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454: Embracing Conflict as a Gift with Judy Ringer

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Judy Ringer says: "When we can enter a conversation and think 'What can I learn here?' everything changes. It all works out."

Judy Ringer explains how the techniques and principles of aikido can turn workplace conflicts into valuable experiences.

You’ll Learn:

  1. How to master yourself during conflicts
  2. Three effective mindsets for resolving conflicts
  3. How to skillfully inquire, acknowledge, and advocate

About Judy 

Through interactive presentations and individual coaching, Judy Ringer helps you transform conflict by changing your relationship to it. Aikido is the metaphor she uses to become more intentional and less reactive, to communicate directly and respectfully, and to create your life and work on purpose.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Judy Ringer Interview Transcript

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

Judy Ringer
Pete, it’s a delight already. Thank you very much for inviting me.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, shucks. Well, I’m so glad that everything worked out and we’re making it happen. I want to hear about something you made happen, which was singing the national anthem at a Red Sox game. How did this come about?

Judy Ringer
Yeah. Well, it’s something I love to talk about, so thank you. I had this dream for a very long time to sing the national anthem at a Red Sox game. I’m a Red Sox fan. I live in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, which is about an hour north of Boston. We go to the games now and then when we can.

I love to sing. I’m a professional singer in my spare time. I love to sing the national anthem. I just thought, “Wouldn’t it just be cool.” Just one of those crazy dreams you have, so I set about achieving it. I wrote – I went to their website. I wrote them. I found out what you have to do and how many probably thousands of people ask every year to sing for a Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

I sent them – I made a professional CD. I sent them a CD, just like they ask for, of me singing the anthem and also God Bless America. I followed up. I even sent them a couple of videos of me singing at other games that I’ve sung at more locally. Nothing happened. But every year, so I went about this for maybe three – four years and every year I’d just follow up and I found out who I needed to talk to.

Finally, what really made it happen was Dave O’Brien, who’s the announcer for the Red Sox, came to one of our Rotary meetings. I’m a Rotarian here in Portsmouth. After he spoke – and he was just a great speaker, as you might imagine – I went up to him and I said, “You know, Dave, I’ve been trying for years to get noticed by the Red Sox team. I’d love to sing the national anthem.”

I said, “I actually can sing. I would do a good job. I’ve sent them videos and audios of myself.” He said, “Well, I don’t have much control over that, but if you’ll send me an email, here’s my address, I’ll just send it along and see what happens.” That’s exactly what he did. He passed it along.

Somebody got in touch with me and there happened to be a New Hampshire day coming up at Fenway Park in July of 2017. This was in May I think that I got contacted by them. So it happened. It was an amazing event. I got there. I got to be underground with all the team. I got to walk out on Fenway Park. I got to sing for I think it was about 40,000 people that night. It was awesome. It was awesome. I practiced all my skills. Everything I talk about in the book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s so cool and so interesting to me when there is a process and then it doesn’t matter. It’s like actually there’s a guy who knows a guy.

Judy Ringer
I know.

Pete Mockaitis
As opposed to, “Yes, please follow step A, B, C, D, E, F, G,” and it doesn’t – yeah.

Judy Ringer
I know. And yet I have to say that maybe the fact that they had my audio and my video, they could go to it. They could see that I was really – that I wouldn’t mess up or embarrass anyone and that all of that adds up. Maybe if I hadn’t also done all of that, I wouldn’t have had the courage to go and talk to Dave.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly, right, because it does feel a little bit more audacious like, “So Dave, I like to sing. Hook me up.”

Judy Ringer
Exactly, exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool. I want to hear about your book Turn Enemies Into Allies and your martial arts work. Could you sort of just tell us the whole story here? What’s the big idea that you’re presenting?

Judy Ringer
That’s a great question too. Well, the big idea is that I have a model that I use when I go into organizations and help people resolve conflict. The model is based on aikido and some of its techniques and principles, like blending and redirecting of energy, for example.

I also have – part of the model is that I work with the people in conflict – usually there are two of them – and they need to be able to work together and they can’t. I work with each person individually first and then I bring them together. As I got used to doing this model and doing it many times in organizations, I would notice that I’m not doing anything that the manager couldn’t do themselves.

I decided to write the model down in a series of blog posts. This was about five years ago that I first started writing about it. Then I began expanding them and they became Turn Enemies Into Allies, the book.

The major point here is that you can do what I’m doing if you’re a manager, a leader of an organization with some skills that I describe in the book and some attitudes that I describe in the book like non-judgment, like curiosity, like appreciating where people are coming from, the ability to listen, the ability to reframe the conflict as a gift of energy that people might be able to use to actually build their relationship and become leaders themselves and apply the skills not only at work, but in life too.

That’s what I decided to write about in the book. The big idea is you can do this. You can do it fairly easily actually if you get over the idea that conflict is negative, that it’s a bad thing, and adopt the attitude and begin to practice it that conflict can be a gift if we decide that it is to get to know each other better and to learn how to solve a problem rather than needing to create a contest over it.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there’s so much there to dig into. Let’s see. Let’s start with that conflict can be a gift.

Judy Ringer
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Tell us, what’s great about it?

Judy Ringer
What’s great about it? Yeah. Okay, well, the premise – the book starts with the premise that if we can’t manage ourselves, we can’t manage anybody else. The first gift in conflict is that it causes me to look at myself and ask myself “Why is this getting to me?” or “Why is this person, this situation? Is it something that I have any control over and if it is, where is my power and how can I find it? Maybe I’m not expressing myself. Maybe I’ve been avoiding the conflict. How can I decide to take a more active role in the conflict?”

The gift might be first of all I have to manage myself. I have to manage my own emotional mindset. I have to center myself, as I describe in the book, and bring a centered presence into the conflict, so there’s a gift right there, learning to center myself, learning to be mindful about how I decide to be more intentional in the conflict instead of reactive to it. Does that make sense?

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, certainly, yeah.

Judy Ringer
That’s the first gift. The second gift, let’s say it’s a conflict that involves an issue at work that we’re trying to solve. The gift is how do we solve this in a way that’s sustainable and that meets the interests of all the parties involved. If it’s a team, how do I get the voices of all of my team members involved in solving it? If it’s just one-on-one, same thing, how do I find out what’s important to each of the parties in the conflict and then help them express those needs and help them find a solution that meets the needs.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, understood. Those sound like some good things. So tell us then when it comes to aikido – well, first, could you share what that is for those who are not familiar and then what are its parallels to this process?

Judy Ringer
Right. That’s where this idea for me anyway came from. Aikido is a martial art, first and foremost. It was developed in the 20th century, so it’s a pretty recent evolution of the martial arts. It was developed by a man named Morihei Ueshiba, a Japanese man, who’s now dead, but only died in 1969.

His idea was that you could subtly transform other martial arts through aikido into a martial art that didn’t harm people. The goal is to render the attack harmless without harming the attacker. You do this by first getting out of the way of the attack and moving in to join with this energy and then redirect it.

Let’s say somebody’s coming at me with a punch. Instead of blocking and punching back, I get out of the way really fast. I join the energy by let’s say, grabbing onto the arm that’s punching me, and then I redirect it into a pin or a fall. I’m not trying to harm the opponent. I’m just trying to control and deescalate the conflict.

With that comes a metaphor. In fact, Ueshiba, the founder of aikido, had a philosophy that went along with the development of the art. He said that this is about turning our adversaries into allies. This is about not protecting ourselves from the enemy outside of ourselves, but from the enemy within, that if we could vanquish the source of the conflict within ourselves, then we would have no difficulty with those outside ourselves.

We call it blending and redirecting. We think about the attack as a gift of energy that I can use to redirect and keep the opponent safe while also keeping myself safe on the mat. Off the mat, we’re practicing aikido anytime we listen with an intention to learn with curiosity. That’s the same thing as blending and redirecting.

When I ask question – when you come at me, let’s say, with a – and say, “Judy, that’s a stupid idea,” instead of saying, “No, it isn’t. It’s a great idea” so that would be like blocking and resisting, instead I say, “Well, Pete, why do you think so? What specifically don’t you like?” or “Tell me more.”

That’s me blending, getting off the line. I’m not getting hurt and by asking a question and being curious, I find out more about what’s upsetting you about my idea. Maybe it’s that you just can’t afford the idea. Maybe you like the idea, but the budget doesn’t allow for it. We have a new way to open up the conflict and talk about it. Does that make sense too?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh certainly, yes. Well, so now I’m curious. That particular example, talk about self-management, I think there’s a challenge right there. It’s like if someone says that to you, the knee-jerk reaction is anger, defensiveness, frustration. What do you do right there in that moment, where you’re like, “This jerk. I want to yell at him.”

Judy Ringer
Yeah. I’ve got to say that I still practice this. It’s not – just because I’ve been teaching it for 25 years doesn’t mean I don’t have conflict in my life. Your question goes right to the point, what do I do, what does one do. It helps if you practice, just like anything else. You don’t pick up a flute and learn how to play it in an instant. You have to practice it.

You practice noticing first of all. That’s the first thing. If I don’t notice I’m getting reactive, that I’m starting to react and say, “What do you mean? What a jerk you are,” if I don’t notice that, I can’t stop it. That’s the first thing.

Then you stop and you center yourself. You take a breath. You just don’t say anything. You bite your tongue. You count to ten. You do any of the things that we’ve heard about over the years to center yourself.

I have specific ways. When I ask my groups, “What do you do to center yourself?” everyone says, “I breathe.” Sometimes people say, “Well, I think about a bigger perspective,” but you can tell in that that they stop themselves from reacting and decide what they need to do next.

The amygdala, the brain stem has some very strong reactive patterns programmed into it. The prefrontal cortex is what we use to think with. To make that journey from the back of the brain to the front of the brain maybe takes a half a second, maybe not even that long, if we notice and we take that breath. That’s the first step, center myself. Now I can make a more intentional choice about what I do next.

It may be – if I’m being really reactive, it may just be I say something like, “Let me think about what you just said. Can we talk in about five minutes?” so I give myself more time to be centered and be less reactive.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, yeah. I like that. Well, so then you talk about the breath, is there any special way to breathe or what do we think about the breath?

Judy Ringer
Well, it’s basically to breathe. Most of the time, if the audience listening thinks about the last time they were involved in a conflict or something happened to them, surprising, caused them to react, chances are they weren’t breathing. They just held their breath. It often happens.

The more we can just notice that and begin to breathe again – it doesn’t have to be a huge breath. It doesn’t even have to be terribly deep. Just to start breathing again and to focus on the breath is enough. I’m doing that now because I’m a little nervous. I mean here we are a podcast. I want to say it right. I want to do everything right so that induces a sense of stress and anxiety.

It can, so every once in a while I just stop, notice that I’m breathing, and I’m standing both feet on the ground and everything is going to be okay. If I just say that mantra to myself, everything will be okay, pretty much.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so it is okay.

Judy Ringer
Let me give you a couple of other suggestions on this because I know people love to hear ideas. Okay, what can I do in the moment? That’s the question. First, you notice. Then you have a practice. If you have a practice, like I know your last speaker, the one I just listened to this morning, was talking about mindfulness.

If you have a mindfulness practice, if you meditate daily, you’re already getting into the mood of centering so that if something happens later in the day, you’ve got a sense of what it feels like to be centered from your early morning practice so you can go back to it fairly quickly. You can create rituals for yourself.

I have a client who one day she had a really tough meeting with her staff – all of her staff meeting – and she was nervous about it. I said “What are you going to do to center yourself first?” We were doing coaching. She said, “Well, I’m going to maybe look at some of the pictures on the wall.” She said, “I’m not sure what I’m going to do.”

I said, “Well,” and there was a pen on the table and I threw the pen out on the table and I said, “You could just look at this pen. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy or special. Just look at the pen once in a while.”

The meeting went really well as you might imagine. She did a great job. At the end I said, “How did you do?” She said, “I looked at that pen a lot.” Every time she looked at it she just kind of took a breath, and she recentered herself and she got physically and mentally and emotionally more stable, more balanced, more calm, and more ready for whatever might come next.

Pete Mockaitis
All right, cool. There we have it in terms of you start to notice yourself in situations all the time and then you stop and center with a breath and planting the feet on the floor, etcetera, so you’re in a good spot there. Let’s talk a little bit about some of these perspectives in terms of non-judgment, and curiosity, and appreciation. Can you share a bit about these mindsets like, what does it mean to really approach things in such a way.

Judy Ringer
Right. These mindsets are the mindsets that I recommend in the book that the manager follow when they’re listening to one of their employees. Let’s say they decide to engage in this intervention in the book that allows them to hear each person’s story first before they bring them together. What this does is that it allows the employee to tell their story in a way that they feel heard. Non-judgment is just that.

It’s impossible, of course, because we’re always making judgments, but once again, we notice we are. Maybe we favor this particular employee because they’re a high producer and we really wish the other employee would change. When we listen to each one, we try to listen without making any judgments ahead of time and just deciding to listen to the story as if it were the first time we’re hearing it.

Appreciation steps in when we think about how to appreciate the more positive intention of each of the parties. Again, I’m meeting with them separately. I’m hearing, even though they’re making mistakes and they’re going about things reactively, that they each probably have a positive intention in there somewhere.

An example might be that one of your employees tends to avoid conflict and so they haven’t said anything to the other person about what’s bothering them. The form that this takes is that they just ignore emails or they ignore requests for information because they’re afraid that they might be reactive and say the wrong thing.

If you can appreciate that the person’s afraid of conflict, that most people are afraid of conflict and the positive intention is not to make things worse, it helps to approach the coaching from this point of view as opposed to deciding that the person just has no skills and can’t do anything and nothing’s ever going to work.

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judy Ringer
Approaching it with an appreciative mindset helps everything. Another way that appreciation works is well, for example, on the aikido mat, we always find that usually one side of the body gets the technique faster than the other side.

For example, in learning how to fall, we have to learn how to roll. On one side of the body, I know how to roll really well and I don’t get hurt. The other side of the body, I crunch my shoulder every time. Instead of focusing on the side that gets hurt, I do it a lot of times on the side that works so that I can figure out what I’m doing and apply it to the side that doesn’t work.

In the workplace, this happens when we see, “Well, where are you and Jane getting – where are areas where you work well together?” in an example that I give in the book. It was with a medical practice and the team was not getting along at all.

I said, “Well, there must be some areas where you are able to work together or you wouldn’t keep working together.” They said, “Yeah, well, when we understand our roles and our goals, everything goes really smoothly.” I said, “Okay, so let’s appreciate that. Let’s figure out how we can apply that to the places in your practice where you don’t have clear roles and goals.”

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judy Ringer
Appreciation, non-judgment, curiosity, one of the major tools that helps in conflict of any kind, whether it’s with employees or with people at home. These skills apply everywhere. How can I – well, I’ll give you an example of this.

One of the clients I was working with was quite upset with her colleague because she copied everyone on every single email. I said, “Well, what question would you like to ask your colleague?” She said, “Well, I’d like to ask why she copies everybody on every single email.” I said, “Okay, well, it’s a great question. Can you ask it in a more curious way?”

She said, “Okay,” and she worked on it. She practiced. She got to the point where she said it in a way that probably her colleague could hear it really well. I said, “Okay, so what do you have to do to be able to say it that way because it’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it.” She said, “Well, I’d actually have to be curious.” We laughed about it. It was kind of an aha moment.

The point is if you’re in conflict now, how are you approaching what you say. Even if you’re asking a question, are you really curious about it or are you just stating the question in a way that’s kind of attacking. There’s a big difference.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so then when you said ask it in a curious way, you didn’t so much mean choose different words like, “Why are you doing this?” but rather the sort of tone and vibe you’re putting out there when you ask that question.

Judy Ringer
Yeah, exactly. That’s exactly what I mean.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Judy Ringer
One of my favorite sayings and this comes from one of my mentors, Thomas Crum, that your quality of being is primary. Everything else is secondary.

If I come into a conflict conversation with you and I have a purpose to resolve a conflict, to learn what I can about how you see things, if I come into the conversation thinking, “Well, whatever’s going to happen, I’m going to learn something and I know it’s going to be better after this,” that’s my quality of being, my mindset, my emotional state. If I walk into that same conversation thinking, “This is going to be awful. I wish I didn’t have to do this,” there’s going to be quite a different outcome.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. Okay, that’s handy. I’m curious when it comes to the actual listening, in terms of the bit of the mindset we discussed when you’re listening, but is there any – are there key questions you recommend asking during the course of the listening?

Judy Ringer
Yes, I can. I can recommend some generic questions that will get things started. Then what real listening does is that it continues to ask questions. It doesn’t just stop. It really – a good listener really listens for what’s being said and also what’s maybe not being said. They listen for ways like you’re doing today, Pete, for ways to go deeper into the conversation.

A generic question might be, “Can you tell me how this started?” if a manager, for example, is talking to an employee about a conflict. “Can you tell me how this started? What’s your view about how the resolution would work? If it could be resolved, what would be ideal?” Another question, just a generic question would be, “Can you tell me more about what you’re thinking?”

“I’d like to talk to you about what’s happening between us. I’d like to hear our point of view and I’d like to tell you mine. Would you like to start? Tell me what’s going on? How do I affect you in ways that are not helpful?” Now, you have to be willing to hear the answer, but that’s a great question to just ask someone to tell them how you could be more helpful, for example.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. Okay, that’s cool. I suppose that these all sort of flow from that curiosity and they feel nonthreatening as result as I listen to you say them. Maybe to sort of make it all come alive and together, could you maybe walk us through an example of a conflict? You had Person A and Person B that you spoke with individually and then you brought them together and how did it all come together?

Judy Ringer
Well, one of the best things that happened in what I’m thinking of right now is that at the beginning I usually ask people on a scale of one to ten – and we’re in individual sessions now – “On a scale of one to ten, how important is it that you and Sally be able to work together,” for example. Let’s call the other person Lauren. Lauren says, “Well, it’s ten. We have to be able to work together.”

I said, “How likely do you think it is that the conflict’s going to get resolved that we’re working on together?” “Zero.” I said, “Okay. Let’s take a look at how willing are you to put yourself into this fully,” and they’ll say maybe “I’m a ten. I’m willing to do this. I just don’t think there’s any possibility.”

One of the ones that I worked on with a large insurance company, that’s the way it started. They said that they wanted to work on it, that it was important that they resolve it, and yet they didn’t think there was any chance because it had been going on so long. One of the problems is that managers let these conflicts go on too long.

Pete Mockaitis
And that’s when they bring in a ringer.

Judy Ringer
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
Couldn’t resist, Judy.

Judy Ringer
Good one. I’m glad that came out.

Pete Mockaitis
You’ve probably heard it before. You’ve probably heard it before.

Judy Ringer
Oh, no. Well, once or twice.

Pete Mockaitis
They bring you in and your last name is Ringer, so. Okay, so there we are.

Judy Ringer
So there we are.

Pete Mockaitis
They want it resolved, but they don’t think it’s going to happen and they say they’re willing to work on it.

Judy Ringer
And they say they’re willing to work on it. I set up some sessions and we begin to talk and maybe three or four or five different depending on how polarized things are and how deeply resentful each person is, I listen to each party for three or four hours, like I said in individual hour-long sessions. I hear them. I’m listening.

What happens in this case, Pete, is that – I don’t know if this has ever happened to you or anyone listening today – but when you usually listen to someone and you ask them some questions and you say “Tell me more” and “How did you feel when that happened?” and “I’m really curious, when did this start and how do you see it being resolved? Do you see your contribution? How do you see your contribution in this conflict?”

When you ask questions like that and they really talk, things relax. They lighten up because maybe for the first time someone’s really, really listening to their side and aligning with them. Okay.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly. You said so three to four hours for each party.

Judy Ringer
Yeah.

Pete Mockaitis
So six to eight hours total. I think you’re right that probably nobody has ever listened to them about almost anything for that long.

Judy Ringer
Well, thank you for that. I’m not saying I listen for three or four hours. I say I listen maybe in the first session and then I begin to teach some skills. And I begin-

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, got you.

Judy Ringer
Yeah, so it’s not all just listening for them. But maybe the first hour, most of it is listening. People love to tell how bad the other person is.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Judy Ringer
I just say, “Yeah, I get it. I know from your point of view this is how it looks.” People also get that I’m doing that with the other party too, so they’re starting to think, “Well, if she can do this with the other party, maybe I can too. Or maybe there’s a different way to tell this because this is my story. Maybe there’s another way to tell it.” I begin that way. Then we start to bring people together. Now, when they come together, they’re more relaxed, they’ve got some skills.

One of the best things that happened in this particular situation was after they began to talk to each other and hear the other person’s story and see what they had in common and how it all got started and starting to be able to be more civil with each other and kind with each other actually, one of the women said, “I didn’t realize this is just a set of skills.

I thought I was a bad person because I couldn’t figure this out and I was in a conflict that I couldn’t figure out. It was driving me crazy. This is just a set of skills. Anybody can learn these.” I said, “Yeah. That’s right.” They’re mind-body skills and they’re verbal communication skills. As I said, quality of being is primary. I’ve got to learn how to be centered, curious, nonjudgmental, wanting to learn. I’ve got to have a learning mindset.

Then I’ve got to learn just some key skills like inquiry. How do I ask questions? How do I listen? How do I acknowledge – acknowledgement? How do I acknowledge what I hear? It’s not just I’m listening; I’m also showing you that I heard what you said. Then how do I advocate because I get a turn here too. Here’s how I see it. You don’t see it my way. This is what I see. That’s advocacy.

When everybody gets a chance to be heard, then all the information’s out there on the table. You can begin to sort through it and solve things. Basically, in that book and in my work across the board, I like to help people move from a mindset of how do I be right, how do I look good here, how do I make myself right to a mindset of what can I learn here. From a message delivery to a learning conversation. From a difficult conversation to a learning conversation.

When we can enter a conversation and think “What can I learn here?” everything changes. It all works out.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s great stuff. We’ve talked about the being and some listening and some inquiry. Can you share with us a couple thoughts around acknowledgement and advocacy?

Judy Ringer
Yeah, I can. In the book I call acknowledgement the secret sauce because we never do it. We may listen. We may think we’re pretty good listeners and we may be actually. Then we go right to, “Okay. Yeah, but,” “Right. Yeah, but,” and then we want to advocate right away.

There’s some little piece in between that’s called acknowledgement that goes like this, “What I hear you saying is,” “Is this what you’re saying?” “Can I clarify?” “If what you’re saying is true then, it would all work out if-” I just build on what the other person’s saying.

I believe the reason we don’t do this is that we have this notion that if we acknowledge what the other person’s saying, it’s some sort of tacit agreement with what they’re saying, that if I actually hear an opposing point of view, it means that I’m agreeing with it. That’s crazy. Of course it doesn’t mean that. It just means that I’m good enough to listen to you, care about what I’m hearing, and care about solving the problem enough.

Acknowledgement – okay, if you said “That’s a stupid idea, Judy. I don’t think it’s going to work. We can’t afford it.” I would say, “You don’t think we can afford it? Can you tell me more? Why not?” Okay, I’m not only acknowledgment, I’m clarifying. I’m being more curious. Just like you’re doing today, I’m going deeper and deeper and deeper until the person feels heard. Then I can advocate.

If we’re trying to change a piece of software, for example, I’m going to say something like, “So-“ – let’s say I’m for it; they’re against it. I’m going to say something like, “So Jenny, you think that this piece of software would cause more harm than good. Am I hearing it right?” “Yeah, you’re hearing it right.” “And you think that basically what we have isn’t broken, so why fix it. Is that right?” “Yeah, that’s kind of what I’m saying.”

Now they may not have said those exact words, but I’m adding on. “And is there anything else I need to know?” “No, that’s about it.” “Okay. Would you like to hear my view on this?” “Yeah, sure.” See, now they’ve lightened up. They’re maybe ready to hear my point of view.

I have to be really clear about this, Pete. This is not about manipulation. This is not about getting Jenny to hear me – pretending to hear Jenny so she can hear me so I can get my way. This is about sincerely trying to solve the problem. I have to be ready to admit that maybe this piece of software isn’t exactly what we need. However, when I’m there then Jenny’s much more likely to be able to hear what I have to say next.

Advocacy is what comes next. That’s me not selling necessarily, but educating. That’s how I like to think about it. Let’s pretend that we’re both from different planets. In fact, in some ways we are. We all come from different cultures, different upbringings. But let’s pretend that we’re really from other planets. I need to pretend I don’t know anything about what’s going on for Jenny, but I also need to know and not assume that Jenny knows anything about what’s going on for me.

When I’m advocating, I start at the basics. “Here’s what I see, Jenny. Here’s what I see the problem and the productivity that we could increase with the new software. Here’s what looks good to me about it. What do you think?” Then you go back into inquiry and you start to go back and forth now, inquiry, advocacy.

Then if you get to a point where you’ve got some form of agreement, Jenny says something that I agree with, I’m going to try to build on that. Pick something. “Well, I hear what you’re saying about you’re worried that it might cause people stress because it’s something new. What if we started out with a trial period or something like that, where we just took a few early adopters and see what they thought? Could that work?”

I try to build on something and use what I’ve learned from my inquiry to create a solution that would work for the other party.

Pete Mockaitis
You use the phrase ‘until they feel heard.’ How do you know when you’ve got there?

Judy Ringer
I know when the answer to my question “Is there anything else?” is no.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I love it. It sounds like maybe for some the challenge is just bringing in – dedicating the time and the patience upfront that you’re really going to go all the way to the end as opposed to “Well, we have a 25-minute appointment window, Judy, so let’s hurry this along.”

Judy Ringer
Yeah, let’s get these guys together and figure it out. I know a lot of people that I’ve talked to have tried this first and usually emotions run high and things don’t get solved. That’s why I like to work with people individually first. Even just try it for one session.

One sort of fallacy about conflict that I think people have is that especially in this busy work environment that we’re all in right now is that we don’t have time for this kind of an intervention. We don’t have time to separate the parties. I don’t have time to talk with each one. Let’s just get them in the room and tell them to figure it out.” I’ll tell you, you don’t have time not to resolve the conflict.

The one that I mentioned with Sally and Lauren, that went on for two years before anybody decided to try and solve it. That’s two years.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. And all the mental energy when they’re fuming quietly in their cubicles instead of doing anything productive. It’s like, “I can’t believe that she said. Oh my gosh, the nerve on her,” whatever’s kind of going on there. It’s not productive value creation. It’s sort of wheel spinning that if you could boy, just imagine if you had half an hour of that over two years mathematically, jeez, it’s like over 50 hours of productivity lost, which could totally happen when things simmer.

Judy Ringer
It’s absolutely correct. That’s not even counting the polarization that could be taking place as they complain to their teammates.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh sure.

Judy Ringer
And everybody starts to take sides.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, that’s powerful. Thank you. Well, Judy, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Judy Ringer
I don’t think so. Some of my favorite things will be in what we’re going to talk about now because you asked me for my favorite quote and things like that.
Pete Mockaitis
All right, well let’s hear a favorite quote.

Judy Ringer
Well, I have a couple. They’re all – well, actually I have three. They’re all in the same vein. One of them is mine, which is “When you change, everything changes.” Another one is Margaret Wheatley. She has said, “We invent our environment by our presence in it.” Now Margaret Wheatley is an organizational consultant and writer. She’s written a lot of wonderful books like Leadership and the New Science.

But that “We invent our environment by our presence in it,” and “When you change, everything changes,” when I decide to walk into a room centered, breathing, positive attitude, appreciative, it’s really hard to fight with me, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right.

Judy Ringer
The other thing – the last one is what my Aunt Mary said, which is “Life is what you make it.” If life isn’t turning out exactly how you planned in the workplace, take a look at your contribution to it and see what you can do differently.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Judy Ringer
You’re welcome.

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

Judy Ringer
I would go to Brene Brown and her work and research on vulnerabilities and the power of that. I think when we’re centered, we’re completely open and completely flexible and completely vulnerable. I think there’s a lot of power in that.

Pete Mockaitis
And a favorite book?

Judy Ringer
Favorite book. That is a tough one. I think – one of my favorite books actually and what got me started in this and it’s quite old now is The Magic of Conflict by Thomas Crum.

Pete Mockaitis
Thank you.

Judy Ringer
Yeah.

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

Judy Ringer
Yeah, and I just began to use this tool about maybe six weeks ago because so many people recommended it. I thought I’ve got to check this out.

It’s the Calm app, C-A-L-M, that helps people if you want to develop a centering practice and you don’t have a place to go or don’t have time to go to a class, this is a great app for teaching you how to meditate and for getting you involved in a practice that you can do every day very easily with just your phone and a set of earphones if you need them. You don’t even need those.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit.

Judy Ringer
Yeah. A favorite habit is catching myself uncentered and then recentering.

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

Judy Ringer
Yes, I think it’s this idea that conflict is a gift if we make it one. Let’s say conflict can be a gift of energy. There’s an article I wrote a number of years ago that’s getting a lot of press right now called How to Turn Your Tormenters Into Teachers. People seem to be resonating with that, that in fact, I have some power here, that I don’t just have to let these things happen to me.

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

Judy Ringer
JudyRinger.com. it’s all there. I’ve got a lot of downloadable resources, articles and I have a great blog. It’s called Ki Moments, K-I Moments about the K-E-Y moments in life. Ki means energy or life force.

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

Judy Ringer
I do. I thought about this one a little bit. I would notice the red flags of blaming and justification because when we’re blaming someone else for something that’s going on or for our feelings for example, for making us angry or reactive or justifying our behavior, it limits our power. We can only change ourselves and the more we try to change other people, the more power we’re giving away.

Pete Mockaitis
Now let’s see, so justifying then is just sort of making our arguments for why you exactly as you are right here and right now are perfect and no change is required.

Judy Ringer
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
What is that song? It drives me nuts. It’s like “I don’t want to be anything other than what I’ve been trying to be lately.” Apologies for the pitch, but I was like what does that even mean and why not? You all need to change and grow. I don’t like this song. But anyway, I overthink lyrics sometimes. I’ve got to recenter when listening to the radio.

Judy Ringer
We can appreciate who we are. I don’t mean that. You know that, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly.

Judy Ringer
We absolutely need to appreciate who we are and our positive intention. The minute we start to blame somebody else or say, “Well, I have to do this because the other person, they made me be this way,” is just sort of like saying, “Well, here’s my center. Take it away. You can go away with it and just take it.” It gives up power.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, Judy, thanks so much for sharing this. I wish you lots of fun and luck in aikido and you’re book and all your adventures.

Judy Ringer
Thank you very much, Pete. This was a joy.

444: How to Upgrade Your Work Conversations with Stacey Engle

By | Podcasts | 2 Comments

 

 

Stacey Engle says: "If you have emotions around a situation, that's a good thing. That means you care."

Stacey Engle offers pro-tips for engaging in more meaningful conversations at work.

You’ll Learn:

  1. Why pointless conversations are at the root of many business problems
  2. How to have more efficient team meetings
  3. How to handle strong emotions when communicating

About Stacey

As President of Fierce Inc., a global leadership development and training company, Stacey Engle is obsessed with helping Fierce clients stay ahead of the curve. A strong innovator, she’s always connected—to clients, emerging trends and new opportunities. Stacey’s forward-thinking approach to sales and marketing reflects Fierce’s commitment to enriching lives and creating community, one conversation at a time. She relishes her role in bringing people together to have the conversations they most need to have.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Stacey Engle Interview Transcript

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

Stacey Engle
Well, thank you for having me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m really excited to dig into this conversation. And I understand you’re excited about showtunes and musicals. What’s the story here?

Stacey Engle
Well, music does move me. There’s a joke in my friend group that if I could have a soundtrack of my life, I would definitely have one. I love music and, yes, I’ve been a part of that board and other boards and efforts with music and theater.

Pete Mockaitis
And are there any particular shows that are really near and dear to your heart, that you sing the songs often?

Stacey Engle
Well, I guess from, just being somewhat stereotypical in the community, when “Hamilton” came out, I was definitely singing full for the music there.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, fun. You know, I have yet to see it and I really want to. And I just somehow think I’m somehow going to get a free ticket from someone somewhere but it hasn’t happened yet.

Stacey Engle
You know, I’m all for manifesting in this universe, so maybe one of your listeners can help you out there.

Pete Mockaitis
You know, I have received unsolicited gifts from listeners which is appreciated—not that I’m soliciting right now for the record! —but it’s happened before, and I appreciate it each time. So, good stuff there. Well, now, I want to hear about your company Fierce. What’s the main gist of what you’re all about here?

Stacey Engle
Yeah, so we believe that the root cause of most business problems is pointless conversations. So, we are a company, a global training and learning company that helps people really have those conversations that lead to results.

Pete Mockaitis
I’m intrigued by the phrase “pointless conversations” right there because I recently had a guest who talked about, in building relationships, it’s great to, as he said, have a thousand conversations about nothing. But they’re not really about nothing. They serve to build the relationships. So, what do you mean by pointless conversations?

Stacey Engle
Well, what we mean is conversations oftentimes people do not realize they’re the most accessible tool that you have going through your day. So, as humans, we’re really navigating our lives one conversation at a time. So, when you aren’t thinking about the intent and the content of your conversations, and also your intention, you’re really missing the mark. And I think we’ve all had the experience of sitting through a meeting that we all knew that we weren’t talking about the real issue, or being with someone and not really feeling like you could share.

Stacey Engle
So, a pointless conversation is one that does not have intention and structure and a goal involved. So, when we think about pointless conversations, think about the team meetings that aren’t really discussing what really needs to be talked about, or the coaching conversation where you’re talking all around the issue. Those are pointless conversations. So, our goal is really to help people talk about what matters in a way that’s skillful, and in a way that’s intentional.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds very important, so I’m excited to have this conversation. And so, your company is called Fierce, and fierce conversations is a phrase you use frequently. In fact, there’s a book associated with it. What do you mean by a fierce conversation?

Stacey Engle
So, the definition is a conversation which you come out from behind yourself into the conversation and make it real.

Pete Mockaitis
Come out of myself.

Stacey Engle
Yes, so coming out from the masks you wear, coming out from all the reasons why you don’t think you can say what needs to be said. Come out from those and make the conversation real. So, there are four objectives of a fierce conversation. One is that you’re interrogating reality. So, this idea of you’re getting curious about what’s going on. Two, you’re provoking learning. So, not just provoking someone else’s learning, you actually want to learn. You’re tackling to have challenges which means not putting off what really needs to be talked about. And then the fourth is enriching relationships.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Gotcha. And so, is it your philosophy that a business conversation should always do one or more of these things?

Stacey Engle
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that.

Stacey Engle
Yes. Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. We’re upping the standard here. I’m just imagining a lot of conversations right now and thinking about the extent to which these things occurred. What’s your hunch in terms of the proportion of business conversations that are checking at least one of these boxes?

Stacey Engle
Well, let me back up. So, the goal is that a fierce conversation is really achieving all four of those, so we’re going to learn something new. So, interrogating reality, provoking learning, we’re going to tackle a tough challenge and, what’s most important, is we’re going to enrich the relationship when we’re doing it.

So, that’s kind of the foundation of what is fierce, and that feels very theoretical, but the idea is let’s think of an example of just you’re going into a meeting with an idea. If you want that meeting to be a fierce meeting, you are going to walk in with the intention to get it right for your company, for your team, versus being right.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I like that. Getting it right for people, stakeholders, as opposed to being right, like, “I’m right and you’re wrong,” or, “I’m validating the idea I had is great and, therefore, I feel smart as a result.”

Stacey Engle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
And we had some previous folks associated with the Landmark education draw a distinction between, “Are you more concerned with being right or with things working?” And I found that helpful. And this is even more punchy, I would say, an articulation, being right or doing right for these people, or getting it right for people.

Stacey Engle
Right. Getting it right versus being right. So, that’s a mindset piece. And then there are really skills to make sure that you are really hearing from others, getting curious, because you only have one perspective. And your perspective is one, and it’s not the truth, so your goal in that meeting should be to hear everyone else’s perspectives, and to really provoke learning on everyone’s side, and tackle what we need to tackle. And then, in the end, enrich the relationship.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Well, that sounds like a lot more fun to be than your average business conversation. So, maybe, could you—I want to dig into the how in a moment— but could you perhaps paint a picture in terms of a case study of how a client organization of yours did some stuff, and they saw the conversations become more fierce more frequently and what sort of performance gains they saw as a result?

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. So, one of our near and dear clients, we love them, CHRISTUS Health, they’re a healthcare system comprised of about 230 hospitals and clinics, and they employ over 45,000 people. And, as you know, healthcare is very complex. They found themselves falling into the trap that many organizations face, which is becoming a culture of nice. And associates had really mistaken the value of compassion and the value of service with avoiding difficult conversations.

So, many leaders weren’t giving feedback because they didn’t feel it was compassionate    and they were scared to give that feedback, and nobody was really sharing those insights. And what was at stake there were many associates were not growing at the level that they needed to. So, through discovery, it was determined that a lot of these conversations were missing, and we needed to build this skillset.

So, Fierce was brought in at the leadership level, and we really helped them work proactively on feedback, on coaching, on confrontation, and really building a common language where these tools were accessible, and helping arise potential issues before they formed. So, CHRISTUS Health was able to achieve a 50% reduction in executive turnover.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, yeah.

Stacey Engle
Yeah, we like that. A 36% internal promotion increase, so those associates were really developing.

Pete Mockaitis
So, all right. So, the results are there. That’s really cool. Let’s talk about how to do it. So, what are some of sort of the top things that we should start doing or stop doing to see some of these results?

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. Well, so we know six conversations that are often not as powerful as they could be in the workplace. I always like to start with three. One is that team conversation I was referencing. So, this idea of, “How do you have a more compelling team meeting? And is this actually answering more tactics?”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, there are six kinds of conversations, and so let’s have them.

Stacey Engle
Yes, so there are six kinds of conversations, and the three that I always love to share with our audiences, because we can really, really all relate to these. One is the team conversation, so the idea of, “How do I run a team meeting where people are really engaged and they are laying out reality without pointing blame? And sharing from their perspectives, how can we move forward on this particular opportunity or issue?”

The second is a confrontation conversation. So, this is when you and I know something needs to change. How do we best approach that topic in a way that does those four objectives? So, interrogating reality, provoking learning, tackling a tough challenge. And we actually feel like our relationship is enriched by having that conversation.

And then the third is feedback. So, feedback is a tool that we constantly need to use in our every day. And one of the pitfalls with feedback is many times people write the script of what, of the meaning of the actions. So, for instance, if I see someone talk over someone, I may think to myself, “This person is being rude or doesn’t really respect X person.”

And our feedback conversation is very much about not writing that script, so you stop at behavior, and you would have that conversation with someone, asking them, “What was going on?” versus putting the meaning, and then also what’s at stake attached to those actions.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. That’s a really handy tip right there when it comes to the feedback, is to not interpret it for them what that means, and then assume and cause all kinds of problems. So, that’s great there. So, then when it comes to those team conversations and confrontation conversations, what are some key ways to have those go all the better?

Stacey Engle
So, confrontation is all about preparation. We have a 60-second opening statement. So, this idea that you really need to frame the issue or challenge in 60 seconds because the other person, when they’re hearing this, will most likely have a fight or flight reaction, so you want to lay this issue or challenge out in front of the person, and ask and invite the conversation. So, it’s all preparation and confrontation.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stacey Engle
So, succinctly, being able to share. And one thing that often gets in our way is we wait, and wait, and wait until it becomes too much. And then we have so many examples of why X needs to change. And the reality is, in an effective confrontation conversation, you’re only using one or two examples.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, that’s great.

Stacey Engle
So, you can’t bring in all of your emotional baggage.

Pete Mockaitis
“And another thing…”

Stacey Engle
Exactly. I mean, we call it the dump truck, you know, like, “I’m just going to back up and unleash more and more reasons why this is true,” and it really can curtail that conversation. So, we want to stay succinct, we want to be thoughtful and prepared.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, could you maybe give us an example of a 60-second opening statement?

Stacey Engle
That is a great question. Yes, I can.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
And you must prepare for these conversations.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Taken.

Stacey Engle
So, an example would be, “Pete, I want to talk with you about the affect your leadership style is having on the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you.

Stacey Engle
“And I want to share two examples. One, I saw, when you were in that meeting, you rushed out of the room, and you ripped the flipchart off of the paper, and crumpled it up. And you seemed pretty upset. So, that’s one example. Another example is some of your team members have expressed concerns about cancelling your one-on-ones and canceling some of those conversations. So, this is very important, this, your leadership style to the success of the company, and a lot is at stake for both us. The contribution I have to the problem is I might not have brought this up as soon as I should have, and I really want to resolve it and support you. Tell me, from your standpoint, what’s going on?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, I like it. So, we got those ingredients there in terms of, “This is what we’re talking about. Here’s a couple examples. This is why it matters. And I’m in the mix as well, it’s not all you, you, you. I’m in there.” And so, then it’s kind of open-ended with your final question. And what was that again? You said, “Tell me what’s going on.”

Stacey Engle
Yeah, “From where you sit, what’s going on for you? Because I want to resolve how your leadership style is affecting the team.”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, so, “What’s going on for you?” is nice and broad, and it’s not as accusative as, “What’s your problem? Why can’t you get it together?” It’s, “What’s going on for you?” and that could go anywhere from, “Hey, you know what, I’m going through a really rough time with I’ve got two kids, and I’m sleep-deprived, and I get kind of edgy in that kind of situation,” to, “Oh, I had no idea. I guess when I was an investment banker that was fine in that culture.”

Stacey Engle
Absolutely. Yeah, exactly. And I would argue that it’s never really fine. So, yes, once you do the 60-second opening statement, your job is to really inquire about your partner’s views, to ask questions and get curious, and really dig in for more understanding. And then, what’s very potent, and when I talked about conversations need to drive results, there needs to be a resolution. So, we need to talk about, “What have we both learned? How are we both going to move forward and make an agreement, and then hold each other accountable to it?”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. Excellent And so, then how long might that whole conversation take?

Stacey Engle
It can vary and the goal is that you could have this conversation in 30, 45 minutes, even less, if you’re prepared. And it’s really, really powerful once you have this tool, and it is a common language in organizations because, I don’t know, de-stigmatizing confrontation is very important. The reality is we’re going to have challenges, things are not going to go as we wish, and confrontation is actually less needed once you have more of these other conversations like feedback, coaching, team.

So, confrontation is when feedback hasn’t worked. So, it’s not like you should be having confrontation conversations every single day, and there’s not a perfect equation depending on what situations you find yourself in.

Pete Mockaitis
I hear you. But that’s useful to know that it could be 30 or 45 minutes or less because I think some people fear, it’s like, “Oh, man, we’re going to be getting into it for a half day trouble.”

Stacey Engle
It’s so true.

Pete Mockaitis
And, you know, it’s often pretty quick.

Stacey Engle
Well, and what I think is something I really like to challenge others is those missing conversations, the ones that you keep saying, “Well, this time it’s distraction, and the music is playing just right, and I have this much time on my schedule,” you keep justifying those missing conversations. Those are the most costly in organizations. They really are, because the reality is everyone understands that people are busy and time-constrained, so you need to be clear about your intention, also your timeframe. So, it’s okay if you only have 45 minutes, and if there needs to be a follow-up conversation, then that’s okay. But the goal is that you begin. Because there’s a lot of justification to not start, and that’s really ineffective.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Well, that’s pretty handy. Thank you for those. And how about on the team conversation point with regard to being more engaged?

Stacey Engle
So, we have a strong position that you should not have team meetings with so many people that not everyone can participate. So, a team conversation is all about addressing challenges, opportunities, together as a team. So, if this is true, we need every brain cell and every viewpoint necessary to make the best possible decision. So, for team meetings, we are not big proponents of having people who won’t participate be in the meeting. So, we want to hear from every single person. And if you don’t want to hear from that person, then they shouldn’t be invited to the meeting.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And I imagine then do some numbers pop up with regard to, “Hey, at this point, you’re at risk for having some non-participators,” if you cross the threshold of, I don’t know, six people who’s there.: Do you have a guideline there?

Stacey Engle
Yeah, so typically say six to 10 would be max. And this isn’t taking into account company-wide meetings and all-hands and communication meetings. We highly endorse those. But this particular team conversation is when we have an opportunity, we have a challenge, and we really, really need to solve something together.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, that’s one key tip then is to ensure that it’s not too big, it’s a manageable size, everyone can participate, have a piece of it. Any other tips for how to have great team conversations?

Stacey Engle
So, another tip for a team conversation is preparation as well. So, we make an analogy with a beach ball, so this idea that everyone sits on a different stripe in the beach ball. So, Pete, if you were in marketing and I was in finance, you may be on the red stripe, we don’t like finance being in the red, but let’s pretend. You may be on the red stripe and I may be on the purple stripe, and we may view an issue very, very differently.

And it’s very important that we have facts and preparation beforehand because the team leader needs to come in, and the goal is the team leader has prepped every single person with what the issue is and relevant background information so that that leader can really gain all stripes, like all perspectives. So, that preparation is important, and I just wanted to give that tip around the beach ball because it’s that visual metaphor of really thinking through everyone has a different perspective. And if you are going to walk into a meeting to get it right, not flaunt what you think we should do, you must gain each perspective.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. Thank you. Oh, go ahead.

Stacey Engle
The one other tip is, at the end of the beach ball meeting, the piece that’s super powerful is each participant basically absorbs all the information that has been discussed. And then the task is for each person to say, “If I was the meeting leader, here’s what I would do.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
So, it really is so insightful to gain other people’s insights, not just from their particular perspectives, but also how they have interpreted and how they’ve assimilated all of the perspectives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great stuff. And I’m liking what you’re saying with regard to just not assuming you’ve got the answers, and be curious in making sure we get all those perspectives there. I’m also curious when it comes to conversations where you do have an intention to persuade, and maybe this is a little bit of external-facing stuff, maybe it’s about sales or something. How do you think about those conversations?

Stacey Engle
Okay. So, our coaching conversation is a great sales tool. It’s all about mining for clarity and helping a coachee or someone you’re wanting to really help surface what the true issues are. And when you want to persuade or you want to connect with people, because I think a lot of persuasion or influence is really connection with a greater purpose or a different path. So, that coaching tool, you know, mining for greater clarity, and being able to surface what’s really going on, is amazing for persuasion and influence.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly, because you got the connection and you understand what’s really going on and so you’re able to sort of make the connection all the more clearly associated with this service, or whatever will address this.
Now, you mentioned clarifying, which is something I want to cover because I saw that pop up a number of times on the Fierce website. What are some best practices in terms of asking great clarifying questions and getting to clarity in your conversations?

Stacey Engle
So, we make an analogy in the coaching conversation that questions are really the drill bits when you’re mining for water, and you’ll experience different layers. And the idea is that you want to have a whole cadre of questions that you use in different circumstances. So, when you’re asking, “What’s going on for you?” or something that’s very broad, our tip is to ask, “What else?” three times.

Pete Mockaitis
All right.

Stacey Engle
So, the idea is most of the time when someone is sharing the issue. So, if you open a conversation and say, “What’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” the first thing they share, it’s often not the real issue. So, you want to help someone clarify for themselves, so asking more questions, asking, “What else? What else? What else?” is a discipline. Because it can be so tempting to give advice and to jump in or ask leading questions, like, “Well, have you ever thought of…?” So, clarifying is really about being intentional and having a practice to say, “What else? What else? What else?”

And then another tip for clarification is just repeating back, which many of us I feel were taught when listening. But the reality is many of us are not great listeners, and having reminders or cues, so if this is an issue for you that you like to jump in or you don’t ask as many questions, it’s great especially if you’re on a video call or a phone call to have a visual cue, to even write on a Post-It note, “What else? What else? What else?” just to remind yourself to really dig deeper.

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, we talked about the drill bits analogy, and reminding, and “What else?” I guess I’m imagining “What else?” can often shift us laterally or to the side, but you’re saying, “What else?” can also get you deeper into the given matter.

Stacey Engle
Both.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. So, “What else?” is one great one. And what else would you recommend in terms of great clarifying questions?

Stacey Engle
Well, sometimes when you ask someone, this happens a lot in meetings, if you ask someone, “Well, what do you think?” sometimes people will say, “I don’t know.” And we really encourage you to say, in not a snarky tone, “What would it be if you did know?” or, “Go there with me for a moment. I really want your input.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. I like that because “I don’t know” usually means “I haven’t thought about it,” or, “I’m not yet comfortable telling you what I really think about it.”

Stacey Engle
Exactly. So, that’s a great practice to clarify and also to learn.

Pete Mockaitis
Any other great clarifying questions?

Stacey Engle
I think when you’re helping someone work through an issue, it’s very important to have emotional attachment. And people will really have different reactions and emotions to talking about emotions in the workplace, so questions regarding, “What do you feel about this?”

So, for instance, “When you consider all of these outcomes that are occurring, what do you feel?” That’s so important to ask because we are emotional. We make decisions emotionally and then rationally. Like, we rationalize our emotions. So, asking, “What do you feel?” in situations really can help move an individual and move a situation forward.

And the big clarification there is not saying, “How does this make you feel?” which is a very victimizing spin to that question. You really want to ask, “What do you feel?” because you want to keep accountability for all of the emotions that a person experiences.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. As opposed to the thing is making you feel this way, so it’s just, “What do you feel?”

Stacey Engle
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
The response, okay.

Stacey Engle
“What do you feel?” versus, “How does this make you feel?” We always want to put people in positions of power and not victimhood around situations they’re in. So, that phrasing, “How does this make you feel?” is more of a victim statement instead of owning the answer to, “What do you feel?”

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and I like the distinction. It’s very helpful. And I want to talk about emotions here. So, a lot of what makes these conversations tough in the first place are those emotions, you know, you’re scared, you’re angry, you’re confused. These things are there. And so, how do you recommend to sort of, internally with your own personhood and brain and feelings, do what you need to do to have those conversations?

Stacey Engle
Well, the conversation itself is key. Preparation, the idea that you really sit back and frame, “What do I want to accomplish here? What am I trying to say?” and writing it down, or speaking out loud, however you need to work through those emotions or anger or resentment, you need to figure that out. And having tools, like a framework, whether it’s fierce conversations framework or other conversations framework, those tools really help you work through those emotions and give you confidence that all of us need to have these conversations. This is the human experience, and no one is going to die.

Pete Mockaitis
Yes.

Stacey Engle
So, although, we may, because of emotions, our bodies may go there, it may feel like someone may die. But the reality is there are so many marriages that have been saved by having the conversations that need to happen, so many lives and companies, their trajectories completely changed because they had that conversation that really mattered.

And sometimes we can’t even predict what those conversations when they will happen, what those conversations will exactly entail, so that’s why it’s so important to just, if you have emotions around a situation, that’s a good thing. That means you care. That means there’s something at stake. And being able step back and reflect on that, that’s key.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. I dig that a lot. So, no one is going to die, we have some comfort there. And, indeed, the conversation can be saving. And we had Kim Scott talk about radical candor earlier on the show, and that’s kind of her story. It’s like, “Oh, boy, if I had this conversation earlier, I wouldn’t have to be firing this person right now.” There’s a lightbulb there associated with the benefit of going there.

So, let’s say, okay, you’ve done your work, you’ve kind of taken some time to think through your goals and maybe a framework, and then you’re just about to step into it. Any sort of pro tips for the presence or the emotional management so that you deliver it well in terms of you’re not kind of angry or timid or kind of anxious and putting out vibes that impede the effect of this conversation?

Stacey Engle
Well, one tip is absolutely to prepare it. That preparation should mean that you’re grounded at least going into the conversation. That’s square one. I think being transparent with the person that this conversation is a hard one for you is important. Oftentimes, we like to just, I don’t know, what’s the phrase, fake it until you make it. There’s a certain level of necessity, I understand, for those scenarios. And when it comes to conversations that are super important and central to your success or central to your happiness, being able to step in, say, “My intention here is to explore this with you. It is not easy for me.”

And when you learn our frameworks, we often encourage leaders. So, for the listeners out there, when you’re trying a new framework, or you’re trying something new, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with saying, “I’m trying this.” And just that humanity, I think, really can help squash the nerves.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, thank you. And are there any other kind of magical phrases that you find yourself saying often or you recommend often? We’ve covered a few, like, “What else?” What are some other things that you find can be said frequently and sure are helpful when you say them?

Stacey Engle
Well, from a leadership perspective and even a peer perspective in your career, there can often be times we’re taught as coaches to have checklists and check in with our team members, so, “Are we getting these things done? Have we followed up on these items? Are we investigating something new?” whatever is on your checklist.

Checklists are great. And, in today’s labor market and in today’s current state, it’s very important to not rely only on a checklist. So, one question that we really love is to ask, “Given every single thing that’s on your plate, what is the most important thing you and I should be talking about today?”

Pete Mockaitis
All right. That’s good. Any others?

Stacey Engle
Well, oftentimes, there’s a slant to action, which I love. If you do StrengthsFinders, I’m an Activor which means I do like starting things. And one question, instead of saying, “What are next steps?” you can ask, “What is the most potent step you should take?”

So, that sounds very similar, but this idea of helping someone sequence, and say, “Okay, given what we just talked about, what is the first potent step that you need to take or we need to take as a team? And then, what’s next?” So, just helping break down the sequence of that can really be effective. That’s just a tip.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, thank you. Well, as we wrap up, I’d love to hear, are there some things you recommend not saying, or conversations that ought not to be had?

Stacey Engle
Well, we’d like you to delete “but” from your vocabulary.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Stacey Engle
We want to say “and.” So, when you think about the team conversation, or multiple perspectives, the idea is we want to say, “This is true, and this is true, and this is true.” When you use the word “but” it often discredits. So, “I like your idea, but we already looked into that.” Or, “Oh, that’s a great way to think about it, but Stephanie is already doing this.”

Pete Mockaitis
All right, yeah.

Stacey Engle
It’s a mental shift. So, really deleting the “but” and replacing it with the “and” is really important.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. And that works frequently as I think about that, “Hey, thanks so much for mentioning that, and Stephanie has already started looking into it.” It’s like, “Oh, okay. Well, I’m encouraged.”

Stacey Engle
Right.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s like, “All right.” And the same point is made, you know, associated with, “All right. So, I don’t have to do anything else because Stephanie is running with it, and I’m feeling better about the exchange.” That’s cool. Well, Stacey, tell me, anything else you want to make sure to mention before we shift gears and hear about some of your favorite things?

Stacey Engle
Well, I think oftentimes people will say that they don’t want to have the conversation because it will take too long, or, “We don’t have enough time to have the conversations you’re talking about.” And I just really want to make the case for the quality of conversations versus the quantity. So, this idea that we can be intentional and know that there should be a beginning, and a middle, and an end to a conversation. And that it’s a tool that can get us to the next level in our career. It can shift something for us. That idea, it’s very important to pay attention and engage.

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

Stacey Engle
So, I love Anais Nin’s quote, “Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”

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

Stacey Engle
So, I tend to refer more frequently to questions than studies. So, one of my favorite questions is, “Given everything on your plate at this very moment, what’s the most important thing we should be talking about today?” And through that I hear a lot of studies.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And how about a favorite book?

Stacey Engle
A goodie and always a favorite Tribes by Seth Godin.

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

Stacey Engle
So, Headspace. By meditation, having the right mindset is key, and that’s been a challenge for me, so it’s great to have a tool.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay. And a favorite habit?

Stacey Engle
Working out every single morning, even if it’s for 15 minutes.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share that really seems to connect and resonate with clients and listeners?

Stacey Engle
You get what you tolerate.

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

Stacey Engle
So, our website is FierceInc.com and my handle is @staceyengle.

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

Stacey Engle
I do. My call to action is to write down three people in your life who are central to your success or your happiness and decide what conversation you need to have with them, and by when.

Pete Mockaitis
All right. Stacey, thanks so much. I wish you and Fierce all kinds of luck and many meaningful conversations.

Stacey Engle
Thank you, Pete.

438: How to Earn Fierce Loyalty Through 3 Key Principles with Sandy Rogers

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Sandy Rogers says: "The deepest need of the human heart is to be understood. I mean, how good does it feel when people really get you?"

Sandy Rogers shares the three core principles required to earn the devotion of both customer and colleague.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 3 core loyalty principles of responsibility, empathy, and generosity
  2. How indifference can destroy loyalty
  3. The importance of weekly team huddles for reinforcing new behaviors

About Sandy

Sandy Rogers is the leader of FranklinCovey’s Loyalty Practice. He was previously Senior Vice President at Enterprise Rent-A-Car. During his 14 years there, Sandy managed the turnaround of the London, England operation and led the teams that developed Enterprise’s marketing strategy and system for improving customer service across all branches. Before Enterprise, Sandy worked in marketing at Apple Computer and at P&G. He is a graduate of Duke and Harvard Business School.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Sandy Rogers Interview Transcript

Pete Mockaitis
Sandy, thank you so much for joining us here on the How to Be Awesome at Your Job Podcast.

Sandy Rogers
Thank you Pete, thrilled to be here.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’m thrilled to chat with you. And you’ve got many claims to fame in your life, but the one I thought was most interesting off the top of my head was that you led the teams that came up with the legendary “pick Enterprise we’ll pick you up” slogan, what is the backstory here?

Sandy Rogers
Oh, my gosh, well, I have the great fortune of spending most of my career at Enterprise Rent-A-Car, actually left Apple Computer to go work with Jack Taylor at Enterprise. And one of my early Jobs was to lead the marketing part of a business, the idea of picking customers up came from one of our local general managers, and Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise, when he first heard it, thought, “That sounds crazy, I don’t know how you’re going to be able to pick people up.”

But sure enough, in true Enterprise fashion Jack empowered the local teams to go run experiments, try and figure it out, perfect it, the idea of pick up then spread across the organization. And so, when I came in as the marketing guy, we were looking for a way to share a message that would get people’s attention.

And there was a lot of push to talk about our friendly service and our great employees. But back then, other car rental companies were talking about their great service.

Pete Mockaitis
You got OJ Simpson, running through Airports

Sandy Rogers
Everyone was talking about we try harder and so I thought talking about service, the way to prove you have great service is actually to deliver great service, but not brag about it. And so instead, we did some research. And we looked for things that nobody was talking about.

So, you need something that’s unique, but we also wanted something that customers felt was really important. And in all the different things we tested, pick up jumped to the top of the list because nobody was talking about pick up in the car rental industry. And when consumers heard, “You’ll pick me up?”, it was a great message. And so we started with that, “Pick Enterprise we’ll pick you up,” we worked with a terrific ad agency in New York, and created that commercial with a brown paper wrapper car and it became a very memorable way to communicate this wonderful service Enterprise still provides today.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s right and I’m curious, like, what proportion of customers end up actually requesting to be picked up?

Sandy Rogers
On my gosh, I’ve been out of the business for 12 years. So, I don’t have the latest—

Pete Mockaitis
I’ll grill you with hard data questions at the top of the interview, Sandy.

Sandy Rogers
But a lot of them do, a lot of people— Enterprise started in the home city car rental market. So, when people had an accident or they brought their car into the dealership or service, Enterprise was the only player in town who would pick you up and bring you back to the branch and get you into a car.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s handy, I’ve done it before.

Sandy Rogers
Oh, good. Well, I hope you had a good experience, Pete.

Pete Mockaitis
It was, it was very pleasant. Thank you. Cool. Alright, so that’s the history of Sandy Rogers. But let’s talk about some of the current stuff, you’ve got a book, Leading Loyalty. I want to hear, as you’re putting this together, what was maybe the most surprising and fascinating thing that you discovered, as you were executing this?

Sandy Rogers
We have worked with a wide range of organizations, I mean, small, big. And what really surprised me is these principles that we have uncovered through all the research we’ve done about empathy, responsibility, and generosity, that these principles are not only applicable in earning the loyalty of our customers—and everybody wants fierce customer loyalty—but they’re also the exact same principles we need to earn the loyalty of our coworkers, our colleagues, our family, our friends, our kids, our spouse.

And so, the deeper we got into this, and the more stories we heard, these principles are applicable to earning the fierce loyalty of every important person in our lives.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s really good. We got the empathy, responsibility, and what?

Sandy Rogers
And generosity is the third one.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And principles are like gravity. I mean, they’re irrefutable. They act on you whether you agree with them or not. And so, if you don’t obey these principles of loyalty, you’re not going to earn the loyalty of other people. I mean, there’s no shortcuts.

And sure, people talk about frequent flyer miles and discounts and point programs but Pete, we’re talking about the loyalty that’s fueled in the heart. It’s when you tell your friends “oh, I got to tell you the story about this thing. It was unbelievable.” It’s that heartfelt emotional connection that that we’re trying to fuel with this book.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I dig that, well, could you share with us maybe a story? You got some heartfelt tales that you’ve collected, and you’re doing your research and talking to folks that maybe, so I can get a picture of you of a loyalty transformation. We had some lack of empathy, responsibility, generosity, and loyalty and then we saw things turn around.

Sandy Rogers
So, Pete, I was with the CEO of a large baby retail chain, and we were talking about empathy. And he stopped me, he said, “Sandy, I got to tell you a story. You may have heard it because it’s been all over the internet. This man comes into one of our stores, he’s carrying a load of unopened baby items, and he explains to our team that he and his wife had just experienced a miscarriage. And our team told him, ‘Sir, I’m so sorry about that but with a receipt you can’t return these items.’”

And the CEO just covered his face, he said, “Sandy, I don’t know how I could’ve possibly allowed a policy like needing a receipt get in the way of doing the obvious human thing for this poor man.” And you know what’s interesting about this story, Pete, two years later, this chain went bankrupt. They closed all of their stores. And they certainly had their financial challenges, I don’t know if it was from a lack of showing empathy, but I do know this, to earn the fierce loyalty of our customers, we have got to have empathy for them.

Pete Mockaitis
Wow, yeah, that’s powerful. And, boy, that really is an illustration in terms of, “At what point are your policies ironclad?” Every policy needs to have a breaking point somewhere below this extreme, you know.

Sandy Rogers
So, let me tell you one where we had a policy at Enterprise that was ironclad, okay? Do you remember where you were on 9/11?

Pete Mockaitis
I do. I was in my senior AP Rhetoric class with Mrs. Judy Federmeier when we got the word. I was like, “What?” Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
It was one of those moments. I was at the headquarters at Enterprise in St. Louis. Can you imagine what it was like at an airport rental branch that day? All the planes were grounded. At the Dallas Airport branch, in Washington, D.C., our branch manager has a branch that is teeming with people desperate to get home. All of our competitor car rental companies at Dallas Airport had closed and their managers had gone home, you know, check on their family and everything.

But our manager decided to stay open, and he couldn’t reach anybody on the phone because all the phone lines were jammed. And we had a policy, a firm ironclad policy back then, no one way routes. If you rented a car at the Dallas Airport branch, you had to bring it back to that Enterprise branch. Pete, he couldn’t reach anybody. He gets on a chair and stands up in front of his huge crowd of people, and he said, “Everybody, could I please get your attention? This gentleman here is going to Atlanta. Is there anybody else here that needs to go towards Atlanta or in that direction? Can you all please take this car? I’ve open up the soda machine, help yourself to a soda and a snack. Take the car, get yourselves home safely. I’ll figure out how to get my car back.”

He said, “Ma’am, where are you going? You’re going to St. Louis? Okay. Who else here needs to go west towards St. Louis? Please take this car, get yourselves home safely. I’ll figure out how to get my car back later.” This branch manager, Pete, scattered his cars to the winds. He sent them all over the country. He completely violated our policy about no one way routes.

And when we heard this story three days later, the founder, and the CEO, and the whole senior leadership team at Enterprise was never more proud, because although this team had completely violated our policies, they did exactly what our customer mission is all about. They showed incredible empathy for these customers. They took responsibility for the real job which was to get them home to their families. They were incredibly generous because imagine the cost of getting all these cars back, but we were never more proud.

And so, when I think about this story, are the people in your organization, whether you’re in a small two-person shop, or a large company, are you given the ability to be empathetic with your customers, to take responsibility for their real needs, to be generous? Because this is the secret, not just to customer loyalty, this is the way we earn fierce employee loyalty.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s powerful. Thank you.

Sandy Rogers
We started measuring customer service at Enterprise around 1994. About the same time that we were doing the research on what to advertise with pick up. And because we knew that to grow the business faster, customers had to walk away with a feeling that “wow! I love this place”.

Jack Taylor, the founder of Enterprise said, “It’s simple. When people walk out of our branches, they’ve got to feel like this is one of the best experiences I’ve ever had.”

So, in order to deliver great service, we decided we had to measure it. When we first started measuring service in 1994, Enterprise, we were pretty good overall, but there was huge variation across the chain.

And that’s often the challenge with organizations. I mean, you always have people, there’s pockets of greatness, but you see inconsistency from one location or one team to another. And so, we told everybody, this is the one of the most important things our mission is built on customer service, let’s get busy and improve it.

And over the next two years, we had zero percent improvement, everybody was focused on doing what they always did, which was running a great business and then Jack Taylor, the founder, inspired everybody and said, “No, I’m really serious about this.”

And so after this meeting we had in 1996, from that point forward, the decision was made not to promote anyone who’s customer service score was below the company average. And that, Pete, changed everything.

Over the next 10 years, all of a sudden, now everybody had skin in the game, we had a metric that clearly identified who needed to get better. And by not promoting the below average performers, over the next 10 years Enterprise went from delighting 67% of its customers to 80% of its customers. And that variation I talked about across the chain went from 28 points to less than 12 points.

Company sales in this 10-year period tripled from $2 to $7 billion. And Andy Taylor, the CEO at the time, this was the profound dedication and impact of improving our service across the whole chain. Fred Reichheld at Bain [& Company] created the Net Promoter Score based on this story that I just shared at Enterprise.

Pete Mockaitis
You know when I worked at Bain, I’ve done a case at Bain using the Net Promoter Score. I think I even read the book, The Ultimate Question.

Sandy Rogers
Yes.
Chapter Four in The Ultimate Question is this story.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, so well, fun fact. Cool beans. So, there we have it, we made a commitment, this was how it’s going to be, you can’t get promoted if you’re below average, and we saw tremendous results in terms of people more satisfied, revenues growing. So that’s really cool in terms of, you’ve got transformation, and then I’m imagining then, in terms of what constitutes a great customer service and great customer experience, there were some particular practices that invoked some more empathy, responsibility and generosity from the staff?

Sandy Rogers
No question. And so, by unleashing our teams to go out and be creative, and to figure out, “How are we going to make more of our customers happy? How are we going to make our operation more consistently excellent?” These wonderful ideas spread from the bottom up, and Enterprise had tremendous success.

But Pete, we’ve worked with a wide range of organizations over the last 15 years. And these principles hold true in every case. The customer has to feel like you have empathy for me, that you’ve taken the time to understand my hidden story, that you’ve taken responsibility for the real job I’m trying to get done, not just selling me your stuff, but you’ve taken the time to really understand what I’m actually trying to do or accomplish.

And three, they treat us with generosity in terms of the time it takes for us to do business with a firm, they respect us. And so those are the principles that we bring to life because we think they’re essential in every business, whether it’s a small bakery or it’s a large conglomerate.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, so I’d love to now talk about some of the specific practices, then, for human beings, we’re working with each other, we’re trying to facilitate some more loyalty, whether that’s with an external customer, an internal customer, a colleague, a friend, a collaborator. What are some of the key ways that you go about doing empathy, doing responsibility, doing generosity?

Sandy Rogers
The first step is we’ve got to adopt a loyalty leader mindset. Our mindset affects our behavior. And so, we choose to be a leader. It’s not what’s on our name tag, you know you’re a leader if you look over your shoulder and you see people following you.

So, this idea that, well, no, this is something my boss has to do or the CEO has to sign off on, no, everybody in the organization from the bottom to the top, has to choose to be a loyalty leader and take personal responsibility for living these principles more often.

So, let’s trail down into empathy. So, the first one is empathy and empathy is our ability to identify with and understand other people’s situation or feelings, and we know what it means. Now everybody has empathy, you don’t have to teach it. If you see somebody poked with a needle, we flinch and say, “Ugh.”

So why don’t we see more of it in the workplace and our everyday interactions? Well, we’ve got to talk about it, and we got to get into the practices. So, the first practice in showing empathy is to make a genuine human connection.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And so often what we get from the companies we do business with, it’s not a genuine connection, it’s some kind of scripted thing that they’ve been taught to read to me on the phone after I’ve waited 15 minutes on hold, to simply tell the cable company that my internet is not working, and I’ve got an interview coming up and could you please fix it?

I don’t want to hear the script, I don’t want to hear the fake empathy. Because I know it’s a script they’re reading to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
And so we talk about making a genuine connection, even if you’re the third person in line, and I’m the host at a restaurant, and you just want to put your name down for a table, just with eye contact, I can let you know I see you, I care about you. I mean, I can give you the feeling that I’m going to take care of you. I’m so sorry you’re having to wait.

And once we make that connection, the next practice is I’ve got to listen to learn the story. We all have a hidden story. Sometimes, the hidden stories are obvious. If we’re driving down the road and we see a lady standing with her small children by a car with a hood open and steam coming out, and we get the story in a glance, right. We know what’s going on.

But so often, people will come into our workplace, whether they’re a customer or a coworker, and they’ve got a story that’s hidden from you. And for us to have empathy for that person, we’re going to have to genuinely connect so they know that this is not just a fake, “Hey, what’s up?” and when you know I don’t really want the answer. But no, “Really what’s going on? How are you?” And then I’ve gotta take the time to actually listen to their hidden story.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good.

Sandy Rogers
And I’ve got to listen not just with my ears, I’ve got to listen with my eyes and with my heart, too. I love the Chinese character for listen, it contains the symbols for all three, ears, eyes, and heart.

The deepest need of the human hearts to be understood. I mean, how good is it feel when people really get you? So that’s the idea. You can’t have empathy if you don’t know my story and you’re not going to hear my story unless I believe you’re genuine and you actually are listening to me.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Sandy, I’d love to get your take from the human experience of, all right, you’re busy, you got a lot of things going on, you want to be empathetic but you could just forget, in the hustle and bustle and the taking care of business and your metrics and KPIs and hustling to the next thing because there’s a fire to put out, but there’s humans in your midst.

How do you recommend folks kind of center, ground, reorient their brains and their ways of being to really empathize with folks in that moment?

Sandy Rogers
And that’s what’s so hard about this because what we’re talking about here is common sense. People say, “yeah, I’ve learned this stuff in kindergarten” and you did. And hopefully, it’s ingrained in your psyche, these principles that start with empathy. But just because it’s common sense, unfortunately, it’s not common practice.

And the reason it’s not, in so many of our interactions is we’re busy! We’ve got revenue targets, expense reduction goals, I got a list of stuff, I’ve got to get done by five o’clock today. And so, in the whirlwind of our busy daily lives, we lose sight of the power of the simple practices that we’re teaching in this book.

And so, we’re teaching people things that they already know but we’re asking them to talk about them for 15 minutes a week, in a little huddle, the team comes together. And in those huddles, the most important thing you do is you celebrate the people on the team that are doing what you talked about last week.

So last week, we talked about listening to learn the hidden story. I got to tell this quick story about Pete, and you know, it’s fun, and people laugh and we high five, and that’s amazing. And then we talk about the next principle or practice, and how do we actually apply that in the work we do here?

It’s easy to talk about this stuff in theory, but yeah, how am I supposed to be generous to these customers that are yelling at me all day, right? So, we talk about it. And then we each make a commitment to go apply this and come back next week. So, we can celebrate what worked and talk about what didn’t work. And we don’t have to have all the answers. We’re just going to create space in the whirlwind of our busy lives, to talk about the things that actually make a difference to how we’re feeling when we leave work every day.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s great. And I’m sure that everyone’s context is a little bit different and by making that time, you’ll come up with the particulars that seem to be really effective in those realms. I’d love to hear when it comes to asking the questions, have you found that there are some particularly useful, valuable questions in building up the empathy?

Sandy Rogers
Well, sure, what brings you in today? What’s going on? Open ended questions, not yes/no questions. I mean, the classic yes/no question is that, the wait person who comes over, everything okay? It’s just like, you know, or how about you’re checking out of the grocery store, find everything, and the checker has their eyes on the work and doesn’t really listen to your answer about what have you found everything at the grocery store that day?

Now you kind of ask questions, and then leave space. And oftentimes, ask again. For example, one of the best ways that companies can improve their service: don’t wait for the survey to come, ask people walking out the door, “What, if anything, could we’ve done to better serve you today? I’m Sandy, I’m the manager, I’d love to know, no, really, I’m serious anything? Was there anything we could have done better?”

And when people understand that he’s sincere, that he actually wants to hear, then you get into a conversation, and you can learn their story. You can also learn about how to fix your business right now, if there’re any issues rather than hearing about it or reading about it in a bad Yelp post in a couple hours from now.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. Okay, so we talked about empathy, how about responsibility?

Sandy Rogers
So once you’ve taken the time to understand my hidden story, you know how I’m feeling. Now we’ve got to take responsibility for helping people succeed to reach their goals. And with responsibility, there are two practices. As I mentioned earlier, first, we’ve got to discover the real job to be done. And what does that mean?

Clayton Christensen at Harvard Business School writes that people hire products and services to do a specific job for them. People are hiring your podcast to do a specific job for them, right?

Pete Mockaitis
And I hope I’m nailing it.

Sandy Rogers
And I think you are! So, guy comes into a hardware store, “I’m looking for a wrench.” “Oh, they’re right over at aisle 14.” That’s not taking responsibility. No, instead, “Come with me. The wrenches are this way. What are you working on?” “Well, I got this old fence in my backyard and there’s these rusty nuts and bolts I gotta pull out so I can get rid of the fence.” “Well, will work any of these?”

“Yeah, they look like those hexagonal ones right over there.” “Oh, sure, to grip the rusty edges of those nuts so you can pull the bolts out and get rid of your fence, you’re going to need a set of box wrenches, they should do the trick.”

You see Pete, that’s taking responsibility for the real job. Getting rid of a fence. It’s not to sell the guy a wrench.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah. I find that that’s so handy. But I think that I I’ve often had that situation where maybe I’m just sort of thinking about novel things or outside-the-box sorts of things. It just seems like I’m often asking for something that’s not exactly what they people do like I want a CRM, but I don’t really want to sell anything to people using this software. I’m just looking to keep track of ABC and then, and folks are just sort of, I guess, perplexed, like, “oh, well, let me show you the cool features we have.”

Sandy Rogers
Of course.

Pete Mockaitis
Sort of like, “Okay, well, I guess, I could look at those but that’s not really what I’m most interested in.” And so, I guess I have those exchanges frequently, on sort of, like the customer side of things.

So, I dig it in terms of like, “What are you trying to accomplish?” I think that’s one of the best questions ever.

Sandy Rogers
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
In terms of, hey, as a as a consultant, if you’re trying to crack a case for a client, as a coach, if you’re trying to help someone, because they have one specific question, you take a step back and ask, “what are you trying to accomplish”? And then it opens up everything, or just, as a worker getting an assignment and getting better clarity about what we’re really going after? So that’s a great question in terms of being able to surface the responsibility and do it all the better. Any other favorite questions there?

Sandy Rogers

Well, and that’s such an important question, “What are you trying to accomplish?”, and then lead with a need. So, before we jump into, “Oh, my gosh, let me tell you about our CRM system, and all the bells and whistles,” lead with their need.

So, let’s take an example. You go into a store and you’re looking for a treadmill or something. If I’ve taken the time to really understand why you’re buying a treadmill, or why you’ve come for that, I can lead with a need.

So, “Pete they help you do well and the upcoming half marathon that you’re gonna be doing with your team, this elliptical machine, I think makes the most sense, given some knee trouble you’ve had or this comfortable pair of running shoes should fit the bill.”

But it’s, it takes discipline to not just sell our products, which of course we’re excited about, and sales are good, but if we want to earn the fierce loyalty of our customers, we’ll take the time to not only understand how they’re feeling so we can have some empathy but we can take responsibility for “What is this guy really trying to accomplish?”

Pete Mockaitis
And I’m curious, so if someone is not too communicative like, “need a  treadmill”, he’s like, “okay, great, what makes you interested in a treadmill today?” I don’t know, any tips for those who are almost like a seek and destroy, get in get out mode, whether it’s a colleague or a customer. Any tips for slowing it down and getting the real stuff?

Sandy Rogers
It’s got to be conversational. It’s got to be natural. It can’t look like you know, some script or some spiel which you’re spilling out. It’s just “Hey, talk to me. I want to help you, I want to get you the treadmill, you’re looking for what’s going on? What brings you here? Why a treadmill now”?

And when people are trying to figure out, is this a genuine inquiry here? I mean, should I bother to spend time and actually tell this person my story?

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Sandy Rogers
And if we’re sincere, though, they’ll actually tell you. One of the stories we heard is somebody comes into a store and “I’m looking for shoelaces.” “Why do you want shoelaces?” I mean it seems obvious to replace the laces in my shoes. But it turned out this person actually wanted shoelaces to tie the birdcage to the roof of their car.

I mean, it’s an odd admission, but just an understanding that, opportunity to teach this person about bungee cords and there are other solutions besides shoelaces to tie down bird cages.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, I really like that. That’s good certainly. Okay, well, so then let’s hear about the third key, the generosity.

Sandy Rogers
Well, and so at the end of responsibility, not only do we have to discover the job but then we got to follow up, how did that go? And if there’re problems, one of the most powerful ways we can earn loyalty is to take responsibility for any problems somebody has.

And we teach people what we call the five A’s. We got to assume that the person has good intent. So, imagine you’re dealing with an angry customer. If you’re going to turn that detractor into a promoter, you got to first assume that their intent is good, they’re not here to rip us off, we’ll get to align with our emotions, get on the same side of the table, we need to apologize with no defensiveness whatsoever. We got to ask, “what can I do to make this right for you” and assure them of what I’m going to do and do it?

And so, we practice these five A’s, we talk about it, but getting good at follow up is quarter responsibility in earning the loyalty everybody wants. Okay, so now we get empathy and responsibility. Sorry Pete, go ahead.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, sure thing. So that’s sort of if they’re coming in to you, in terms of they’re saying, “Hey, this thing went wrong.”

Sandy Rogers
Well, and we don’t want to wait and find out. When I was running the London, England operation for Enterprise Rent-A-Car, I would get some pushback from our branch managers that had low customer service scores and weren’t getting promoted. And they said, “Well, how am I supposed to know how to get better? I’m only getting 25 surveys a month.”

And I said, “Well, hold on, how many renters do you see every month in your branch?” “Oh, 700 to 1000.” “What would prevent you from asking as many as you want, what can we be doing to better serve you? How does your rental go? I’d love to know.” You could get 1000 surveys a month if you want them and rather than waiting for the results, you could fix whatever issue you’ve got today before it affects other customers.

And it’s not just the negative. Now, here’s the positive, you will find out in most cases that the rental was great. Susie did an amazing job. Imagine how it’s going to feel to Susie to be able to go back into the branch and say, “I just want to let you know, you blew those guys socks off. They just loved what you did for them.” “Susie, great job”.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, and it’s also your opportunity to be like, “Thank you so much. If you could share that on the official survey. It would be great.”

Sandy Rogers
Oh yeah, that is it— Now, I tell you one thing at Enterprise, if you do that, you will get fired.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay.

Sandy Rogers
And I know that doesn’t always happen at the car dealers where they badger to give the high scores. But early on Andy Taylor and his leadership team made the decision that if you talk about the survey, or talk about top box and all that stuff, we’re going to treat it like taking cash out of the cash box. Because it completely undermines the customers confidence that we actually care about customer service.

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, absolutely, because they are like, I think about the Uber driver, “Give me a five-star rating.” “No, I’ll give you the star rating that you deserve.” But I’m just  intrigued here, but it’s also inappropriate if someone says, “Hey, this was awesome.” And they say, “Hey, thank you. If you’d like to share on the survey, then we’d appreciate it.” That’s also forbidden?

Sandy Rogers
Yes, and you know what, just say thank you. That’s great. Tell your friends, leave it at that. But don’t mention the survey, right?

Pete Mockaitis
Right, I think that that’s a useful distinction because many are tempted or inclined to do exactly that.

Sandy Rogers
It will then it just tells the customer that, well, this guy really just cares about his survey results. Say “Hey, if you had a great experience Pete, please tell your friends and we’d love to serve them too.”

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, cool, gotcha. All right. So then, you were gonna say some more about generosity?

Sandy Rogers
Yeah. So, we’ve got empathy, responsibility and the third core principle for earning loyalty is generosity. Generosity is giving from our heart, more than is necessary or people expect, it’s kindness. And to be generous with other people there are two practices, we to share our insights openly, generously share our thoughts, feelings, knowledge, concerns, and we need to surprise people in unexpected ways.

And so we’ve a chapter on each of these things, on generosity and sharing insights, and then surprising with unexpected extras. Because those two things have to occur in order for me to feel like you’re being generous with me and my time.

Pete Mockaitis
So can you give some examples of insights?

Sandy Rogers
Sure, well, we share insights with our customers all the time. Imagine you go into a store, and you’re looking for a speaker for your TV so you can have better surround sound and you’re awed by the beautiful display and you find one, you take it to the register, and the woman working at the register says, “Well, does your TV support Bluetooth?” And you say, “Well, actually, I don’t know”.

Well, “What kind of TV do you have?” “Ah surf.” “For your TV, that speaker is not going to work, you’re going to need a little wireless transmitter, it doesn’t cost hardly anything, let me get it for you.”

See, that’s incredibly generous sharing insights, it’s reducing the effort that you’re going to go through to get surround sound to work with your TV. Now that cashier could have done that or not, it was incredibly generous that she chose to spend an extra 10 seconds and help you out.

Pete Mockaitis
It’s good.

Sandy Rogers
But we share insights with each other too. You and I may be coworkers in a business and you notice I have some opportunities to be more effective and how I’m working with our customers. But today we have a lot of confidence about sharing our feedback with our thumbs online. But we want to make sure that our millennials and Generation Z has the same confidence, providing feedback face to face.

And so, we talk a lot about that in the book too. And how to have a coaching conversation, how to recognize what people are doing well, how to declare intent, how to have people walk away and say, “Wow, I mean, that was incredibly generous, that Pete shared that with me,” right? But we’re going to practice it and because there’s a way to do it, that is natural, and shows that the feedback is loving feedback and not criticism.

Pete Mockaitis
Sure thing. And how about these sort of extra little tidbits? What are some of your favorite examples there?

Sandy Rogers
Well, surprising with unexpected extras, and Enterprise is the master at this, all these branches had to get better, right? And so, they ran a jillion experiment, a cold bottle of water on a hot day, going to the body shops and dealerships and bringing them ice cream, or donuts, or just little ways, little experiments.

And so one of the things you want to do in huddle 10, week 10, you get your team together, what is something that we could do for our customers that we’ve never done before that would delight them, something that we could do ourselves, we don’t even get permission from head office.

And then vote on the best ideas and then go do it.  Run a little experiment and see what happens. And it’s incredibly engaging for your team. And it’s wonderful with customers, hotel guests, housekeeper notices that they’re out of toothpaste, and leaves a little tube of toothpaste with a note, it looked like you were running out, so I left you this.

I mean, imagine what the guest feels like, that little extra didn’t cost anything for the hotel. And it not only made the guests feel great, the housekeeper felt great, too.

Pete Mockaitis
Right. That’s cool. Could you share perhaps a couple examples of these principles coming to life in terms of colleague to colleague?

Sandy Rogers
Oh my gosh, well, to earn the loyalty of our coworkers, the same principles apply. And when organizations are—they want to engage their employees, one of the challenges that people like Gallup report is that the lower you go in the organization, the lower the employee engagement, the higher the turnover. And we know that the difference between a good and a great experience often comes down to how the people on the frontline are treating us.

Whether it’s face to face or on the phone or online. And so, recognizing that the frontline is the lowest paid, and oftentimes the least trained, and has lots of challenges with retention, it is vitally important that the leaders are living these principles.

My friend Shep Hyken, often says, “The customer experience rarely exceeds the employee experience.” So, we have to first earn the fierce loyalty of our teammates, of our employees, they’ve got to be excited about coming to work, they’ve got to say, “I’d recommend this place to work to all my friends,” and then that carries over to how the customers feel, which then drives the sales that we all want, and finally, the bottom-line profits—but it’s kind of happened in that order.

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

Sandy Rogers
What I would say is, this is basic stuff that you did learn in kindergarten, but you got to create space, you got to create 15 minutes a week, almost every mission statement I’ve ever seen mentions customers and how important they are. I mean, it’s hard to argue your customers aren’t important, right?

But if they’re so important, and they’re the cornerstone of the mission statement, then we ought to be able to carve out 15 minutes each week to celebrate the people who are living these things that are creating our customer promoters.

And to also talk about what these principles and practices mean, and how to apply them, what the challenges are, to be generous, to be more responsible, to have empathy, to follow up. All these things we’ve been talking about, that it sounds great, but let’s talk for a few minutes about how I can actually do that on this team.

We’re on the calls, we’re in a call center, we’re on the phone all day. And I’m being held to this two-minute timeline for the length of calls, how am I supposed to do this? And so, we want to create space to have these conversations to help organizations get better.

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

Sandy Rogers
One of my favorite quotes is “no risk-it no biscuit.” It’s a very simple, but I find that what gets in the way of us, all of us in doing these things that make sense is there’s a fear that, “oh, it may not work or it may not be received well.” We’ve got to make the choice to go out on a limb to try these things, to run these huddles.

We’ve had so many organizations, at first maybe have questions about, “Well, will our people really do this?” We had a chain of auto repair stores. And they said, now let me get this right, you’re expecting these guys that work under the hood of cars and trucks all day to get together and talk about empathy, and generosity, and responsibility?

And I said, “Well, let’s see if any of them are interested.” And a group of 20 said, “We want to go do this, let us go do this in our stores.” And over six months Pete, we were measuring their customer service scores while they were running these huddles, they increased their customer service scores by an average of 10 points. Three of these 20 stores increased their scores by 20 points.

And they said, “You know what, this is the most fun 15 minutes of our week. We were celebrating each other, and we were talking about how to bring this stuff to life.” The simple idea is put everyone into a position to enrich other people’s lives. These principles allow that to happen.

Pete Mockaitis
Awesome. Now, could you share with us a favorite study something that you found enlightening?

Sandy Rogers
Tell me what you mean by a favorite study?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, like an experiment or bit of research.

Sandy Rogers
Just sort of think, I think some of the research that’s really come to my mind are the things that we have learned, the link between customer service scores in growth and profitability in the business. We often get asked to quantify what on the surface, sounds obvious, if we get better customer service, of course, the business will grow faster and will make more money but CEOs often say, “yeah, prove it.”

I remember one chain that we were working with, they had 3500 stores, and we were measuring their employee engagement, and also their customer service. And the CEO said, “Well, I’ve done a little analysis of my own and I’m not seeing a strong correlation between the employee engagement scores you’re giving me and the customer service scores you’re giving me across our 3500 stores.”

And I thought, “Uh-oh, well let’s see what’s going on here.” And one of the guys on our team, said, “Well, I’ll tell you what, let’s add another question to the employee engagement survey to find out if those store teams actually know their customer service scores.”

Because Pete, here’s the theory, people play harder when they’re keeping score. I mean, look at the kids on the playground, as soon as you start keeping score, the game gets a lot more fierce and interesting, right?

If the people in the store don’t even know their customer service score for the store, they’re not really playing the game of improving customer service, right. So, we found out that of all those stores, 40% of the store teams had a very clear idea of what their customer service score was, 60% had no idea what it was.

And guess what? The correlation between employee engagement and customer service was excellent in the stores that actually knew their customer service scores. But in the stores that were clueless about their customer service scores, of course, there was no correlation between employee engagement and customer service because they weren’t really playing. Yeah, you could love your job, but not be focused on customers.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah, sure. Like “This guy keeps getting in the way. We’re having some great jokes. This guy keeps interrupting, this customer over here.” Well, thank you. And how about a favorite book?

Sandy Rogers
Oh, my gosh, I am rereading The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Have you heard of that book?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh, very much.

Sandy Rogers
I remember reading it, like 1990 and, or whatever. And I am rereading it now because I find so many of those, habits, incredibly important in the effectiveness of our team.

Pete Mockaitis
And how about a favorite tool? Sorry, re-wind.

Sandy Rogers
Like be proactive. I mean, I just think that’s, I know Stephen Covey starts with this idea of being proactive, and, carrying your own weather and not looking to blame other people for what’s going on in your domain. But it takes good reminding every day to go back to the Viktor Frankl insight from the Holocaust that the ultimate human freedom is that gap between stimulus and response, and you get to decide how you feel about how other people are treating you. And that’s a very powerful insight that’s worth revisiting. But you’re asking you about our favorite tool?

Pete Mockaitis
Oh yeah, something you use to be awesome at your job?

Sandy Rogers
Gosh, what tool, could I not live without, Google Maps. That’s how I find my way everywhere.

Pete Mockaitis
Absolutely, and how about a favorite habit?

Sandy Rogers
A favorite of the habits of Stephen’s habits?

Pete Mockaitis
That could be Stephen’s or yours.

Sandy Rogers
I think sharpening the saw, I think this idea of constantly learning outside of the domain that we spend most of our lives, to get other perspectives. And I love when Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots between what he— he said for example, we have these movable fonts, because of some class he dropped into, when he was just taking classes after he dropped out of college and just connecting the dots between different things. It just, it helps us to be more effective in the work we do every day, it also makes work everyday more interesting.

Pete Mockaitis
And is there a particular nugget you share in your book or with clients that really seems to connect and resonate with them and they repeat it back to you?

Sandy Rogers
I think the gist that people come back to us with is this idea about putting people into position to enrich other lives. And it’s really around trusting them. Think about the organizations today that don’t trust their employees.

They say, “You know what, we’re going to give you a script, we’re going to put you on a time clock, you have to live in this tiny little box.” Rob Markey at Bain talks about giving your people freedom within a defined framework. I mean, that’s certainly what Enterprise did. But boundaries were well defined. But we gave them a lot of freedom within those boundaries. And I’ll give you some examples.

American Express completely changed how they managed their call centers, when they said, “We’re going to throw out the scripts, we’re going to throw out the time clock, your job is to create promoters.” And it not only made the card member happier and made the employees a lot happier! I mean, now this job is fun.

Tony Hsieh of Zappos totally has that insight. You think: make them happy! Okay, and he’s got the crazy story that somebody calls up and looking for a pair of shoes that Zappos doesn’t even sell but they fulfill the sale anyway.

Southwest Airlines, “Hey, look, these are the rules. You have to buy FAA guidelines, tell people about these things.” Now, if you choose to sing it, or do it as part of a comedy routine, hey, more power to you.

So, I think one of the real keys to earning that fierce employee loyalty and customer loyalty that everybody wants is we got to trust our people. We got to let them use their natural gifts and abilities within a broad framework. You got to have guidelines but within these guidelines, go for it and have fun.

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. And Sandy, if folks want to learn more, get in touch, where would you point them.

Sandy Rogers
They can certainly come to www.franklincovey.com, and they can come to my LinkedIn page.

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

Sandy Rogers
My final challenge is take a look at these principles. Try it. Say “I’m going to invest 10 or 15 minutes a week, I’m going to run this play. I’m going to run this for 11 weeks and see whether I feel differently about the work I do and whether coming to work every day is more fun, whether it has more meaning.”

Pete Mockaitis
Beautiful. Well Sandy, this has been a treat. Thanks so much for taking this time and sharing the good word. I wish you much luck and loyalty and fun in all your ventures.

Sandy Rogers
Pete, thank you so much.

435: Building Trust and a Powerhouse Team with Kristine Lilly and Dr. John Gillis

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Kristine Lilly and John Gillis say: "Wearing the same jersey does not make a team."

Legendary soccer player Kristine Lilly and researcher Dr. John Gillis share the 13 tactics of a powerhouse team, whether in sports or business.

You’ll Learn:

  1. The 13 tactics that make a powerhouse team
  2. The most common mistakes teams make
  3. How to build trust in a team

About Kristine and John

Kristine Lilly is an expert on effective teamwork. She consults with organizations, providing lessons gleaned from her remarkable career as a professional athlete. Lilly played midfielder for the United States Women’s National Soccer Team for over twenty-three years. This included five FIFA World Cups and three Olympic Games. She was inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 2012 and the US Soccer Hall of Fame in 2014. Before that, she won four national championships at The University of North Carolina.

Kristine lives outside Boston with her husband, David Heavey, a Brookline firefighter. They “team together” to raise two amazing daughters, Sidney and Jordan.

Dr. John Gillis, Jr. facilitates executive leadership development using a dynamic business simulation for LeadershipX. As a management consultant, he has worked for IBM, Accenture, Center for Creative Leadership, and The Conference Board. He did his doctoral work at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education and Wharton Business School. He lives in Austin, Texas, with his wife Lynette and their four children: Jack, Rylan, Caroline, and Mary Claire.

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Kristine Lilly and John Gillis Interview Transcript

Kristine Lilly
For women for the span of – if you look at 1991 was our first World Cup till 2004, which some of the – Mia, and Julie and Brandi retired. Those eight to ten years, we won two World Cups, two gold medals, came in third twice and won one silver.

Pete Mockaitis
There you go.

Kristine Lilly
Not to say we won every tournament, but if you look at – and if you go further on, the worst place we’ve done in any competition with the US Women’s National team is getting out in the quarter finals of I believe it was the – what Olympics? ’96, 2012, ’16. They lost in the quarter finals. Every other big event with the US Women’s National team participating either got first, second or third.

Pete Mockaitis
Yeah.

Kristine Lilly
So we won. We won a lot. We worked hard to be successful and really amazing group of women that I played with during my time and obviously now. The team continues to win, which hopefully, is due to a good foundation that was set early on with the National team.

Pete Mockaitis
That is awesome. That is quite the track record, so I want to hear how you did it. I understand much of this is packaged in the book, Powerhouse. Maybe you could orient us to what’s the big idea in the book?

Kristine Lilly
Well, basically, when John and I talked about it, I would share the stories about the team and he couldn’t – I think, John, correct me if I’m wrong, but I think he had an idea of the US team, but I don’t think he really knew the history of what we accomplished. Then I finally shared a movie with him called Dare to Dream that was on HBO. I said, “Just watch this.”

Then he got a history of the team and he was really impressed with the team. Then we talked a lot about business and how a business needs to come together and work as a team like these sports teams to be successful. He’s like, “You’ve got such a great story here. Why don’t we share it?” That’s where we are with how we got this book going and sharing all these great stories of the US Women’s National team while paralleling it to business tactics as well.

John Gillis
Pete, if I could just add on. As a spectator and a fan of the team I got to watch when they were winning the gold medals in the World Cup Championships. But then when Kristine and our families became friends and she’d tell some of the stories behind the scenes and all the effort, the practice before the performance and what they did to prepare themselves so that the team would be successful.

Those are the stories that I think are so relevant that Powerhouse shares some insight into those stories, not that you’re just seeing the team win, but what it takes to actually build that effective team so that they put themselves in position to win. Those stories that Kristine was sharing set through the years that I’ve known her, that’s what we really wanted to share and then say how does that apply to business.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s good. You’ve got 13 tactics in the book. Could you give us a quick overview of what are the 13 tactics?

Kristine Lilly
Right. I think if you’re first wondering why 13, that was the jersey number I wore for the US team. We’re trying to keep that kind of personally cute and connected to my career. We have 13 tactics. We’re not reinventing the wheel on teamwork or anything. We’re just trying to emphasize if you put these tactics together that they can help you be successful.

What’s really cool about this book too is we’ve broken them down into groups of three. Obviously there’s one underlying theme throughout this whole book, which is our last chapter called Doing the Right Thing. Each group of three is under a different category or pillar. We have transform, empower, achieve and motivate. We’re using the word team to create those words.

Each pillar has different tactics. The first one we have selecting your team members, align the team’s directions, score a goal, would be transforming a team.

Obviously you get into empower, so we’re setting the team foundation, leading the team, and then serving on international teams because, obviously, the game is global for soccer and obviously, business and corporations are global as well.

Then our next one is achieve and you have learn teamwork, communicate with the team, and handle team conflicts. Then the last pillar motivate, you have chemistry, cultivating your team ethos and a winning mentality.

When I look at all these things, it’s really powerful when all those components come together and what the team can accomplish. I think when we talked earlier about the success of the US Women’s National team, all these components were on fire, all these components were working. There wasn’t something lacking in any of them when we were successful. I think that’s the difference in a good team dynamic and one that’s not as successful.

Pete Mockaitis
And in business environments, what would you say is something that is most frequently not working within that lineup?

John Gillis
I’ll jump in here and just highlight that Kristine mentioned that we’re not recreating the wheel, but at the same time, Pete, every business that I go to and I’ve been doing management consulting my whole career for decades. I go all over the globe looking and talking to companies and time and time again you see where there’s dysfunctions within the company.

Even though we recognize that teamwork and being effective in our teamwork will help provide a competitive advantage, each organization if you go to an individual at a company and say, “Hey, tell me about teamwork at this company,” most people will tell you a story in the negative. They’ll tell you what’s going wrong, why there isn’t effective teamwork.

Even though the question is “Tell me about teamwork at the company,” most people just have a negative experience with it. We’ve always known for years that teamwork can help a company succeed both as far as the teams working effectively, but how that contributes to the bottom line and making profitability, but yet, companies continue to struggle in that.

Through the 13 and really looking at assessing your company with some key questions at the end of every chapter, it’s saying let’s self-identify and self-assess where our team is strong, but where we have opportunities to improve so that we’re not one of those companies that’s saying when someone asks you, “Tell me about teamwork,” that we answer in the negative.

We want people to be able to go through the 13 teamwork tactics and be able to answer in the positive and say, “This is why our team is strong.”

Pete Mockaitis
Within those negative answers, what do you find most often? You mentioned you’ve got an assessment with the questions at the end of each chapter, so you can get to the particulars for your given organization. But what are the ones that you’re seeing most commonly folks are falling down on?

John Gillis
I’ll go first and then I’ll let Kristine jump in here in her experience. But I find that each company is unique and different, but yet if you have to highlight some of those, it really comes down to a breakdown in trust, a breakdown in role clarity and a breakdown in accountability.

We see team loafers that are there pulling down the other team members because their roles aren’t clear, they don’t have accountability for executing their work deliverable and so the overall trust among team members breaks down because of that role clarity and the accountability. Kristine?

Kristine Lilly
Yeah, it’s not ironic, but I think it’s similar on the sports side of it as well. Trust is a huge thing and knowing what your role is and accepting it and diving into it. Because a lot of times you may have a position on the field or in the office that you don’t agree with, but if you want to have your job and you want to help your group or your organization be successful, you’ve got to hunker down and do your job that it is and accept and go with it.

I think John was spot on with the business side of it, similar with the team side. Trust is a huge component for team members on our team. We had that throughout.

I think the other one I would add in there would be communication. Usually when I look at a game that we played and we haven’t been successful or we’re not being cohesive, we’re not finding the rhythm together, the field is really quiet. When we start talking and we’re communicating a little bit better, it changes the flow of the game. I think communication is a big part of it as well.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting correlation that you noticed in terms of actual experience that when things aren’t going well, it’s quiet.

Kristine Lilly
Yes.

Pete Mockaitis
And when things are going better, it’s not quiet with regard to speaking up. I can certainly see times where that happens.

John, I was intrigued by the interrelationship that you point out there in terms of when there’s a lack of role clarity and/or accountability, you’ve got some loafers, folks who aren’t doing much, and then trust is eroded in terms of I guess the other folks are taking a look at the loafers like, “What the heck? This isn’t fair.” It’s a real knot of unpleasantness. Tell me what are some of your top tips to facilitate some additional role clarity and accountability and trust?

John Gillis
Pete, you nailed it on the head. I think most people that are listening to this podcast would be nodding their head and saying, “Oh yes, I remember at this company or the company I’m at now or the company I was at a decade ago, I remember that team loafer and how it really did erode the trust.”

One of the things that we try to highlight in Powerhouse, it’s not just here’s the areas where teams might have issues, but how do we go about building trust. When you get to that section of the book, it’s looking at those steps as far as the benevolence, the openness, the honesty that’s going to help create trust.

As we talked about ahead of time, most of this book, if not all of it, it’s all evidence based. We researched trust. We researched accountability. We researched roles. We wanted to give people not only here’s issues that might come up, but here’s some research-backed approaches that you can use if your team is having a trust issue.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, I’d love to hear what are some of the most impactful practices or activities, things to do when you find yourself in those shoes?

Kristine Lilly
With our sports team, one of the biggest changes in our team was when we hired a skills coach. We had Dr. Colleen Hacker join our team and she changed our group in a sense where we found everything we needed within each other, but it was really finding that path to connect with everybody and accept everyone for who they are and know that everyone had a role. I think that really was a change for us.

We would practice different things, whether it was team-building exercises, where we had to do to the typical fall back and your teammates got to catch you. Every time you do that, you’re still wondering are they going to catch you. But you build that trust and you see that. That was a big change in our team and bringing out the trust of the group and really helping us connect.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s interesting. Kristine, you’re saying that you did on numerous occasion these trust fall exercises and that was genuinely helpful?

Kristine Lilly
It was. It totally was because you still wonder if someone’s going to catch you. You’ve got to trust in that. They were there always. Sometimes a little laughter or maybe they caught you a little late, but they still caught you.

There were different exercises that helped build that or different ways that someone could step up and lead in different activities we did that maybe they were quieter on the field, but then you came to this tactical game and they started to step it up so that gave them the confidence to be like, “Oh, I do have a voice and people will listen.”

John Gillis
Pete, I think it’s really critical here that Kristine gave a great example. Finding the right team building activities for your audience, not – a trust fall might be perfect for your audience or it might not be the right activity.

In the book we talk about business simulations and we talked about coaching. We walk through several activities that you can do for team building because you have to find the right one for your audience.

One other story that Kristine shared in the book that I think was critical is that different activities are going to allow different players or different team members an opportunity to shine. You’re giving different platforms for people to step up and take leadership roles.

Kristine had talked about specific activities where a team member that might have been quiet in one activity was able to shine in another. It really allows that trust building to come through different environments and scenarios.

Pete Mockaitis
Understood. Okay. We talked a little bit about some of the problems and interventions. I’d also like to get your take when it comes to the thing that makes the biggest difference in terms of boy, with this you see a whole lot of power in terms of teamwork and performance getting enhanced. I’d be curious to get each of your takes on is there one of the tactics that is perhaps the most impactful.

Kristine Lilly
I think when you look at building a team and becoming a powerhouse, I think if you don’t have all these, you’re not going to be as strong. But I do think if I look at one area that really helped us, I would say this is from ’91 to ’99 when we won two World Cups and then the first gold medal in the Olympics and then came in third in one game, our leadership was unbelievable.

When I look at a component of a team is you have to have good leadership from your top coaches down to the bottom. That’s really important to have that going for you. Carla Overbeck was one of our captains and the leadership that she provided along with Julie Foudy was incredible.

The one thing in the book that she has a quote in the book, she says, “Our whole team was based on servant leadership.” What I love about that is Carla was the first one – she was our captain and everyone respected her – she would be the first one to pick up the balls or pick up the cones or do the hard work when, in highlight, when you look at anything that some of those players would just walk by it.

We genuinely cared about each other and genuinely wanted to make each other better, so we served each other to help that happen. I think leadership role from top all the way down was just so important in that timeframe.

Pete Mockaitis
So you mentioned the servant leadership piece and going ahead and doing some of the grunt work, the not so glamorous stuff, picking up the cones and balls and such, could you share what are a couple of other things that come to mind that make that leadership incredible?

Kristine Lilly
Well, I think when I stepped on the field with these women, we all were similar mentality, had the same goal set. We wanted to be the best in the world. But obviously there were times when you weren’t at your top and you’re struggling or technically you’re not on and your head goes down.

The greatest example I can share with you about Carla and how well she led us and how balanced she was with how she spoke to us, was if your head was down, she wasn’t like yelling at you, “Let’s go.” She’s be like, “Kristine Lilly, we need you.” Immediately you’re like, “All right. They need me. Even if I’m crappy right now, they need me.”

Then on the other side is when you’re doing well and you’re tearing it up, Carla would be the first one like, “Lil, that’s the way to go.” You have a leader that knew how to help each individual player out there and get the best out of them at the highest moment and at the lowest moment. I think that’s why Carla was so amazing in that sense.

Julie Foudy was our other captain and she balanced that out with humor and passion. You have two people leading us in different ways, but getting the best out of us at the same time.

Pete Mockaitis
Can you give us some examples of the humor and passion that really made an impact for you in the leadership realm?

Kristine Lilly
Yeah. Well, Jules was our vocal leader. She always wanted the ball, so she was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah,” and half the time she had two players – three players on her, like, “Jules, I’m not giving you the ball.” That would make you laugh a lot.

But there was one play in the World Cup, in the ’99 World Cup when we won, where I headed the ball off to …, which we talk about in the book. After the play happens, I’m running out of our penalty box, we just cleared it, I’m running next to Jules and we look at each other and she’s like laughing and we’re both thinking in our heads “Did that really just happen?” We were just laughing at that moment.

I’m like, holy cow, we’re in the World Cup final. Overtime. We almost lost the game and we find a moment where we can laugh. That’s what was so great with Jules is the humor was always there to remind us this isn’t life or death. This is a soccer game. You’ve got to enjoy it.

Pete Mockaitis
I really like that notion of if you’re feeling lame and underperforming, to hear your name and we need you as opposed to any number of other things you can yell out, like, “Come on. Get it together. What’s wrong with you?”

Kristine Lilly
Exactly.

Pete Mockaitis
Dozens to choose from, but I cannot think of something that would be more kind of uplifting in terms of getting a quick refocus then hearing your name and we need you.

Kristine Lilly
Yeah, it was pretty powerful to be honest with you.

Pete Mockaitis
I dig that.

John Gillis
Pete, I know that you come from the business world like I do and how many times has someone come up beside you in the business world and said, “Hey, Pete, we need you.” It just doesn’t happen as much. Even though I can point to the times in my career where it has because they’re few and far between, but they mean so much to me when someone comes on and picks me up in the corporate setting.

Pete Mockaitis
Certainly and you feel valued in that midst. I think it’s …, rather than saying that, we’re just kind of ticked off that someone’s not doing what they’re supposed to do. Instead of thinking, “Oh, we need you,” it’s “Well, hey, who else can I shift this too who’s not going to let me down and make me angry?”

John Gillis
Exactly. That memory of teamwork where you have the social … that really impacted you.

Pete Mockaitis
I’d love it, so as you teach this stuff and you’re sharing the good word and helping the teams to perform all the better, what are some particular mistakes, some things that people struggle with when they’re trying to put it into practice?

Kristine Lilly
Well, I think if you look at sports teams, business is they talk about it and talk about it and they tend not to put it into action. If there’s a way that you’re supposed to handle conflict and your leadership kind of just brushes it under the rug and talks about “Oh, everything’s transparent,” and then brush it under the rug, you lose respect and you lose trust immediately.

I think being consistent with what your ideas are, your values are, what your per se rules are, and staying true to them. I think that’s any kind of team, a business, any organization, your family as well, letting know what all the rules of the house are or guidelines that we all go through.

But I think really putting everything into practice is really where I think people falter. On the sports field definitely I feel that. We just don’t execute each thing we have set out to do, but I think in the business world that can be one of the parts that people can struggle with. They do a lot of talk, but they don’t put in to action.

John Gillis
I think, Pete, one of the reasons that it’s not going into action is that most people if you talk to them, they’ll say, “Hey, I’m a good team member. It’s that other person that’s not a good team member.” We don’t realize our own blind spot. We’re not self-aware or we’re not team aware.

I think it really requires that trust and that openness and communication to say, “Hey, I need to acknowledge where I’m a strong team member and I need to acknowledge where I’m not so that I can work on that,” because no one on the team thinks that they are not an effective team member.

They might think that they are, but it’s being team aware of how you fit in to the team and how you can better impact the team in a positive way and then acknowledge and work on the areas where you might be pulling the team down.

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

John Gillis
One last thing that I would just highlight here is that Kristine mentioned that her number was 13 and there’s 13 chapters. She talked about the four pillars, transform empower, achieve and motivate. When we were structuring the book, it’s not that there’s one that’s more important than the other. All 13 really are critical.

You have the four pillars, and of course, the foundation that she talked about earlier, doing what is right. That’s a foundation for the other 12 chapters. Each one is critical and you can’t really ignore one and highlight the other because then you’re going to have a gap on your team.

Kristine Lilly
I think what I add to the process of writing this book with John when we were figuring out what all the chapters and who to talk to and obviously I was thinking of my teammates and once we figured out where we wanted to go with the people, once I started to reach out to them, they all were like, “Sure, when do you need me?”

It just reiterated why this book is so important because immediately I asked all these women that are super busy in their lives and they immediately were making time to do the interview to share their insight on the success of the US Women’s National team and just made it more prevalent how great that team was and how great the team continues to be because they do for others. I thought that was pretty cool.

Pete Mockaitis
That’s beautiful. Thank you. Well, now could you share with me a favorite quote? If one of you has one and the other one doesn’t, that’s totally fine for each of these fast faves. But yeah, what is something you find inspiring?

Kristine Lilly
A favorite quote of mine just in general?

Pete Mockaitis
Yup.

Kristine Lilly
I think one of the quotes that I always resort back to is an Emerson quote, “What lies before us and what lies after us are small compared to what lies within us.” I think when I look at my career and being part of the team, there’s always so much more you can give from yourself. If you look at the sports world, you spend your time like, “Oh, I can’t run anymore. I can’t do it,” but you can.

There’s always something more we can give to others and to our self to be better. That quote always resonates with me in life when I choose to do something and I’m feeling real rundown or a bit tired, I’m like, “No, I can do more.” That’s always for the bigger picture. It’s for others. It’s for your team. It’s for you to be better.

John Gillis
I love Kristine’s deep quote. I was just going to highlight that at the beginning of each chapter we pick a quote from one of those players that Kristine just mentioned and put it at the beginning of the chapter. But the introduction, the quote that we lead off with is “Wearing the same jersey does not make a team.”

I think so many times in the business world we say “Hey, this group of people, they’re a team because they all work for Company X,” or “They’re all in Department X,” or whatever reason we say, “You’re a team,” but yet, quite frankly, they have the same name across their jersey, the department or the company, but yet they don’t operate as a team.

Even though we put the team moniker on lots of groups of individuals, it’s really a team in name only. They’re not collaborating. They’re not building trust. They’re not having open communication. They don’t have clear goals and responsibilities.

We really need to – the word ‘team,’ that moniker, is thrown around quote a bit, when actually groups of individuals aren’t working together effectively as a team. I love that quote, “Wearing the same jersey does not make a team.”

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

John Gillis
Kristine, are you letting me take this one?

Kristine Lilly
No, I’m letting you take this one, John. You just busted on my sweet quote, my deep thoughts with Kristine Lilly here.

John Gillis
I love the deep thoughts of Kristine Lilly.

Kristine Lilly
I’m just kidding. I’m just kidding.

John Gillis
Pete, one of the great things here is the team that wrote this book, so you have Kristine at the beginning of her chapter sharing these wonderful soccer stories and you have Dr. Lynette Gillis that did a lot of academic research that plays into the book so that it’s evidence based. Then I provided the management consulting experience with numerous companies across all sorts of different industries.

The research is really throughout, but the one that I’m going to highlight for you on that question because we did every chapter there’s research, but yet the one I think that people might not think about as much is the network centrality and really saying that when you look at your team, you need to figure out where the center point is.

For a lot of teams that might be the leader. Kristine talked earlier about Julie Foudy and Carla, but on some teams it’s not necessarily the person at the top. That central part of a team could be the person where people go to for information, for guidance, for direction, for know-how, for knowledge, for historical comparisons, that they are the central part that the team members go to in order to get work done effectively.

Understanding who has influence on a team, especially if it’s not the formal leader, but yet that informal leader, I think that’s a critical aha moment that the research provided in this book to say when you look at your team, don’t just look at the leaders, but look at the informal leaders, those that are central that have influence among your team members.

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

John Gillis
Well, I can tell you, when we were writing this, there’s several authors that came to mind that we really admire and wanted to model after. Those, Sheryl Sandberg, with her book Lean in and Option B and of course her co-author there, Adam Grant that also wrote Give and Take. You look at Malcolm Gladwell and his evidence-based approach to look in at psychology and workplace culture.

A lot of those writers and authors are the ones that we really looked at it and tried to model some of this writing after. Obviously, that’s a high standard but we wanted to give that evidence … based approach similar to Jim Collins in Good to Great and give people a book that they could go to their business teams and their organizational teams and say, “Wow, this is not only entertaining, but I learned a lot and can apply to my business.

All those authors I just mentioned I feel like when I read their books, that’s what I felt. That hey, it was entertaining and I know that I can go and apply this immediately. I can pick up the book at the airport, read it on the airplane and when I get to the worksite, I can immediately apply it because it was not only entertaining, it was immediately practical and applicable. Kristine.

Pete Mockaitis
Okay, how about a favorite tool, something that helps you be awesome at your job?

Kristine Lilly
Favorite tool, awesome at my job. I don’t know. I think for me – obviously my career playing my tools were my feet. They keep me going on the field. I think now we have a company with Mia Hamm and Tish Venturini called TeamFirst Soccer Academy. We travel around the country teaching kids about the game, but also about the passion and love that we shared for it and how to be a good teammate and obviously, how to work together as a team.

I think for me, my tool is just communication for me within my co-founders, also friends and then the staff we bring along with us to be able to communicate with them to get the best of them for the day on the field with the kids or whatever it may be and to make sure there’s fun involved because the reason why we played sports or play sports is because it is fun.

When you get into the world where now you’re trying to make money and run a business, I think there still needs an element of enjoying what you do. I think if I look back at my coaches that I had in the National team from Anson Dorrance, one of the first coaches of the US team and then Tony DiCicco took after him. He passed away almost a few years ago now.

He used to come to the field – Tony would come out to the field and he used to stand in the middle of the field, put his hands up in the air and he would just say, “I love my job.” We’d be like, “Yeah, yeah, Tony. We know. We know you love your job.” But it kind of – it stayed with me and a lot of the players that one thing we remember about Tony was him saying that.

But the fact was he really did love his job and we could tell he loved his job because how he taught us, how he communicated with us, how he was passionate about everything from the field stuff to caring about us. I think that’s a pretty powerful thing when you love something and if you can be passionate and spread that love and be contagious, that’s a great tool to have in your pocket.

Pete Mockaitis
How about a favorite habit?

Kristine Lilly
John, do you got any favorite habits? I had a whole routine for my game.

John Gillis
Kristine’s habits are fantastic.

I think the habit is knowing where your strengths are and where someone else’s strengths are so that you can leverage your strengths for effective teamwork. In this case, I was more the cheerleader for the girls and the email guy to organize the parents, knowing that Kristine and her coaching would give them all the soccer tactics that any five-, six-, seven-year-old girl would need to know at that level.

The habit for me for effective teamwork is knowing your strengths and capitalizing those, but also recognizing where your team member has more strengths than you so that effectively the team as a whole is stronger.

Pete Mockaitis
Is there a particular nugget that you share in the book that really seems to connect and resonate with audiences and you hear it quoted back to you frequently?

Kristine Lilly
Well, I don’t know if there’s just one nugget. I think for myself when I worked on this with John and read it over again, I think obviously the one thing that comes over and over in our minds is the word ‘team.’ I know that’s what it’s about, but even with our four pillars – transform, empower, achieve, and motivate – are all from the word team.

What I’ve learned throughout my career and pretty much in life and everything, you can’t do anything alone. You need people. People need people, but people also want people. People want to be a part of a team. They want to be a part of a group and feel like they’re valued.

I think the team concept is so powerful that individually, you just can’t necessarily do all that you want sometimes. I think the team is great. I would say the word ‘team’ is pretty much used a lot in this book and one that resonates with everybody and really resonates with me because I was part of such a wonderful team.

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

Kristine Lilly
For me, you can go to KristineLilly13.com to reach out to me. Also, go to Amazon to preorder the book, which will come out May 7th, but is available to preorder now. John can share his contact info.

John Gillis
JohnGillisJr.com. Kristine’s speaking, we have training workshops and just thrilled for everyone to join this Powerhouse training with us.

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

Kristine Lilly
Well, I think first off, recognizing what your part of your organization and what you’re trying to accomplish as a team is the first step. I think once you have that and you can embrace your teammates and find the strength within each other and the familiarities and the common mindset, then you can do great things.

I think back to why the teams were successful when we did win championships. It was a group of women coming together that were likeminded, strong, competitive, feisty, wanted to tear people apart on their way to success, but, in the same sense, doing it together, working your role and figuring out what you need to do to help the whole unit be successful.

When that happens, you’re in the zone. It goes back to the sport’s thing going, people in the zone, they don’t hear anything, they’re confident, and they’re going to make whatever shot they’re going to do right now happen.

John Gillis
I would say from my charge, we can all reflect back on our careers and know the successful teams that we were on and then the groups of individuals that were teams in name only.

Yet, when we were naming this book, we didn’t have Powerhouse when we started writing the book, but then someone said, “You need to name this book Powerhouse because the definition is a team having great energy, strength and potential for success.”

When you look back and say in your career where was the powerhouse that I was on, the team with energy, strength, and potential for success, and what can I do in today’s team to help us be a powerhouse.

Pete Mockaitis
Well, Kristine, John, this has been a lot of fun. Thanks so much for sharing the good word. I wish you much luck with your coaching and teaching and book and all the fun you’re up to.

Kristine Lilly
Thank you, Pete, for having us. We appreciate it.

John Gillis
We really do. Thanks for it. It’s awesome.

Pete Mockaitis
Cool, well that is the recording. Good deal, thanks a lot.

Kristine Lilly
Thank you so much. That was great. We appreciate it.

434: Building People and Killing Policies with Guy Pierce Bell

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

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

You’ll Learn:

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

About Guy

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

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

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

Items Mentioned in this Show:

Guy Bell Interview Transcript

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

Guy Bell  
Thanks for inviting me, Pete.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pete Mockaitis  
Cool. And how about a favorite book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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