaitis
Well, all of them.

Ramit Sethi
One hundred percent, okay, they go, “Yes.” And this is where I made it a little fun. You theatrically pull out your presentation, you can pull it out of a briefcase, or you can turn your laptop around, it doesn’t really matter. But it’s kind of fun to pull it out of a briefcase and just let the silence fill the air, and you say, “Here you go. Here, I made a copy for you.”

You literally walk them through, whether it’s a 30-, 60-, 90-day plan, or a proposal for a strategic how you would drive some strategy that they’re working on, or whatever that your plan is, and you watch the hiring manager’s jaw drop. Why? Number one, no one has ever done this to them. Number two, you’ve actually done the research and come in with a plan.

Now, your plan doesn’t have to be completely right. How could it, especially if you’re working outside the company? But you’ve clearly done your research by using those informational interviews, by listening to what the CEO has said in the press and on recent podcasts, and you’ve put together, generally, a pretty thoughtful proposal. Maybe even you’ve included some metrics that you’ve driven before. When they look at this and they compare you to every other candidate who goes in there talking about passion and just living under a palm tree, the difference is clear.

Now, we’ve actually included briefcase technique examples in the program. One of them, for example, is a student of ours, Jesse, who used it to get an $80,000 raise, and you can see the actual document that he presented so you can see how it works. We’re showing you not just telling you, and it is very powerful when you go in there for your next raise or you’re switching jobs. You use the briefcase technique with great results.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m intrigued, when it comes to the raise, that’s a bit of a different context. Is it just sort of like, “Hey, I have a plan and a vision that’s going to create extraordinary value, here it is. Let me go run this.” Is that kind of like the vibe associated with how the raise happens?

Ramit Sethi
A little bit but people pay for performance not necessarily for potential. So, let me flip that and let me walk backwards a little bit. A lot of people have this thing to ask for raises, and one of my charters, one of the things I’ve been talking about for over 15 years is how to negotiate your salary. It’s all over the internet.

And I think one of the big fears, first of all, our culture doesn’t encourage negotiation. We’re absolutely petrified of it. I love negotiating. It’s fun. We get to have a game. Let’s talk about it. And the other thing is a lot of us envision negotiating as, “I’m going to kick down my boss’ door, spin his or her chair around, and then put my hand on and say, “Give me some money.” Well, of course, you’re going to get a no if that’s your approach. Let’s take a slightly different approach.

Here’s what you do. Let’s say you know that your performance review is coming up in six months. You go in your boss’ office, first you set up a time, and you say, “You know what, I really like to make sure that I’m a top performer. Am I hitting all the metrics of my role to be a top performer? So, I’d really like clarity on what that takes.” And you work through this process and you come out with, let’s say, three KPIs, and you say, “Great. I’m going to send you an email just to remind you and I will update you every other Friday.” Great.

So, now, that’s part one. Part two is you got to do the work. You got to hit those numbers. You got to deliver on what you both committed to. And, of course, you say, “If I am able to achieve these goals, I’d love to discuss a compensation adjustment.” “Okay, whatever. We’ll talk about that later.” So, you hit the numbers, you’re documenting this every other Friday, sending an update, no surprises. And then, step three, when your review comes up, that is where you initiate the briefcase technique.

You walk in, you say, “Six months ago, we discussed becoming a top performer. These were the key metrics we laid out. As you know, I’ve been updating you every other Friday. I’d like to show you the final numbers. We hit it. I’d now like to discuss something else. I pulled research.” And we show you how to find out what you are actually worth. Many people are underpaid by $10,000 to $15,000. We find this routinely. “Here’s what I’m worth on the market. I’d like to discuss a compensation adjustment and here’s what I see in the marketplace.”

What have you done now? You’ve done a ton of work, you got micro commitments from your boss all along the way, you’ve, most importantly, delivered and you can also pull out what you plan to do for the next six to 12 months. At that point, you’ve given yourself an irresistible shot at a raise.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you deliver the goods and you show them what’s coming up next, and you show them the market compensation figures.

Ramit Sethi
That’s the most important part. Look, you can show them what’s coming up next. That’s optional and that’s nice to have, but you already committed to what it takes to be a top performer. Now you are a top performer, you should be compensated as a top performer.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, certainly. Well, we talked about Bob Cialdini a moment ago. Like, the reciprocity is just power is just so huge there. Like, if I were that hiring manager, I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk, if I was that boss, if I said anything but “Yes, of course. Thank you.” I would feel like the world’s biggest jerk. Now, you might still get some bureaucratic hierarchical corporate whatever, like, “Well, unfortunately, Ramit, the budget doesn’t really allow for…” If you get one of those meritocracy busters, hey, how do you respond?

Ramit Sethi
Well, we have counter arguments for all those. Here are the common ones you get, “We have a standard compensation policy,” “Times are tough right now,” “Maybe next year,” “The budget doesn’t allow it.” So, look, sometimes that is true and it is critical…we have a framework we suggest about how to know whether it’s an employee’s market or an employer’s market.

So, for example, if you’re going through a deep recession, and you walk in and say, “Give me $10,000 more,” that’s unlikely to happen. Your power is diminished at that point. However, just like seasons, things change and it can be an employee’s market. You need to know that because if you don’t, you walk in blind and you just don’t look very intelligent when you ask for something that just doesn’t fit the marketplace.

But let’s say you do and they give you the sort of standard thing. There are responses which we show you in our negotiating section. And here’s what I want you to know. I want you to know that your boss or your hiring manager has a budget, and their job is to try to get you to work, and they want to save as much as they can so they can deliver all the extra money to the top performer on their team. So, you will often find this is that the top performer on the team gets the lion’s share of the budget and everyone else fights over those 1% cost of living increases.

If you have demonstrated you are a top performer, if you have extracted micro commitments and you’ve delivered, then you need to make it really clear that you’re worth it. If not, you need to ask them what’s it going to take to change this. And if they have no clear answer, then you may need to start considering switching to find your dream job.

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

Ramit Sethi
Just a dream job is something that you can do once, twice, three times. It shifts over the course of your lifetime. So, I asked somebody on Twitter, I ask a lot of people on Twitter, “What is a dream job to you?” And one of the most common responses I got back was, “It doesn’t exist.” So, I reached out to a few of these people, I said, “Do you know anyone around you who has a dream job?” And they said, “No.”

Well, of course, if you and your friends all hate your jobs then, of course, you think a dream job doesn’t exist. The fact that they’re listening to this podcast means, of course, they do know that a dream job does exist. But I want to emphasize it because it’s so uncommon in our culture. You ask people, “How is work going?” And some of their common responses are, “Work is work,” or, “Just waiting until Friday,” I hate that. I want us to go to a place where we’re excited, where we’re challenged, where we’re compensated, where we can work remotely. So, that is why I’m so fired up about a dream job as a core part of your rich life.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. A favorite study or experiment or piece of research?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I love the Asch experiments in conformity. I love so many of Elliot Aronson’s studies as described in his book The Social Animal, and Lee Ross on the Fundamental Attribution Error, who I studied under in college. It just blew my mind in social psychology.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Ramit Sethi
I got to say The Social Animal by Elliot Aronson.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite tool that you use to be awesome at your job?

Ramit Sethi
A favorite tool. My calendar. It’s simple.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Ramit Sethi
My favorite habit is having a leisurely morning. That’s my favorite habit.

Pete Mockaitis
Let’s dig in. What’s going down in this leisurely morning?

Ramit Sethi
Well, I think the best mornings are decided the night before, the week before, the year before. So, when I wake up, everything, I know exactly what I’m going to do.

And, by the time I get to start working, this is my favorite part, I double-click into my calendar and I have all the links are perfectly placed in the same place every time so I can click it. The link takes me to the perfect place in the document to just begin typing. Now, I know I sound like a psycho to everyone listening, you’re like, “This guy is crazy. Why is he talking about this?” But I want everything to be in its perfect place. And so, it gives me a lot of joy to know that all these things have been properly arranged so I can just click one link and everything is just right in front of me.

Pete Mockaitis
It is a beautiful thing. I don’t think it’s crazy at all.

Ramit Sethi
Oh, really? Oh, my God, I found a kindred spirit here. Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely. And tell me, is there a particular nugget you share, a Ramit quote that you’re known for, and people cite over and over again?

Ramit Sethi
Oh, I believe in spending extravagantly on the things you love as long as you cut costs mercilessly on the things you don’t.

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

Ramit Sethi
You can go to iwt.com/podcastdj or you can find me on Instagram @ramit.

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

Ramit Sethi
Okay. Thank you for asking. I would love it for anyone listening, find me on Twitter, Instagram, my newsletter, and send me a note telling me you listened to this podcast, and tell me what your dream job is. That’s what I want to know. I’m going to leave it as broad as that but I want to hear your specifics. Get down to the details. What is your dream job?

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Ramit, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks. This is just best.

Ramit Sethi
Thanks. This was a blast.

641: How to Inspire Sustained Change with Richard Boyatzis

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Richard Boyatzis shares compelling research on how to open others up to change.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why goals don’t motivate us to change—and what does
  2. The biological key that opens people up to change
  3. Four principles for making change stick

About Richard

Richard E. Boyatzis is Distinguished University Professor of Case Western Reserve University, Professor in the Departments of Organizational Behavior, Psychology, and Cognitive Science, and HR Horvitz Professor of Family Business. He has a BS in Aeronautics and Astronautics from MIT, a MS and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Harvard University. Using his Intentional Change Theory (ICT), he studies sustained, desired change of individuals, teams, organizations, communities and countries since 1967. 

He is the author of more than 200 articles and 9 books on leadership, competencies, emotional intelligence, competency development, coaching, neuroscience and management education, including the international best-seller, Primal Leadership with Daniel Goleman and Annie McKee and the recent Helping People Change with Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten. His Coursera MOOCs, including Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence has over a million enrolled from 215 countries. He is Fellow of the Association of Psychological Science, the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and the American Psychological Association.

Resources mentioned in the show:

Richard Boyatzis Interview Transcript

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

Richard Boyatzis
Thank you.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to hear what you’ve got to say. You’ve got your doctorate on social psychology from Harvard and, in my personal opinion, social psychology experiments are among the most fascinating of them all. Could you share with us a particularly intriguing experiment that either you’ve run or just ran across?

Richard Boyatzis
Well, it’s worth it to know that I’m basically a scientist. My first career was designing control systems in interplanetary vehicles. It was after I did that for six and a half months, I found it boring so I left and turned to psychology. But I don’t mostly do experiments. Mostly what I do is help people change. So, I started out, when I turned to the light side of the force of psychology, I started working on how graduate students at MIT helped each other or didn’t, and then I expanded that to working with alcoholics and drug addicts, and training therapists. And then shifted back to something a little less depressing which was how to help people develop as leaders and managers.

And since ’87, most of my work has really focused on “How do you help 25- to 75-year-olds grow and develop?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we love doing just that here and most of us are in that age zone. So, tell us, what’s perhaps the most surprising discovery you’ve made along the way about how people change and can help others change?

Richard Boyatzis
Well, for the longest time, I thought that the real motivator for people was the discrepancy between where they wanted to be and where they were. And, in my theory, it’s called the real ideal self, and other people had started to write about it years afterwards. But what I discovered in the last 20 years, and part of that came about through a series of fMRI studies I did, you know, imaging studies and some hormonal studies, is that the real motivator for learning and change is not the discrepancy; it’s your dream. That, in fact, when you dream, not goals, but when you dream, when you think about, “What’s my deep purpose? What do I would love my life to be in 15 years?” and you start to let yourself go, you actually activate neural circuits that allow you to be open to new ideas and other people.

When you focus on goals at the beginning of a process like this, you actually close down that circuitry, that network, because you activate a different network, an analytic network, that suppresses your openness to new ideas and other people. So, I would say the power of a person’s dream, and a lot of people have talked about that, and, hell, Tony Robbins gets 20 million a day for talking about, but what happened to me was, as a scientist, I’m skeptical about all this stuff and I’m plotting away doing all my longitude and the research in the ’70s, ‘80s and ‘90s, and then, all of a sudden, I started to look at the psycho-physiological interactions.

We did some fMRI studies and found out that when you talk to people about their dreams, they light up, like I said, this network that allows you to be open. And when you talk to them about solving problems, they close that down. And that’s counterintuitive because a lot of people think, “Oh, give me another goal. Give me another metric. Add another thing to my dashboard,” and it turns out all of that stuff works the opposite way. It doesn’t motivate people to be open to change or adapt or innovate.

And now we have dozens and dozens of actual behavioral studies in organizations, public sector, private sector, nonprofit, showing that when you engage this, what I call a positive emotional attractor, it’s a certain neural network, a certain hormonal system, and feeling positive about things, you actually increase leadership effectiveness, professional effectiveness, engineering effectiveness, innovation, engagement, and organizational citizenship which is a variable that measures how much you do beyond your job.

Pete Mockaitis
Whew! Richard, this is exciting and that’s a big idea.

Richard Boyatzis
It’s huge.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, that changes everything.

Richard Boyatzis
Well, look, how many people listening right now are kind of doing their job but kind of looking for the next thing? Which means that they’re not doing their job well. So, what happens is we have engagement numbers pre-COVID, it’s at 76% of the people in the United States with full-time jobs, pre-COVID, were not engaged in their work, 83% in Europe, 81% in Japan. That is a worldwide motivational crisis. That means four out of five people aren’t bringing their stuff to work and they’re not using their discretionary time to create new ways to serve their customers or create new ideas.

I ran into this decades ago when I’d be couch coaching as a part of leadership programs. The CFO of a Fortune 500 company, and I discovered that his eyes would light up when he talked about the body shop that he and a friend started that now has five outlets. I mean, he was the CFO of a Fortune 500 company, you’d think he’d be somewhat excited about that, and it turns out he wasn’t.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, boy.

Richard Boyatzis
So, the question that we all face is not just as a leader, as a manager, as a parent, as a teacher, “How do I motivate other people to be interested in learning and change?” but, “How do I keep myself motivated?”

Because we know from the neuroscience studies about this that our brains are hardwired to pick up on the emotions of others, literally. This is not kind of Betazoid empaths. This is real human adult brains. We actually pick up from the emotions of others around us in 8 to 40 thousandths of a second, milliseconds, deeply unconscious. And even if people are masking what they are feeling, we’re picking up the real feelings.

So, if you are kind of a bit bored or a bit humdrum, you might not say it at work because you got to show the bravado of performance and this and that, but if you’re really feeling that inside, guess what, everybody around you is getting infected with this thing.

So, one of the dilemmas is, boy, if you aren’t inspired about your life and work, there’s no way you’re going to be inspiring other people, and that’s what we have to do.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, thank you. Well, so let’s really drill into this distinction between a dream and a goal. Like, lay it out for us. Like, what are the fundamental differences between a dream and a goal?

Richard Boyatzis
Sure, here’s the question. The single question that we ask that we now know, if we spent 20 or 30 minutes talking about it, you’re lighting up. If your life were fantastic 10 to 15 years from now, if it was absolutely perfect, what would it be like? So, first, we say life not just work because work is a subset of life. Secondly, we go out 10 to 15 years because we don’t want to do three years because people forecast, and when they forecast, they put blinders on and say, “Well, I can’t get there.” And we have to emphasize absolutely perfect. So, you actually want people to break with reality.

And, very often, some people have trouble, especially if they come from economies or political entities or nations that are under a lot of repression, they can’t dream.

So, the dilemma is, “How do we break out of that?” And that’s where what we need to do is to not let ourselves have these blinders on that other people have imposed. It does not mean that it automatically can come true but it may be the pursuit of it that’s the most important because the one thing we know, neurologically and psychologically, is that when you dream, you actually feel hopeful about the future. It’s one of the reasons why I tell people, “Do not watch the news on TV today, these days. If you want to get news, read something. It’s less emotionally affective. The news is bound to make you either angry or throw you on an emotional rollercoaster.”

So, the key, I think, ends up, “How do you feel hope? How do you feel hopeful about the future?” And part of that is you start to dream. And, for many people, once you start to dream, things open up. And, literally, it seems like ideas come to people and they start to notice things. Goals are very useful when you want to focus and you want to get something very specific done.

I published a research study in 1970 showing that if you set specific goals, you’ll achieve your behavior changes two-thirds, three times more likely than if you don’t. The problem is, today if we set a goal, we actually stimulate a part of our psyche that says, “We should be working toward it.” I mean, why do you think most people can’t lose weight? Most people can’t lose weight because it’s a negatively framed goal and almost everybody who seeks to lose weight will lose and then will gain it back. Treatment adherence, that’s doing what your physician or nurse says you should do after surgery or a diagnosis. It’s about 50% in most cases. People do about half of what they’re supposed to do. And if it’s really serious, like coronary bypass surgery, it’s about 20%.

Pete Mockaitis
They do it less when it’s more serious, huh. Okay.

Richard Boyatzis
Yes. And the same thing, we could say, most of us, with regard to what we eat or what we drink. So, one of the things that you start to realize is that there’s something insidious about the way we get our messages about how we should change, not how we want to change but how we should change. And, in fact, that’s what a lot of my research has been focusing on, and mine and others, you know, other professors.

Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, who co-authored a recent book with me, at Harvard Business Review Press, published a lot of other academic articles and things, so it’s not just me alone. But one of the things that’s very clear is most of the time when we want to help someone, we try to fix them, we give them a tip, “Okay, here’s what you should do. You want to stick to it. You want to get more drive. Do you want to make your podcast be listened to by millions not just a few hundred thousand? Here’s what you should do.” And as soon as people do that, even if it’s well-intended, even if it might be a good idea, you feel like you’re being bullied and you close down. And that’s the thing that goals do.

Now, there is a time in the change process when you want to focus and you want to close down, you want to eliminate extraneous noise because you want to keep your eyes really focused. And, quite literally, there was one study done in England where they used endocrines that are a part of stress, like epinephrine, and there are endocrines that are a part of renewal, which is where the body rebuilds itself, like oxytocin, and they sprayed, either epinephrine or oxytocin, in a person’s nostrils.

And what they were able to show was that peripheral vision, which for most of us is about 180 degrees.  If you’re not a pilot you wouldn’t know this. But if you want to measure your peripheral vision, look straight ahead at a dot on the wall and move your hands, start moving them about a hand’s length away from your shoulders, and keep moving them back until you just lose sight of them, while you’re just focusing forward. Mine is about there, a little less than yours, Pete, but you’re younger, so I’m like 175, 170 degrees. You’re closer to 180, you’re 200. Under epinephrine spray, which is the stress, mild stress, not acute, it goes down to 30 degrees.

Pete Mockaitis
No kidding?

Richard Boyatzis
No kidding. So, what happens is, when you set a goal, you focus. The benefit of setting a goal is to focus. And when you focus, you’re not paying attention to all that. You don’t know that your dog wants to go out, you don’t know that your spouse or partner wants you to go to the grocery store, you forget all that. But that’s also what allows you to get something done. So, goals are useful around the change process later on. Unfortunately, too many people today think by being specific early on or giving people negative feedback, you can get them motivated to change, and all you do is just make people feel like you’re a helping bully.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s talk about the helping side of this. So, individually, got it, dreaming activates hope, activates new possibilities, it gets things moving in some really cool directions, and it gets engagement and juice and energy flowing. And then later on, a goal will focus in our efforts. Whereas, if we jump the gun and get a goal too early, oops, we’re running into trouble, we feel some should, we feel some bullying, and we don’t get that motivation engaged.

Richard Boyatzis
You’ve got it. You should teach an MBA course.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. Well, so then tell us, if we’re in a role where we’re trying to help somebody, be it a friend or a peer or a colleague or a direct report that we manage, what are some of the tops do’s and don’ts using this knowledge?

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. Yeah, here’s one that’s counterintuitive. Constructive criticism is criticism. The receiver doesn’t really necessarily differentiate your intent. Ask any teenager about stuff their parents are saying. Ask any older mother or father when their in-laws are giving them tips on how to dress their kids.

So, the challenge that we have is that when we see how somebody else could do something better, we want to help them, and in helping them, we often do it by telling them what to do. And we now have the evidence that says, that tell us, that this closes people down, and it’s too early. So, if you see something that somebody is doing wrong, keep it to yourself because telling them that they’re doing wrong will not be better than nothing. In fact, it’s worse than nothing.

Pete Mockaitis
Worse than nothing. Speaking up, right?

Richard Boyatzis
Now, if you ask somebody how it’s going, and they start to critique it, and they get to a point where they say, “You know, this part of my interaction with these customers didn’t go the way I wanted to,” and you nod your head. And if they turn to you and say, “Can you see something that I might’ve done differently?” Now, at that point, the person is open. So, the key is actually it has a lot to do with listening to others. It sounds silly, it’s so simple but it isn’t simple. It’s hard to listen to others. We’re too busy pushing our own thoughts.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you keep your mouth shut until they ask for it.

Richard Boyatzis
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
And, like I said, it’s counterintuitive. Everybody thinks you can push people to change. You can’t. Now, look, just to be careful, with children or with people who suffer from various cognitive disorders or emotional disorders, they may need more structure so you don’t want to wait till a child burns themselves in a fire to try to get them to realize that they shouldn’t put their hands on a fire.

So, I’m not saying this for every situation. But as soon as we become sentient adults, now we have a built-in defensive reaction to somebody telling us what we should do. That’s why performance improvement plans are a waste of time. Performance reviews might be useful but usually they have to be done in a certain way if they’re going to be useful.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And so then, in our daily interactions, if we’re not, or even in the performance review, within our daily interactions, if we’re, most of the time, not being asked about how we can improve, which, by the way, there’s probably one tip right there is to, if professionally want to grow, dream, be open, and ask and you’ll get the goods and be open to actually working with the goods. So, there’s one implication.

Richard Boyatzis
That’s right. Well, that’s two. Two implications. Dream and then ask.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And so then, if we’re not the asker but rather the influencer, what are we doing? So, we’re listening. What else are we doing when we’re not asking and we’re trying to steer things in a direction?

Richard Boyatzis
One of the things you want to do is try to move people into this zone, this physiological psychological zone that I call the positive emotional attractor. And the question is, “How do you get people into that?” Because any degree of even mild stress, like your cellphone drops a call, or somebody cuts you off in traffic, impairs you cognitively. The data is very clear on this. Cognitively impairs you, perceptionally, emotionally.

So, how do you get into some of these positive spaces? Well, one idea is to periodically feel hopeful. This is one of the reasons why playing around with ideas, when the Powerball, what was it last week, hit a billion or something, it’s fun to say, okay, you’d get 736 million and you kiss off 300 million of that to taxes, but you’re left with $400 million, which, if you invest in a diversified portfolio is going to kick off 20, 30 million a year. I mean, you could buy a plane a year kind of with that if you wanted to. You could eliminate hunger in entire communities if you wanted to. So, the question ends up being fanciful about something like that is not the devil’s playground. It’s actually you being open.

Here’s another tip or another way to do it, I should say. Hope is one these core emotions that is very, very strong and helps us open up. Another one is compassion, gratitude. And one of the questions we often do, it’s an exercise. Let’s do it right now with your audience.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
What I’d like you to do, and the audience, is I’d like you to think of the people in your life who have helped you the most, become who you are, or get to where you are. In your whole life, who would you say, “I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for X. I would be where I am today if it wasn’t for Y.” Just pause a minute, jot down a few names.

Now, go back to the first name you put down and remember a moment with them in which you learned something important, and just think about or write down a word or phrase that captures what they said or did in that moment. In other words, you’re replaying the YouTube video of that moment. I do this in all my speeches and lectures and courses. I usually give people more time. We’re a little time constrained so I’ll rush it.

Now, what I’m asking you now is how did it feel when you remembered these people and you remembered that moment? I’ve done this exercise in all seven continents, something like 50 countries, and people usually say, “Huh, I felt really grateful. I felt loved. I felt appreciated. I was really moved. I felt energized. I felt excited. I felt serene.” All of these, excuse me, each of these emotions are indicators, are biomarkers, of activating the parasympathetic nervous system which is the body’s only antidote to stress, mild or extreme.

And that is the physiological, hormonal thing that gets you into this more positive state. So, what ends up happening is feeling gratitude and caring for others is one of those things. So, being in a loving relationship is really good for you in this way. Spending time laughing with your children or close friends is really good. Helping people who are less fortunate is really good having a dog or cat, or in some places, a horse or a monkey, something you can stroke because when you pet them…I have two Golden Retrievers. When one of them comes out to me, I stop what I’m doing, I pet her for a while, she goes into a parasympathetic response. Because of the emotional contagion, I pick it up, I’m going into this good zone. She picks it up back. We’re having a moment here. But we’re both allowing our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, quite literally, to rebuild themselves.

So, what happens is moments of hope, moments of caring and compassion, moments of mindfulness or centeredness, all really help. So, I know folks who are coaching others during this COVID crisis so they’re doing it on Zoom or video, and they start, because of all the stress in our lives, they start their session, not talking about, “How are you feeling?” They start by doing about five minutes of deep breathing exercises, and it’s not woo-woo land. This is helping your body reset itself. It’s amazing how powerful it is.

Now, if somebody is a practiced, experienced, meditator, they meditate a lot, or do yoga or martial arts or prayer, these are things that allow somebody to learn the skill of how to reset your body’s internal processes, and that’s what you want do for yourself. But you asked me the question, “How do you help somebody else?” That’s how. You help them get into that zone.

Pete Mockaitis
So, we get them into that zone. And I guess, Richard, one of the implications of this is that we’re not necessarily going to steer someone else’s behavior in the direction that we want them to if it’s not in conformity with their dreams and it ain’t just going to happen.

Richard Boyatzis
Right. I used to have top executives ask me in the ‘90s, you know, “Well, wait a minute. If I start focusing on all these dreams and vision, what if the people’s dream isn’t to work in my company anymore?” And my response was, “Then they don’t now.”

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Richard Boyatzis
So, yes, I think part of it is you’re being more trusting, and it involves risk, but that’s where people bring their juice, that’s where they bring their talent. Now, look, I’m not talking about rainbows, kittens, and unicorns here. I have a study, it’s coming out, I think, this month in an academic journal. Dan Goleman and I developed a new measure of personal sustainability about five years ago. And then Udi Andar and John O’Seery helped us to run a whole series of studies about it.

And one of the things that we finally have data on, which I’ve been saying since the ‘70s but I was saying it more clinically, but now we got the data, it’s really important for you to enter this positive emotional attractor zone, this renewal zone, in short bursts. Brief is better than long. Doing a number of 10- to 15-minute moments throughout the day is much better for you than to take a whole hour or an hour and a half. Why? Because you’re interrupting all the negative stuff, neural activations, hormones, etc., and, quite literally, you’re letting your body reset itself.

So, briefer moments help. That’s why when somebody started talking about a year, two years ago, about eliminating coffee breaks and eliminating lunch and letting people work three days and then be home four would be deadly, absolutely deadly, because we need the coffee breaks, we need the lunch, we need the chats, we need the going out for drinks or coffee with colleagues. We need them to help our bodies and minds reset themselves so we can perform.

So, more briefer moments during each day are key. And then, here’s the thing we also just proved, is that the variety of things you do to get yourself into that zone also is highly predictive of more engagement, more sense of wellbeing, more career satisfaction, more empathy, less tension and distress, all the good stuff and less of the bad stuff. And it works the same way when you help somebody else do it.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I love it. Well, so let’s hear, you’ve got five key components to an Intentional Change Theory model and we’ve gotten some of the goods already. But could you maybe just walk us through briefly that process from beginning to end?

Richard Boyatzis
I’ve been studying since 1967 how people change. And although I have been studying it, not just for individuals and dyads, pairs, couples, but also teams, organizations, communities, and countries, let me focus right now on individuals and pairs, dyadic interaction. First of all, sustained desired change is almost never continuous. It happens in fits and starts.

If you tried to stop smoking, you just don’t stop cold. Few people do and stay off it. Some days you don’t smoke anything, and some days you smoke two cigarettes. If you’re trying to lose weight, you don’t lose a pound a day. Some days you lose two pounds, some days you gain a pound. So, it’s discontinuous and it’s nonlinear. And if we accept that, we’re a little more patient with ourselves and other people, and this becomes important. Because if you feel tense about it, you’re sending out all this stuff, people are picking it up in their brains and it’s making them crazy.

Pete Mockaitis
This reminds me, BJ Fogg says, “People change better by feeling good not by feeling bad.” And it rings true, yeah.

Richard Boyatzis
Yup, that’s right. We have the data to prove that now. So, with that notion, what I started discovering decades ago, and, as I told you, it surprised me 20, 25 years ago when we really zeroed in on it is that the real motivator of this is the dream, is the personal vision, or sense of purpose, or sometimes people call it their calling.

If you have that, you’re eligible for the second discovery which is, “How do you come across to others?” And that’s where, if you don’t have part of the dream, it turns out you’re not open enough to notice. So, there’s like a 5% chance you’ll actually change in some sustained way. But if you are open to it, you start to pick up and you start to identify things that you do that are strengths and things that you do that are weaknesses.

You’re doing it like if the end result of the first discovery is a personal vision, and the end result of the second is a personal balance sheet, then you decide, “How do I get closer to my dream using my strengths and maybe work on a weakness? Nothing more, just one.” That’s where you identify an agenda or a plan. This is where the goals come in that’s helpful. Because, at this stage, you’re making choices as to how you’ll spend your time and you’re going to explore something, but it has to be joyful. If you do it because you should, it’s exhausting and you’ll atrophy.

Then you go into a thing where you experiment with some new thoughts or feelings or behavior and then pick the ones that work and practice it. And all of that happens in the context of trusting, caring relationships. And if any of those ingredients aren’t there, your process stops short. The majority, and this is really sad, but when I and others have done a lot of research on how much do people change in their abilities, their emotional, social, and cognitive intelligence after four years of college. And when we were doing these studies for various federal agencies in the ‘70s and ‘80s, we found that, on the whole, people statistically significantly changed on one, which means you could babysit for four years and you might learn more than going to college.

Now, not every college has such bad results and not every person has them because a lot of it has to do with intentionality. But then we started to realize that certain programs, certain schools, taught you in a way that upped that a lot, and those desired outcomes were powerful. But I remember reading a study in the ‘90s in an MBA program, 28-year-olds, and the question was, “How long did they remember what they had ‘learned’ put on the final exam in their required intro accounting course?” Six and a half weeks.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
That was the half-life of knowledge. Now, there are things we can do that help us retain our learning, and that’s why I talk about the sustainability a lot. And part of it is this idea of helping people go into this positive more open state on a regular basis. It’s why when people think they’re going to do a lot and maybe even learn a lot by really knuckling down and working 80-hour weeks, what they’re doing, on the whole, is inelastic damage and they, literally, compromise their innovation and ability to see things in the environment for the sake of getting a task done. Most of us have to balance those things. And a lot of this is around the issue of balance of being able to go back and forth with a lot of these different things.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Richard, I’m kind of curious, what approaches to learning delivered the goods? Apparently, they were pretty rare.

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. It turns out that one issue is where you somehow want to learn it.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
Okay. And some people would say, “Well, I don’t know what I don’t know.” Of course, but the question is, “Why are you taking it?” And if you go back to any of your own courses, Pete, that you took in high school or college or graduate school, when you had to take Spanish, you might’ve taken two semesters, you might’ve taken four, and do you still remember any Spanish? Probably not. But if you did a semester in a Spanish country, Spanish-speaking country, if you started spending time going to South America regularly, like every few months, you actually might decide you want to learn Spanish and you might hold onto it. So, a lot of it has to do with desire.

Then the issue is, “How does the learning fit into your whole life experience?” There’s so much that we can just memorize but cognitive psychology has proven that we hold things in our mind when we attach them to a context or a structure. And the question is, “What’s that structure?” Well, when you involve people pedagogically in terms of the learning methods, in more projects, teamwork, field work, people hang onto stuff.

In medical school, they used to have people go through courses for several years before they saw a patient. And somebody started noticing that if they started working with patients, obviously, they’re not going to just prescribe them drugs or do anything that they don’t understand. But if they started seeing human beings in the first month, they hang onto things, they increase their learning durability or sustainability a lot because it’s an emotional experience.

So, we’re holistic beings, and if you learn something just with your head, it’s going to have a shorter half-life. If you learn it just with your feelings, it’s going to have a shorter half-life. You need both. And so, learning things with others. I was just on a call trying to help a group in Buenos Aires that has hundreds of thousands of 18- to 23-year-olds learn skills on how to get jobs. These are mostly unemployed people. And one of the things we talked about was if they don’t learn to develop peer coaching relationships, relationships where they help each other, they have a lot of recidivism.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. Well, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Richard Boyatzis
These are a few of my favorite things. But, anyway, okay. No, that’s okay.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. How about a favorite quote?

Richard Boyatzis
Maya Angelou, “I have observed that in the future, they will not remember what you did, they will not remember what you said, but they will remember how you made them feel.”

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite book?

Richard Boyatzis
Kind of splits into different genres. One of the books that absolutely blew me away early in my studying of about psychology was Erik Erikson’s Young Man Luther, and then later he wrote Gandhi’s Truth about their kind of psycho-analytic history. And then there was David McClelland’s The Achieving Society and Power: The inner experience because he took things from different things, from social psychology and experiments, to anthropology, to sociology, and even history, and blended it all together to come up with insights about how humans are motivated. Those, to me, are just absolutely phenomenal books.

Now, on the fiction side, I love some of the classics, you know, Crime and Punishment and The Great Gatsby. But these days, if I want to relax, there’s nothing like a Grisham book.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Listening. Listening.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Richard Boyatzis
Which means asking people questions. Now, my wife would say I don’t do that as much as I should.

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

Richard Boyatzis
I would say, even today, a couple faculty at different universities around the world who I was on meetings with were quoting back some of the stuff that I used to say, and still say, about the fact that the most powerful thing we can do is to help people liberate their energy, their sense of freedom. Because, when we do that, when we help people open up, there is no limit to what people can do in helping others, in creating new products and ideas, and solving some of these seemingly intractable social problems that we have.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Well, let’s see. We have a set of books that are more practitioner-oriented, so, i.e., normal people can read them and enjoy them. The recent one is Helping People Change with Professors Melvin Smith and Ellen Van Oosten, Harvard Business Review Press did it. An earlier one was Primal Leadership with Dan Goleman and then Resonant Leadership. So, those are a couple books and there are some Harvard Business Review articles that went along with each of the books.

Then there are several MOOCs, massive open online courses, I’ve done on Coursera. One I did on Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence has, two weeks ago I checked, I think, 1.25 million people have taken this course from over 215 countries.

And then there are all sorts of programs, whether it’s listening to podcasts and people interviewing me, or actually coming to Case Western Reserve where that’s my main job, my full-time job, and coming in to some of our programs, like our master’s in positive organization development that’s all of these were done as residencies even before COVID. So, people would fly in once every few months, the rest is online, executive MBA. We have an executive doctorate program that’s great for people who have a master’s and want to do something more.

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

Richard Boyatzis
Focus on others. Your job isn’t to manage a strategic plan or to manage money or to create a product. If you’re in a leadership or management role, your job is to inspire others who will inspire others, who will inspire others, who will actually do the work.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Richard, this has been a treat. Thank you and I wish you lots of luck in all your dreams.

Richard Boyatzis
Thanks, Pete.

636: How to Advance Your Most Important Priorities with Eric Papp

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Eric Papp says: "Preparation begets confidence."

Eric Papp shares foundational perspectives on saving time and prioritizing effectively.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The one question that cuts your tasks in half 
  2. The strategy that makes plans stick 
  3. The key to starting off your week right 

About Eric

Eric Papp has a successful history of delivering proven strategies to increase productivity and performance in a complex world. 

Before becoming the success he is today, Eric earned his B.A. from the University of Notre Dame. He founded Agape leadership, LLC, an intellectual capital firm focusing on leadership and sales for business performance, with the sole purpose of driving leaders and their teams to success.

As a successful author and public speaker since 2010, he has worked with thousands of managers to aid teams toward success.

Eric Papp has been evaluated as one of the top management trainers in North America for his expertise in leadership effectiveness. His books Leadership By Choice and 3 Values of Being An Effective Person — published by John Wiley and Sons — are both top sellers and recognized for their unique impact in the business world.

Eric now lives in Tampa, FL with his wife Brieann and their daughter Elliana. In his spare time, Eric frequents his local church, engages the community, and practices the kettlebell.

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Eric Papp Interview Transcript

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

Eric Papp
Hey, Pete, thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I am excited to dig into your wisdom and I know one thing you’re excited about is the Kettlebell. I like your shirt. Could you read it for the audience who’s listening?

Eric Papp
Oh, man. It says, “I’ve got a fever and the only prescription is more Kettlebell,” which, of course, is a play on the SNL skit with Will Ferrell where he’s talking about more cowbell.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right. That’s right. And what do you love about the Kettlebell and what should we know if we’re at home and not going into the gym, thinking about workouts?

Eric Papp
Oh, man. It combines all three: strength, endurance, and flexibility. And it is probably one of the most effective pieces of equipment, bar none. Kettlebell swings to build endurance and flexibility, Turkish get-ups to build overall strength, and it’s incredible in terms of you do a 10, 20 minutes and the return on it on time is phenomenal.

Pete Mockaitis
Ooh, now you got my attention. The return in terms of energy, in terms of strength, they’re feeling amazing. What kind of return are we talking about?

Eric Papp
Yeah, all of the above in terms of returning. And they’ve done some studies, like when someone is doing a Kettlebell swing based upon your metabolic rate and all that stuff, it’s like equivalent to running like a six-minute mile.

And then one of the great things, obviously, in the situation that we’re in now is you can do it from the comforts of your own home. And that’s also, by the time it takes you to go in your car and go to the gym and come back, you can already be done with your training.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, I like effective, I like returns, and we’re talking about just that productivity, and “Better Thinking vs. More Effort” is a title of one of your keynotes. That sounds right up our alley. So, tell us, what’s the big idea there?

Eric Papp
Yeah, better thinking versus more effort. You know, I think so often than not, as knowledge workers, and especially being here in America, there’s always a pressure to do more, get in there early, stay later, climb the ladder. And that is good in a sense, and even for companies too, “I’ll take on more projects. Let’s do more initiatives. Let’s get more joint ventures going.” And that can be good to some degree but then also, it breathes a lot of complexity, it breathes a lot of, “Okay, we got our hand in a lot of different things. What are we really focused on? Where are we really moving the needle?”

And better thinking is really thinking about taking a step back and identifying the two or three projects that we can really move the mile as opposed to trying to move a hundred things an inch. And that’s really where it comes down to, is to be able to subtract and to simplify and then get to a higher level of performance or productivity.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that sounds great. And so, by doing better thinking, you’re able to exert less effort and get similar or superior results. Could you paint a picture of that for us, maybe the case of a particular person or client or study? Like, just how much is possible if we could go down this route?

Eric Papp
So, on a macro level, on a company personal level that everybody knows, Apple, Steve Jobs, right? Listeners out there, probably 70% or 80% of your listeners have some form of Apple product whether it’s an iPhone or MacBook Pro, whatever it is. Steve Jobs, in a sense, was forced out of his own company that he creates. He comes back right around 1996-1997. In that timeframe, Apple is just on the ropes. And, once again, they were trying to do too much. They had their hand in everything: scanners, printers, you name it.

And he comes back, and a family friend asked him, they said, “Steve, what desktop computer should we buy? You’ve got 17 of them that Apple offers.” And he says, “Shoot, I don’t even know.” So, he cut down all the desktop computers and only did one. He says, “Okay, we’re going to cut everything out, all the desktops, and we’re just going to produce one.”

He really did a great example of better thinking versus more effort, and it requires that ability to take a to step back to really do the hard thinking, and that’s a lot of times what we don’t want to do because we want the quick fix, and then we want to just kind of stay busy, and then that kind of consumes us, consumes our time. And then look what happened to Apple. If you had stock, if you bought Apple stock in the early 2000s or even late 1990s, it’s incredible. My father-in law had Apple stock, he still does, and it’s just mind boggling the return he’s made on that. And then a large part comes from Steve Jobs coming back, applying better thinking versus more effort.

Pete Mockaitis
And that does resonate in terms of whether it’s a business with their products or an individual with the to-do list, just what you can accomplish there.

Eric Papp
Oh, yeah, I was going to say, on a micro level, so a colleague of ours, James Clear, he wrote the book Atomic Habits.

Eric Papp
He started off 2011-2012 just writing a newsletter. Would write one on Monday, I think, would write it on Thursday. From the first year, he had, I want to say, around 100,000 subscribers, and then that’s all he did. And I think he had a day job at the same time and just kept building on that, building on that, then writes a book. And then his newsletter just went over one million subscribers, and it’s absolutely mind boggling, right? So, that’s a great testament to, okay, sticking with the one thing and really getting good at that and staying the course.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so I’m into that. And tell us then, with this better thinking, are there some key questions in terms of identifying what is the stuff that makes the impact and what is the stuff that we should cut?

Eric Papp
First thing I look at is subtraction, right? One of the questions we ask ourselves is, “Hey, if I stop doing this, would anything happen? Would anybody notice?” because a lot of times we do things out of obligation or we do things because, “Oh, that’s what the person did before me,” or, “Oh, that’s what I’ve always done.” So, that’s the great question to ask ourselves, “If I stop doing this, or these activities, what’s the impact?”

And a lot of times there’s not an impact. And so, that’s a great way because we want to start to allow ourselves that room, that space. It’s kind of like I think it was Claude Bristol who said, “It’s the space between the notes that creates the music.” And I think we really need more of that, that ability to not fill our day up with everything and anything because we really need…things are going to come up as they naturally do, but also we need that time to just going for a walk, let that thinking time to take a step back.

And by not filling our calendar up with everything, it allows that room for us to really start to process and analyze, “Okay, these projects, are they really important? Are we really making progress or are we just kind of going through the motions?” So, the first part I would say is to subtract. The second part would be really good to look at is to simplify and to see, “Okay, of all the complexity, how can we make this simpler? How can we make this easier? How can we reduce the friction to get the result that we want?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yes, I love that. And that’s intriguing in terms of, “Would anybody notice if I stopped doing this?” I guess, how do you get to the answer to that? One, you could just try it, try to stop doing it and see if anyone reaches out to you. Other ways you’d recommend in terms of, I think if you’re in organizations and collaborating with folks, there can be some resistance in terms of, “Well, that’s just what we do. This is what we’ve always done,” or, “This is how this works. That is the process”? So, any thoughts on how when there’s other stakeholders and people in the mix, you interact with them to get things moving?

Eric Papp
I use a couple tools that I created. One the effectiveness process. Another tool called organizing, clarify your thinking to really get the goal, impact and focus down, because a lot of times in organizations, people just launch into projects and they don’t know what’s the desired outcome. They don’t know what success looks like. They don’t know what’s the time involved, “Who else can we collaborate with?” things that you think that are basic. And then the person gets tasked with something, and then they’re not fully doing it, and then the manager gets upset or the director gets upset. That’s where we get back to, like I was saying earlier, moving a hundred things an inch.

So, I think right from the start of it, it’s just for all of us to spend more time in the asking ourselves a question, “Okay, what’s my desired outcome? What does success look like? What’s the impact if I do this? What’s the impact if I don’t do this? And then, do I have the bandwidth right now to carry this out? What level of a priority is this for me? Is this a top three or is this just a good idea?” Because the key thing we always have to remember as human beings is we will always generate more ideas than there is the ability and our capacity to execute them.

And that is where I see kind of the downfall. Even as entrepreneurs, managers, it doesn’t matter if you’re an entrepreneur or it doesn’t matter if you’re inside of a company, but we’ll always have good ideas. But always remember that our capacity to execute all of them, we don’t have that. And so, we really have to be diligent of selecting just a few and then really going deep with what we’ve selected.

Pete Mockaitis
And so then, we’ve zeroed in on what to eliminate. And then I’d like to get some indicators then on, let’s just imagine, okay, we had a hundred ideas or there’s a hundred things vying for our attention. And, hey, great job, we successfully eliminated half of them, which is cool. And so, we are twice as clear as we were before. Nonetheless, how do you recommend that we zero in from, I guess, the semi-finalists to those top three?

Eric Papp
Yeah, great question. And it goes with what is our desired future. What’s the future that we’re living into? At any point in our lives, we’re always thinking, we’re either in three different mindsets. We’re in the past, we’re like, “Oh, man, 2019 was such a great year, and we were gathering and we did this, and our company I did this,” or we are in the present, “Okay, what am I doing right now? What’s important right now?” That acronym WIN, “What’s important now?” Or, we’re in the future, we’re thinking about. “Hey, where do I want to be?”

And sometimes we have to be very mindful of how we’re thinking because sometimes we’re dominated by the past, we’re, “Oh, my gosh, this is so bad. I can’t. I wish it was this time. I wish it was…” And so, asking ourselves, “Okay, what’s the desired future that I want?” and then just backtracking it. It’s, “Okay, what’s the desired future? And then now what are the projects that I think will get us there?” And a lot of times we overestimate what we can do in a day but yet we underestimate what we can do in a year.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, I think that’s true. And, well, talking about those timeline horizons with the day and the year, you’ve got something you’ve created called the Weekly Strategy Sheet. Tell us, how do we think about that and use it to plan priorities?

Eric Papp
Yeah. So often than not, where this kind of came from, Pete, is when you ask people, you would say, like, “Hey, what did you do last week?” “Oh,” they’d look at you and it’s kind of like, “Oh,” they really couldn’t give a definitive answer, it’s like, “Oh, I got a lot of emails done. I was in a lot of meetings.” And so, this is really to give people a high-level overview, a high-level strategy of, “Okay, what’s most important this week?”

First of all, there’s three parts. There’s past, present, and future. And the idea is, okay, we celebrate our past, we connect with our present here, and then we commit to the future. And so, the idea is, over time, as we’re planning our week, is to see some synergy between the past, present, and future. And we identify, so in the past, celebrate the past, “Okay, great. What are the top three or five accomplishments I accomplished last week that were very meaningful to me in my business or in my role? Okay, great. I’m going to list them down,” because that’s going to give us confidence.

Our confidence comes from seeing the progress and what matters most to us, and whether that’s personal or professional. So, great, we can see that. When you write it down, it helps us keep moving forward. But a lot of times, in our culture, we don’t. We focus on where we are and where we want to go. And I call that, you got to be careful because that’s kind of frustrationville, right? That’s comparison, that’s, “Oh, man, well, I see this person on social media. Oh, I see this.” So, I get people to take a look back and to see all the progress that they’re making and have this on a weekly basis.

And the middle part then is we’re looking to really kind of connect with the present, “Okay, what are my top three weekly priorities this week? If everything goes to H-E Double Hockey Sticks, what’s the three most important things I want to get done, I want to accomplish?” and then the future. And I need to future-plan it, I use the OKR Method, Objective and Key Results, “What do you want accomplished and how you’re going to get it done?”

And, like I said, the whole idea of using the Weekly Strategy Sheet, it takes under 20 minutes to plan it out but it’s so important because a lot of times, as knowledge workers, we don’t plan our weeks. We just go from one week to the next, and we kind of kid ourselves that, “Oh, something will be different,” or, “Oh, this will turn around.” But if we don’t really get a handle on the planning aspect, then the execution kind of falls short.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, I’m curious, so we got the Weekly Strategy Sheet, and so then you can reference it at the end of the week. It’s written, it’s there, you see, “Hey, this is what I accomplished. That’s cool.” And you zero in on those top three priorities. How do you think about it in terms of, I guess, scheduling or calendaring or putting time against those things within the week?

Eric Papp
Well, you got to have a day where you actually spend time to plan. Having a planning day, I like to do mine on a Friday. Sometimes I do it on a Thursday late afternoon. But when you have that time to really devote to the planning, and you’re not trying to fill up your week either. You’re not trying to. You’re just saying, “Okay, what are the three most important things?” And, also, too, those three most important things, you might get those done in two days, and that might very well be, and that’s okay. But it’s really to give you a better sense of clarity and organization.

Pete Mockaitis
So, within that planning time, and so it sounds like this isn’t a 10-minute operation but it’s a bit more in-depth. What are you doing with that planning time?

Eric Papp
Yeah, you’re going from left to right: past, present, and future. So, I’ve got my Weekly Strategy Sheet, it’s sitting right here on my desktop, and this is the week of January 4th or the 8th, and, boom, okay, I celebrate the past, I write down my top five accomplishments, and I make some personal or two personals in there as well, and then I check in with the present, “What are my top three weekly priorities? And then, what’s for the future, my objective and key results?” And that can change as well.

But you’ll see when you ask people, “Hey, do you plan your week?” A lot of people don’t and then some people that do kind of quickly plan their week. The more that we spend time planning our week and really being diligent about that, and we’ll get better. A, you’ll get better at it, and, B, you’ll be able to get your priorities done and things done with a lot greater intention. And that’s kind of the cool thing and you’ll actually have more time. You’ll be accomplishing more and you’ll have more time when things come up that you’ll be more able to more flexible.

I think one of the things it gives people is it helps relieve some of this, the pressure of time that a lot of people are faced with nowadays.

Pete Mockaitis
So, you maybe do an hour with the Weekly Strategy Sheet planning process? Or, roughly how long are you doing there?

Eric Papp
Yeah, I’d say it’s about an hour. Sometimes I’ll go…what I’ll do is I’ll take two cracks at it. I’ll look at it Friday, and then I might look at it again on Monday and just make some adjustments just to make sure that, okay, I’m on track for this week. But it really gives me that structure and it really gives me that guidance. Because the other thing too is, as knowledge workers, our confidence, we have to protect that, right?

And so, if we know, as human beings, if I’m making progress, that I’m feeling good about myself, and so that’s so important. And knowing that I’m progressing towards where I want to go. And so, by doing this, it really helps us with that. So, yeah, it’s about an hour or some people have done it under an hour. I’m typically around that dependent upon how detail I get with it.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, you’re saying that that hour you spend there ends up saving significantly more than one hour during the course of executing the week.

Eric Papp
Tremendously, yeah. And I don’t remember who said it or where I read it, but it was something like, “For every minute you spend planning, it gives you 10 additional minutes,” or you save 10 additional minutes, or something like that, so, yeah, it’s kind of like that 10-to-1 ratio, yeah. And so, that’s why the planning is so important. And you get better at it too as you go on.

A lot of times we just start our day very reactive, right? When I say reactive, we just start our day, we watch the news, listen to the news, or we start our day reading emails, checking emails. And so, we’re not really proactive. We’re just responding to whatever is in our inbox, whatever is most pressing. And often what’s a priority gets masked with a hundred different other things.

Pete Mockaitis
And if folks have a hard time letting go, because I think what could be perhaps a mistake, and you tell me about the biggest mistakes you see when folks are trying to manage their time, is you say, “Okay, these are the really critical priorities, and so we kind of go after those.” But we don’t really subtract, we don’t really let go of the other things, and then we’re just sort of get stressed because it’s like, “Well, no, I really identified and I’m totally clear that these things are critical but I’m still doing everything else.” So, if there’s an emotional hurdle or a hump or resistance, how do you recommend we get through that?

Eric Papp
You’re spot on, Pete. It’s absolutely right because I’ll see people are like, “Oh, I need more time,” or, “Oh, yeah.” Like, I’ll recommend or something, and they’re like, “Oh, I don’t have time to read this now.” It’s like, “You’re not planning, you’re not prioritizing, that’s what it really comes down to because you’re trying to do everything, and you’re regarding everything has the same level of importance when it doesn’t. So, then you can’t multiply your output and you can’t leverage what you’re doing.”

So, one of the things I share with people is come at it with like a spirit of experimentation, experiment of like trial and error. A lot of times we want certainty as human beings, we want to know, “Hey, if I do this, is it going to give me this? Or, if I don’t do this, this will alleviate this problem.” And so, it’s like, “Hey, just test it out.”

And then, also, I share too the idea of when you give yourself less time, we tend to be more productive. A little story, a little sidenote on this, is when Franklin Delano Roosevelt, when he was President, he had an advisor, Harry Hopkins. And Harry, due to some health issues and such, could only work three to four hours a day. However, he was one of the most effective advisors for FDR. Winston Churchill went so far to call him like Lord Heart of the Matter. And the reason why is, hey, he only had three, four hours, so then, therefore, it really caused him to think deliberately about, “Okay, what am I going to do in the time that I do have?”

Because there’s that whole Parkinson’s Law, right? And work expands to fill the time necessary for its completion. So, if we give ourselves eight hours a day, we’re going to fill it with eight hours. If we give ourselves 10 hours, then we’re going to fill it with 10 hours, and so that’s a very interesting thing. And you’ll see this not only from a time standpoint but you’ll also see this from like a storage standpoint. Like, when somebody has a house, they went from like, let’s say, a thousand square foot house, or 2,000 square foot house. Well, over time, they’re going to fill that house up with stuff. Why? Because they’re just going to fill it up with stuff.

So, it takes a deliberate level of discipline and just mindfulness, too, of, “Okay, hey, we don’t want to be over cluttered. I don’t want to be overwhelmed. Just because I have the capacity doesn’t mean I need to buy more stuff.” So, that’s kind of the idea on that. But yet, somehow, we end up shooting ourselves in the foot by adding more and doing more.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And I know you’ve also zeroed in on some key habits of super achievers. Can you tell us what are they and how do we go about developing them?

Eric Papp
Yeah, I’d say some of the habits of super achievers, number one, is to get a real clear sense, and we’ve talked about this a little bit earlier, of what your future is. Knowing what it is that you want in your future, that’s a key thing. The second thing I would say is knowing what are some of your unique talents. Super achievers are very good at knowing what their unique talents are, and then spending time working on those talents.

And then, after a while, people take a step back and, “Wow, that’s a master at work. Wow, that person, they’re at the top of their field.” So, that’s a big thing. Knowing what you want and then knowing your talents, what you’re good at or what you like to do, and then really spending time learning more every day, and getting better. Just getting 1% better, reading more, talking to people. And then when you take a step back, then you see, then you’re kind of regarded as a super achiever. People are like, “Wow, that person, look at the gains they’ve made.”

And it’s not anything that they’re extraordinary. In some cases, talent is there already but other cases it’s the talent that has been cultivated over and over. It’s kind of like water dropping on a stone. It’s just that over and over and over, that repetitive nature, eventually it changes the stone and it forms the stone into something unique.

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

Eric Papp
No, I think we’re right on track. We’re doing great.

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

Eric Papp
Well, one of them I already mentioned, and it’s a quote that’s just been top of mind. Our capacity to generate ideas will always be greater than our ability to execute.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite study or experiment or bit of research?

Eric Papp
A lot of what I’m saying is in alignment with Richard Koch, his idea on The 80/20 Principle. And what I’m talking about is kind of from Pareto and going back and looking at that. So, a lot of that is if somebody wants to explore more or go deeper into being able to identify priorities and such, that’d be good to look at.

Pete Mockaitis
That is a great one and I think a lot of people have heard about the 80/20 rule, but he’s just like, “You’re not taking it nearly far enough.” Like, that’s the theme that hits it over and over again at each chapter. It’s like, “All right, man. You got it.” And how about a favorite tool, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Eric Papp
I would say a notebook that I have. I’ve got the Priority Planner that I use. It’s something that I created. It’s in its third edition. And this keeps me focused because it’s the way I’ve created it. It’s three wins from yesterday so it causes me every day to write down what are my accomplishments from the exact day before. So, this helps keep my confidence high, and that’s one of the top things I need to protect as a knowledge worker.

And then it says three priorities for today. So, it’s asking me, “Okay, what are my three priorities?” And sometimes I just only identify one or two, and then in that way I feel great about accomplishing that. And the next part I have, “Stay curious, stay creative.” I ask questions throughout the day. I think that’s important, too, is write down questions.

When questions come up, just write them down if you don’t know the answer to them because a lot of times we get stuck with, “I don’t know how to figure that out.” And it’s very easy to kind of throw up our hands or say, “Oh, that’s somebody else’s responsibility. That’s somebody else’s department.” But just write down the question because there’s a great chance that you just kind of sit with it, you’ll get the idea, it will come to you later on.

Pete Mockaitis
And any other favorite habits for you personally?

Eric Papp
Spending time, taking care of yourself physically, whether it’s going for a walk. I go for occasional morning walks. I also cycle. I’ve got the Peloton here, so cycling. And that’s great because it’s low impact on the knees. And then, obviously, the Kettlebell, so alternating between cardio and strength. So, exercise is such an important part. And not so much just from like a vanity standpoint but so much from it clears your mind.

I can’t tell you, Pete, how many times where I‘ve just gone for a walk or I’ve gone on a bike ride, and then I’ll come back with like three great ideas that I’ll write down just of different things, or an email to ask somebody or a question. And then spending time in scripture with the Bible, just reading some of the New Testament. I do a little thing called Lectio Divina, and I’ll read a little small passage of the New Testament, and then just kind of ask questions, just journal from there.

And then, also, every day in the morning, I usually just start to write. I just kind of start typing or writing just to kind of empty, purge all the stuff in my head, whatever it is. It might be questions, it might be concerns, it might be what I’m excited about, just whatever it is, because I find that to be a wonderful clearing process so I can start my day be in the present moment.

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

Eric Papp
Well, I would say preparation begets confidence. And that comes from planning your day, right? When you’re prepared, when you’re planning your day, kind of know where you want to go, then when things do come up, then you have the flexibility to adapt. Oh, here’s something that I say, “Blessed are the flexible for they shall never be bent out of shape.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Eric Papp
And I think 2020 was a great reminder that we all had to have flexibility. It teaches us a lesson, flexibility. And, also, a lesson in resiliency. I think resiliency is such a wonderful, wonderful quality to have whether an entrepreneur or manager. The capacity to overcome difficulties quickly because there a lot of challenges that we experience and there’s a lot of challenges that we’re going to continue to experience as well.

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

Eric Papp
My website EricPapp.com. I’ve got some videos on there, the Weekly Strategy Sheet is on there so they can download that for free, and they’ll get the PDF version of that. And that’s just E-R-I-C-P-A-P-P.com.

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

Eric Papp
Hey, we’re starting off the year here in January. Ask yourself, how is this year going to be different for you? Not just from what are you going to do that’s going to be different? How are you going to get to your goals? How is it going to be different? And then, when you’ve got that planned, work it and get your outcome that you want.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Eric, this has been a treat. I wish you lots of luck and success in your productivity and adventures and priorities, and keep on rocking.

Eric Papp
Hey, thanks, Pete. It’s been great, man. And thank you for doing what you do. Having this, doing over, what is this, episode 600 and something. Yeah, that’s incredible, man.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you. I appreciate it.

Eric Papp
Yeah, that’s a lot. So, that’s great. We need more of this in the world.

635: Shifting Your Team from Survival to Performance through Psychological Safety with Dr. Timothy Clark

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Timothy Clark says: "It doesn't matter what your role is, you are an architect of the culture."

Dr. Timothy Clark discusses the specific benefits and behaviors associated with high-performing, psychologically safe teams.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to combat the culture of fear 
  2. Why to encourage intellectual friction
  3. Tips that boost your credibility at work 

 

About Tim

Tim is founder and CEO of LeaderFactor and is based in Salt Lake City, Utah. 

Tim ranks as a global authority in the fields of senior executive development, strategy acceleration, and organizational change. He is the author of five books and more than 150 articles on leadership, change, strategy, human capital, culture, and employee engagement. He is a highly sought-after advisor, coach, and facilitator to CEOs and senior leadership teams. He has worked with leading organizations around the world. 

Resources mentioned in the show:

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Timothy Clark Interview Transcript

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

Timothy Clark
Thanks, Pete. Thanks for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m so excited to dig into your wisdom. First, could you tell us about your experience growing up with the Navajo. That’s kind of interesting.

Timothy Clark
It’s kind of a unique thing, isn’t it? Yeah, so I spent my early boyhood in southern Colorado, kind of in the Durango area, and the reason that we were there is that my dad, out of college, he took a job as a teacher among the Navajo, and so I kind of grew up with them, which is, you may know, or some of your listeners may know, it’s a big tribe. It’s the second largest tribe next to the Cherokee. And, yet, as a child, I mean, that was pretty natural, normal environment for me. I didn’t know anything different. But it turned out that that became kind of a defining experience in my life as it relates to differences and inclusion and things like that.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, we’re going to talk about some of that when it comes to psychology safety. First, can you define that term and tell us why it matters?

Timothy Clark
Sure. So, psychological safety, I can define in five words. It means an environment of rewarded vulnerability.

Pete Mockaitis
Well done.

Timothy Clark
So, think about that. You’re in any social environment, social collective, organization, do you feel that, if you’re vulnerable in some way, that that’s going to be rewarded or punished? That’s the difference. That’s really what we’re talking about.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, so that sounds like a pleasant thing to have. Can you share some of the hardest-hitting research that really shows that that’s important for teams? Like, what do we have to gain or lose when we have it or don’t have it? And if you could put some numbers to it, that’d be awesome.

Timothy Clark
Yes. So, the difference between having it, Pete, and not having it is profound. Think about it as if you’re a player on a team, you’re playing offense or defense. If you’re playing defense, then what that means is that you’re managing personal risks, you’re in a mode of loss prevention, self-preservation, and so you’re taking a certain amount of your productive capacity and you’re using it to protect yourself.

So, that means that you’re going to offer a survival response instead of a performance response. If the psychological safety is there, if you feel safe in that environment, then you’re going to offer performance response, which is a very, very different thing. So, the difference is profound and what that translates into is productivity, it translates into innovation, it translates into business impact. So, that’s kind of a short way of describing the difference.

Pete Mockaitis
And I suppose there’s a whole continuum associated with, it’s not just binary, “Yup, psychologically safe,” or, “No, not psychologically safe.” But I imagine there’s kind of like tiers, levels, or a gradient there. And so, I guess one story that comes to mind for me is I remember one of my first jobs, I was an intern, and my buddy Dan and I, we kept writing emails that somehow seem to like tick people off or offend them accidentally without us intending to.

And so, we would spend a fair bit of time doing what we joked around, we call it PCS, political consulting solutions, and we’re just like, “Hey, could you read this email and see every way that you could conceivably take it the wrong way, and help me change my words so that I don’t do that?” And so, we spent a fair bit of time doing this. And I guess we’re kind of newer to the professional workforce, and maybe some of that is a skill you need. But there’s a part of me thought, “You know, maybe if we could all just chill and assume positive intention on the other part, we could skip a lot of this time that’s not really productive.”

Timothy Clark
Well, that’s true and so we have to think of it on a continuum. As you said, psychological safety is not binary; it’s a matter of degree. And as we enjoy more psychological safety, we are able to engage in different acts of vulnerability and we’re able to climb a ladder of vulnerability. So, let me explain that a little bit, and we know this is based on a global survey research that we’ve done.

If you come into a new social setting, a new team, new organization, the first thing that most people are concerned about, and when I say most, I mean 92% because this is what the survey research says. What people are most concerned about is, “Do I belong?” That’s the question they’re asking, “Do I belong?” And that’s the first question in the natural sequence.

And then we go to the second question. The second question is, “Am I growing?” And in order to answer that question, you have to be able to learn in that environment. The psychological safety has to be sufficient that you’re able to ask questions, give and receive feedback, make mistakes, experiment, so, that’s the second question, “Am I growing?”

The third question is, “Am I contributing?” So, that takes you to the third level or stage of psychological safety. And to contribute is also, really, a very basic human instinct to want to make a difference, to be able to participate in that value-creation process.

Then we go to the very highest rung on the ladder of vulnerability. And that highest rung allows us to challenge the status quo. So, the fourth question is, “Can I challenge the status quo?” What does that mean? Without retaliation, without retribution, without jeopardizing my personal standing or reputation.

So, out of the research, what we were able to excavate is that there’s this natural progression of stages of psychological safety. So, stage one is inclusion safety, stage two is learner safety, stage three is contributor safety, and then, as I said, stage four is challenger safety. Can you challenge the status quo? And what we find is that when we go from social setting to social setting, wherever we are, it’s not the same. Sometimes the psychological safety is very low, sometimes it’s kind of in the middle, sometimes it can be quite high which can allow us to do some pretty astonishing things as individuals.

So, that’s what I’ve been up to with the research, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love it. And when we say astonishing things, can you give us a story, an illustration?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. So, actually, we keep doing case studies of this, but to preface my response, let me go back to Google’s Aristotle project, which I think they kicked off in about 2013, and they studied 180 of their own teams to try to figure out, “Well, what are the defining characteristics of our most high-performing team, because we have all these teams? And the teams are filled with highly intelligent, very talented people, but they don’t perform at the same level. Some really have a hard time getting off the ground. Others are soaring and they’re innovating and they’re doing some pretty incredible things.”

So, for example, we were just working with a client that’s in the construction business, and they put together several teams to try to figure out how they could innovate. And some of the best innovations came from some of their least, at least this is the way they said it, their least talented teams, where these are the people that you would pick last to be on your team.

And so, what we’re learning is that psychological safety becomes this incredibly important enabling condition that allows people…it gives people respect, and it gives them permission to jump in, dive in, lean in, and they have peak engagement experiences. They have career best experiences. They do things that they didn’t think they could do. And we’re seeing this over and over again.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I love that. Now, we’re going to talk about how to get there, although I think some maybe hard-nose folks would perhaps suggest, “Oh, Tim, I mean, come on, don’t we just need to have a thick skin and just put it out there and make it happen?” I imagine it’s not so simple.

Timothy Clark
No, it’s not. In fact, Pete, one of the case studies that I give in the book that illustrates this point is that, in the United States at least, a student drops out of high school every 26 seconds. Now, that’s a tragedy but what is even more illuminating about it is that the research shows that most of these students, the vast majority of these students, barring some legitimate learning disability, they can do the work. The reason they drop out of school is because they didn’t have the support, they didn’t have the encouragement, they lost confidence, and they called it quits.

So, what we know about learning is that it is both intellectual and emotional. You cannot separate those two tracks. And so, if you just say, “Oh, you just need to have a thick skin,” well, do you think that that is really all that different in adults, in professionals who are in the workplace? They learn very, very quickly that if they challenge the status quo and they get their heads chopped off, they’re not going to do it anymore. They will retreat and recoil into a mode of personal risk management because what happens is that if the psychological safety is not there, if you’re in fear-based organization, or fear-based team, the fear triggers what we call the self-censoring instinct, and we all have one.

If that self-censoring instinct is triggered or activated by the behavior of other people, we catch on pretty quickly. And so then, we self-censor; we do not contribute all that we are capable of contributing. And that is a universal pattern across demographics, across cultures, across nations. So, does it matter? Oh, it matters. Think about the unintended consequences of how it matters when it relates to productivity, innovation, overall performance. Yeah, it matters.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And maybe if you could clear a misconception, I have heard or internalized somewhere that psychological safety may alternatively be defined as something like the ability to express what you really think without fear of reprisal. And I see a Venn’s diagram in my mind’s eye. There’s a good overlap with your definition but, also, it’s different. So, could you lay it on there, is there a distinction there? And I imagine there’s some form kind of ground rules, like, “Well, you can’t say anything.” But I don’t know, is it like 97% of things are acceptable, barring, which is wildly inappropriate, offensive, aggressive? How do you think about that?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. So, the way that I think about that is that, first of all, let’s go back to psychological safety is a function of two things. It’s a function of respect and permission. And so, we have to maintain, in order to maintain high levels of psychological safety, we have to maintain high levels of respect and permission.

So, what that means is that we patrol the boundaries of respect when we are engaged in dialogue and discussion. So, what that means is, as a practical matter, if you’re a member of a team and we are debating issues and we’re trying to solve problems, and we’re trying to figure out solutions, we do need a high level of intellectual friction. We do need creative abrasion and constructive dissent. We do need hard-hitting dialogue.

The only way you’re going to maintain that, however, is that you have to manage the social friction down. So, the intellectual friction has to go very high but the social friction has to stay very low. The only way you can do that is by maintaining respect interpersonally. So, what does that mean? That means personal attacks are off limits, and we’re going to be careful about what we’re saying. Now, we’re not going to coddle each other, right? We need a high tolerance for candor and we need to debate issues on their merits but we’re not going to attack people personally. We’re not going to demean or belittle or marginalize or embarrass.

If we move into that kind of behavior, then it shuts down our intellectual friction and we’re not able to make the breakthroughs that we need. So, we have to manage the respect and the civility in that dialogue.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, so let’s zoom into maybe some particular interactions and how they can be conducted optimally. I’m thinking, let’s just say someone says something that you find frustrating in the sense of, I don’t know, for any number of reasons, I don’t know, “We’ve been over this a dozen times before,” fill in the blank. So, I mean, what you laid out there in terms of things that are out of bounds, I could see, like, you’re not going to demean or shout or whatever, but I think it’s quite possible that we could have some nonverbal cues that can be tricky in terms of our vocal inflection or like a sigh. How do we play that game? You’ve got emotional reactions to stuff people say and they can pick up on those and not feel so safe afterwards. What do we do?

Timothy Clark
Well, I think that’s true, and so it’s not just verbal. As you say, it’s the nonverbal. Take, for example, think about all of us who are working virtually during the pandemic, we’re working with a distributed workforce, we’re on some kind of virtual platform. And so, our interactions, so I see from the shoulders up, and what am I relying on? I’m relying on some gestures. I’m relying on your facial expressions. I’m relying on your vocal characteristics.

It’s okay to be frustrated. It’s okay to be human that way because that communicates some very important things but it crosses a line when it becomes disparaging, when I’m rolling my eyes, when I’m being dismissive of what you’re saying. So, there’s a line there of respect and of acknowledgement for what you’re saying. Even though I may vehemently disagree, and we need to be able to have that discussion on the merits, but, again, I still think the whole key is that you’re maintaining the civility and the respect, and you’re having marvelous disagreements at the same time.

Can you do that? Yeah, you can do it but it takes practice. It takes practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Marvelous disagreements is a great turn of phrase. Thank you. And then how do we do that practice? Like, what does that look like when we are trying to build those skills?

Timothy Clark
Yeah, that’s a great question, Pete. So, what we did is we, our team, our research team, we put together what we call a behavioral guide, and we identified very concrete behaviors that are associated with each of the four stages of psychological safety. Let me give you some very concrete examples.

So, for example, with stage one, inclusion safety, it’s very important that you learn people’s names, you learn how to pronounce them, and you use people’s names. Now, that’s very, very simple. Here’s another one, and this one is backed up by research that’s come out of the MIT Human Dynamics Lab. When you are speaking with someone, even virtually, face them with your entire body. Don’t swivel. Don’t look at them from an angle but face them with your entire body because it communicates a different level of acknowledgement and interest and attention to what they are saying. Those are just a couple of examples.

We’ve put together about 35 specific concrete behaviors for each of the four stages of psychological safety. And so, what it comes down to is practicing those behaviors. So, for example, if you want to elevate inclusion safety, stage one, then you need to engage in behaviors that invite, that share, that solicit feedback and input, and you’re acknowledging other people. So, there are examples, there are behaviors that do that very naturally. Those have to be practiced over and over and over again in order to shift the prevailing norms of a team.  Yes, it can be done but you got to practice.

Pete Mockaitis
Tim, this is so much gold. Tell me, first of all, how do we get this behavioral guide?

Timothy Clark
Oh, this behavioral guide, you can just go to our website and it’s a free download. And I can also send you a link, Pete, so that you can have it available on your site.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah. We’ll totally put that in the show notes. And so, okay, 35 for each of the four, or a 140 total.

Timothy Clark
A hundred-forty total.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m going to play 80/20 with you here. Can you give me the top three? And I’m going to say top in terms of it’s high impact, and it’s maybe frequently overlooked, and it’s relatively easy to make the shift. For example, I think that names is awesome, and facing with your entire body is great. Like, I can do that right now. Can you give us maybe another one for the belonging or inclusion, and then maybe the top three for the other three stages?

Timothy Clark
Okay. I don’t have them in rank order but I’ll take a shot. So, let’s go to stage two, first of all, to learner safety. So, for learner safety, one of the concrete behaviors that’s in the behavioral guide is that you need to publicly share mistakes that you’ve made. Okay, that’s one. A second one is to ask for help from someone of lower status than you. So, that’s another one. Another one for learner safety is to acknowledge when you don’t know something and do that very publicly.

Now, let me build on that because we can keep going. I’m going to skip for just a minute all the way to challenger safety, stage four, because this is the toughest one. So, here’s one, number one, weigh in last. If you have positional power, absolutely never speak first, give your opinion or your point of view first. You weigh in last. Another one is to publicly change your opinion so the people can hear that you’ve been influenced and that you’re changing your opinion or your point of view on something. Here’s another one. Formally assign dissent.

So, for example, say, we’re debating an issue or, say, we’re thinking about taking a course of action. Then what I would say is I would say, “Okay, you, you, and you, we’re assigning you to be our loyal opposition. We’re assigning you to dissent. So, as we go through this discussion, we want you to tell us what’s wrong with our point of view, what’s wrong with this proposed course of action, where are the flaws, shoot holes in it, and we’re giving you this as an assignment.”

The reason this works so well, Pete, is because if we assign dissent, we are trading your personal risks for public permission. And as soon as I give you public permission, you don’t have to use your personal risk, you’re going to be much more likely to do it. It changes the entire dynamic of the team. So, I kind of bounced around a little bit but let me give you another one. It goes back to inclusion safety. This just came to mind. It’s called hop-on hop-off  interviews.

Have you ever been to a city where you’re a tourist and they have these hop-on hop-off buses and you go around the city and you hop off, and you look at particular tourist attraction, then you get back on the bus and you keep going? It’s a similar concept. If someone comes in, a new member comes in, you assign that member an escort and a guide.

And that escort takes you around to the other team members, and you have very brief hop-on hop-off interviews of 5, 10 minutes each where you literally make the introduction to each person on the team, you say, “I’d like you to meet Pete. He’s a new member of our team.” Then you tee up a few questions and you accelerate the normal pace of social integration.

So, this happened to me, Pete. Let me give you an example. So, in college, in graduate school, I spent some time at Seoul National University in Korea, and they gave me a place in what was called the Social Science Research Center. As soon as I got there, the director, he introduced himself to me, and he said, “We’re so happy to have you here. I’m assigning two graduate students to be your guides, so here they are, and they’re going to take you around, and you’re going to meet every single member of the center, every faculty member, every graduate student.” So, they did that exact thing and then they took me to lunch.

Can you imagine how I felt? In the first day, we accomplished as much social integration as you would accomplish maybe in a month. I don’t know, maybe longer. So, what we’re saying is that there are these very concrete behaviors that accelerate and they elevate the psychological safety, and they absolutely work. Those are just some examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, that’s so good. Now, let’s see. Did we get some for the contributor safety?

Timothy Clark
Contributor safety, okay. Contributor safety, let’s go back to what that means. Contributor safety means that you feel free and able to contribute as a full member of the team, to make a difference using your talents and skills and experience and knowledge. So, for contributor safety, I would cite, let me see, one example is that what you do, if you’re the leader of the team, you talk about the things that you have tried that did not work.

So, you talk about mistakes very openly because what happens is, and we know this from research, is that when we’re contributing, we’re very tentative, especially if we’re new, we don’t have the informal permission rights that we would want to have. And, usually, a team grants those slowly over time. Well, we don’t have time to wait for that.

And so, if, as a leader, you can say, “You know what, I tried this and it didn’t work out that well. I tried this and it was okay. We had a little bit of ,” but you’re very forthcoming with trying to solicit contribution from the person so the person is not standing on the sideline very tentative, very reluctant to dive in. And so, you model that, number one. And then, number two, you protect that person in the process.

So, let me give you another one that is a pattern that we see very clearly. So, that pattern is, for contribution, that you invite contribution but you provide autonomy with guidance. And the reason is that the more autonomy that I have, the more likely that I’m going to take ownership for something. Then if something goes wrong, you’re going to protect me in that process. So, there’s got to be some reassurance that if I’m venturing out and I’m going to try some things and I’m going to contribute, that I’m going to receive some level of protection in that process.

Pete Mockaitis
And when you say protection, can you give us a couple examples of what that means in practice?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. So, for example, there is interpersonal protection. Interpersonal protection means that you’re protecting me from embarrassment, you’re protecting me from demeaning or belittling or that I might feel humiliated. I’ll give you an example.

So, early in my career, I was in manufacturing and I would have ideas about performance improvement, for example, for a process but I didn’t want to say anything because I was a rookie and I didn’t have permission rights, the informal socio-cultural permission rights. But I had a manager that could tell, he could just read my body language, and he would say, “Tim, I think you’ve got something to say. I think you’ve got an idea.”

And he would coax it out of me, and then I would give the idea. And it may have been a foolish idea, a silly idea, but he would protect me in that process so that nobody else around the table, nobody else on the team, would ridicule that idea even though I was a rookie. So, he gave me protection, interpersonal protection within, in the context of the group dynamics, so that I would do it again because he wanted me to do it again and again and again. If you get shot down, you’re not going to do it again.

Pete Mockaitis
And so, how would he verbalize that, or would he speak to other teammates, or just continue leading the meeting with an affirmation, or like what kind of verbiage was unfolding here?

Timothy Clark
Yeah, it was pretty subtle. He would just say, “Yeah, I could see where you’re coming from. That may have some merit. What do the rest of you guys think about that?” So, just subtle cues both verbal and nonverbal.

Pete Mockaitis
Got you. Thank you. Well, now I’m curious. If, let’s say, an individual contributor is in an environment that they say, “Wow, I want that and I don’t have that psychological safety,” what can they do? I mean, I guess they could quit and try to find a better environment. But are there any tools in terms of how we run our own brain or how we might try to advocate, instigate for getting a healthier environment?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. What I would say in response to that question, Pete, would be that if you’re an individual contributor, and contributor, you, by definition, probably don’t have  power and so you feel at a disadvantage. You may feel that you have no ability to influence. What I would say is build your credibility, build your platform of credibility, based on your competence, little by little so that people will listen to you because, then, if you keep doing that, little by little, you’ll be able to influence your peers and then your boss.

So, it’s kind of, this is the opposite of top-down. You don’t have positional power so you’ve got to create a beachhead of influence. And the way that you do that is, first of all, do your job and do it extremely well. Be very, very good at what you do. If you’re not good at what you do, people are not going to take what you say seriously. You don’t have credibility. So, you’ve got to get good at what you do.

You need to become good at asking good questions. Even though you may be new, even though you may be inexperienced, if you ask some thoughtful, reflective, good questions, you can build credibility in the questions that you ask even though you don’t know the answers because people can see that you’re being reflective. So, I think there are several ways to come at it but you’ve got to start with your own credibility. That’s what I would say.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. And any tips for insulating our brains from the barbs that might be coming our way?

Timothy Clark
Yeah. I would say that it really is worth your while to try to not take things personally even when they are meant to be offensive or people are taking shots at you. I think it only works to your advantage if you are patient with the egos and the insecurities of the people around you. I’ll give you an example.

So, I did a kind of a roundtable discussion with a whole group of women of color the other day. It was absolutely fascinating. And the one insight that I gained from them that was bigger than anything else is they said, “You know what, this is what we do. We have learned to take some shots, to take some insults, to absorb those but then to focus on building our own credibility.”

Now, there are, of course, times when it goes too far. I mean, if we’re talking about bullying or harassment or public shaming or outright manipulation, that’s completely out of bounds. But they would absorb a certain amount of, I guess, rude or just impolite behavior. They wouldn’t worry about it too much and they would work on their own credibility in terms of their ability to contribute, in terms of their ability to collaborate. And they said that was an accelerator for them, and I thought that was so interesting because they said, “Look, we have barriers to overcome and we’ve learned.”

Now, of course, we have a ways to go in many of our organizations but I thought that was a particularly important insight. Don’t get tipped over by little things that people say or do even when they, perhaps, were not done with the best intent. Be forgiving and just show how  you are in your response patterns, and you will earn trust and credibility that much faster.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. And I think when you are in that place where you’re doing some forgiveness and that sort of fuels determination in terms of, I guess, the term killing them with kindness comes to mind, it’s like, “I’m going to take this masterfully.” And in so doing, you stick it to them.

Timothy Clark
That’s right. That’s right.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Well, Tim, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we hear about a few of your favorite things?

Timothy Clark
Well, I would just say that every team is on a journey of psychological safety. Psychological safety is dynamic, it is delicate, and the job is never done. So, even if you’re not a leader, now, this is something that I think we really need to clarify. It’s not just the leader’s job. Now, does the leader set the tone? Sure. And is the leader’s modelling behavior perhaps the most important factor? Yes, that’s probably true.

But every member of the team has a role as an architect of the culture. All of the individual contributors, it doesn’t matter what your role is, you are an architect of the culture. You are radiating influence every single day, there is no off switch, you can’t turn that off. You cannot turn off the influence that you’re radiating, so keep that in mind. So, you’re either leading the way towards higher levels of psychological safety or you’re getting in the way, but you’re not a neutral party.

So, regardless of your role, regardless of whether you have positional power or not, please understand that you are an architect of the culture.

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

Timothy Clark
Well, I’m going to go real simple, Pete, with you on this one, and that is that, “The best synonym for leadership in the English language is influence.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Thank you. And a favorite book?

Timothy Clark
I’m going to go with an oldie but a goodie, The Effective Executive by Peter Drucker. It was published many years ago, still extremely timely and relevant.

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

Timothy Clark
Yeah, what I do, Pete, is I have a habit of writing down concepts, thoughts, ideas, insights. This is something that I’ve done for years and years and years, and it’s one of my favorite habits, and it’s the return on investment for that habit has been enormous. So, I used to use a pad of paper and pencil. Now I just use my phone but I am constantly just trying to capture insights and thoughts and observations. And I put them in no particular order, I call it my gristmill file. It’s just filled with stuff. And then I just go back through it and I make connections. That’s been, well, it’s one of my favorite habits.

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

Timothy Clark
Yeah, honestly, lately, it really is the five-word definition of psychological safety – an environment of rewarded vulnerability. That seems to be resonating massively with people.

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

Timothy Clark
Sure, yeah. Just come to our website LeaderFactor.com. We’d love to see you. And you can certainly follow me on Twitter or visit me on LinkedIn, Timothy R. Clark.

Pete Mockaitis
And at Leader Factor, we could find those 140 behaviors?

Timothy Clark
Absolutely. Yeah, downloadable, fantastic resource, and absolutely free.

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

Timothy Clark
Yeah, I would say try to do a baseline, ask yourself this question with your team or the environment in which you work, “Do you belong? Are you growing? Are you contributing? Do you feel free and able to challenge the status quo?” Ask those four questions to baseline the level of psychological safety on your team.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Tim, this has been a treat. Thank you so much and I wish you many psychologically safe adventures.

Timothy Clark
Thanks, Pete. it’s been a pleasure to be with you.