Podcast: Return to Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone

gothamCulture podcast

As COVID vaccines become increasingly available, the work world is beginning to think about the future. Most of that thinking revolves around questions rather than definitive answers at this point. What will work look like in the coming months? When might I need to go back to an office? What expectations will my employer have of me? What flexibility might exist?

In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, Chris Cancialosi discusses these questions and tips for navigating the associated anxiety with guests Tracy Nathanson, LCSW, a licensed psychotherapist specializing in the treatment of anxiety, depression, relationship issues, life transitions, low self-esteem, career challenges, and stress management, Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, a Licensed Clinical Psychologist who works at Columbia University’s counseling center and maintains a private practice in NYC, and Dr. Michael J. Provitera, an executive leadership trainer and Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior at Barry University in Florida.

Released: April 2, 2021

Return to Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to season 2 of the gothamCulture podcast. This season, we’ll be exploring a variety of interesting topics. But there’s one topic that seems to be top of mind for many folks nowadays, and that is the return to work. As COVID vaccines are making their way into arms, and as employers attempt to figure out what work looks like in the months to come, many people are feeling anxious about what that means for them. Now that they’ve completely adapted their lives for remote work, what if I can’t go back to the office full time? What if I don’t want to? Will my career growth be stymied as my colleagues who do go back to the office secure all the promotional opportunities? These are all legitimate questions, and many employers simply don’t have the answers at the moment. So now what?

Today I’m joined by three very special guests who are going to share their perspective on this important topic. Tracy Nathanson is a licensed psychotherapist specializing in depression, anxiety, relationship issues and stress management. She provides fresh ways to engage and talk therapy by taking your clients out of the office and getting them into fresh air, providing psychotherapy with the known health benefits and wellness benefits of being in the great outdoors, and Tracy is the founder of Pace of Mind Therapy.

Also, joining us today is Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa, he is a licensed clinical psychologist from New York City who works at Columbia University’s Counseling Center and maintains a private practice in the city as well. He also serves as a consultant to businesses and organizations looking to strengthen diversity initiatives and working to improve mental health and well being of their employees. Finally, Dr. Michael Provitera, he’s an executive leadership trainer. He is also president of Motivational Leadership Training, where his focus is on improving organizational effectiveness and enhancing individual success.

During his career, he’s worked with over 1000 executives, and his executive leadership certification runs 18 hours and covers six factors of leadership. Thank you all for joining us. Tracy, why don’t we start with you? Tell me from your perspective, I mean, what is at the root of a lot of the anxiety that’s floating around for people in terms of what return to work might look like?

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Well, first of all, I think it’s helpful to go and look at what the past year has been like for everyone. Everyone has had different experiences around COVID and quarantining. As we know, maybe 30 to 40% of adults in our country have experienced stress, anxiety, depression. So we’re starting with that baseline. People, in addition, this past year have had to adjust their schedules, their routines, there’s been a lot of unknowns, and they’re kind of been getting used to that and trying to have as much control of the routines and schedules as possible.

Now we’re throwing into this a return to work and a new transition, what is that going to look like for them? I’m hearing a lot of people feeling anxious about vaccine, no vaccine, what is the workplace going to require? Am I going to have agency and power to decide? Or is that going to be decided for me? So that alone is creating a lot of stress right now for people, what is that going to look like?

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Thanks, Tracy. Ernesto, from your perspective, what do you have to add to that? Because I imagine that everyone’s unique, I mean, there’s a lot of different situations and people are grappling with this in different ways.

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think as Tracy was saying, there is the sense of a collective trauma we all have experienced as a result of this pandemic, and we’re still experiencing, and things may be getting back to normal. But there is a lot of this anxiety and fear of what this normal is going to look like or new normal. Again, anxiety is just something that is an emotion that we all experience, and it’s a normal response to something that is a trauma. So, a lot of the things that I’m also seeing with clients or talking to people is about what will this look like in terms of just workplace setting, in terms of physical safety? If people still have to social distance, they have to wear masks. Is the vaccine going to be required or not?

I think a lot of these fears and anxieties can really have an impact on our physical health as well, and a lot of people may be coming back to work physically but may not feel grounded or centered. Because they may be worried about what is going to happen in the workplace, what kind of policies are going to be put in place, and if it’s going to be a uniform or universal policy. So there is a lot of fear and anxiety still, but also particularly for those people that maybe did contract COVID-19, and we still don’t know a lot of the effects of what this can have on people’s physical well-being and also emotional well-being.

So, what is that going to look like for people that maybe have contracted the virus and are experiencing some residual effects? If someone does get COVID-19 while they’re back at work, what does that mean for the rest of the people that are in place with their coworkers? So there is a lot of this anxiety that is normal. However, it does look differently for everyone and can have physical effects, physiological effects, and also impacts our mental health well-being.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah, thank you for your perspective on that. Mike, you take this from a little bit of a different angle professionally as somebody who works with leaders and executives, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

That’s an excellent question. We’re looking at people that are apprehensive about going back to work, while they were always worried about how they’re going to even keep their jobs. That was the first … the first objective was, “Can I keep my job?” So they all rushed to the computer and learned how to use Zoom and became on camera shy like this, and then what happened was, everybody started to realize that they weren’t going to lose that job, and this remote setting’s not bad. Then we invented the hallway highway. So within 15 minutes, you could be showered and sitting in front of a screen like this.

Then people started to say this isn’t so bad, people are still worried about their job stuff. Many corporations and organizations are not making any drastic moves right now, they’re putting their arms around people, telling them that they love them, and that they’re not talking about letting go people even though before the pre pandemic, there was people on the chopping block, but it’s kind of reverse now. So, some people are actually having work that they’re going to continue staying home. They just say, “Your job is a remote type job.” So when people get back to the office, how are they going to feel? And that’s where the anxiety comes from, which is what we’re talking about now, people are saying, “Am I going to be able to go back to Manhattan? Is there going to be internet?”

Then when I say … for people say like on college campuses, you have to make this a unique approach where people want to go back, they feel they’re going to have beach volleyball, they’re going to be able to rub elbows with others. That’s the thing, because this thing that we’re doing right now, this electronic communication has been enhanced, because people were isolated. So we feel more intended to want to be online right now and talk. So we want to rub elbows, but we’re rubbing elbows electronically. We like it, it works, but we really want to be in front of somebody again, and in the near future we will be.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. What I’m hearing from you all is that there are so many compounding stressors, and that it’s a chronic situation. Right? It’s not a stressor that happened in one point in time, it’s gone for a year. Ernesto, you brought this up, which I think is really interesting. It’s a collective trauma. Everyone has a frame of reference about this topic, and there’s very few things in life where everyone has a frame of reference, or a similar experience, although each person’s experience is unique. We’ve all gone through this in some form or fashion.

So, knowing that there are people in various phases of trying to move through this process in trauma, and in terms of their work life, which inevitably impacts their home life, what should people be thinking about or doing in order to help manage that anxiety? Mike, why don’t we start with you on this one?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Thank you. Yes, that’s really a great question, because our whole mindset changed. In other words, for me to drive 40 minutes to the beach, all of a sudden now, do I really want to go? Do I want to spend the gas? Do I want to pay the tolls? I go out, I come back, we become accustomed to our lifestyle. The key is, a lot of us couldn’t go to gyms. I have an executive that built a gym in his garage, and I helped him. I work out at home. I can’t go to the gym, I have to make an appointment. So we have to get up, we have to walk around. It’s the intention that drives us.

So you have to say, “I intend to exercise today.” Not I’m going to exercise because you’ll find every ice cream in the refrigerator and every cookie in the cupboard. So you just say, “I intend to work out today.” And you just do it, just get up and go. It’s like the Asian mentality, is that, we intend to do something? We do it. So people are trying to break out of this new normal, which you can’t really say that anymore because it’s almost over. I’m writing about post pandemic recovery. We’re almost there. If you look at, like say a milestone, look at the cruise lines. If the cruise line jumps in June, we’re pretty much almost back to normal. If it doesn’t, then we’re still back into the remote thinking of when is it [inaudible 00:10:14] So, Disney opened. Now, is Disney going to open the cruise line?

So, these things that we’re thinking about, people taking off masks, masks not being mandatory. All of these things are psychologically making us change. So that physical ability that everyone’s talking about here, and being able to exercise and exercise our mind, think about mindfulness, meditate, we can’t stop doing what we always did just because of a pandemic, we have to reinvent ourselves and find new ways, novel ways of approaching life. I don’t want to promote myself, but I’ll just say, “I wrote a book with my daughters because it was about the pandemic, because they were feeling so much stress. That book has help them deal with their own stress.” Thanks for giving me the opportunity to go first on that one. That’s a tough one.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, I mean, these are really complex issues, and everyone’s got their own unique reality and experience here. I know that the question I’m asking is very broad. Ernesto, from your perspective, what should people be thinking about, and how might they help manage this anxiety that they might be feeling?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think a really wonderful question and important topic to consider. One of the pieces that I tend to think about when talking to people that are having these anxieties and worries is, increasing the awareness around just what anxiety is, and how it can manifest differently for everyone, knowing more about how it comes up for you, and also finding some practical skills to be able to manage the anxiety, whether it be mindfulness skills, like Mike had mentioned, but also rebuilding these new cognitive connections to work, having time to reflect on what has changed in the last year, getting organized, creating to do lists when you’re out work, to be able to help you stay organized as on track, setting up priorities, setting up different weekly goals.

But I think there needs to be a sense of reflecting on what has happened and what has changed, and also just looking at how we can come back and ease our way into the workforce, into the workplace, and also keeping it in mind, being mindful of our anxiety and how it’s manifesting within each of us so that we can find things that can help us reduce that anxiety or the intensity of it.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Tracy, I want to get your input on this, but something you said, Ernesto struck me, question for all of you to consider is, is it appropriate for people to position this reality as “back to normal,” or is it healthier, perhaps for us to acknowledge that what was in the past will no longer be necessarily and to begin to framing our mental process around the possibility of the new? So Tracy, I know I’m hitting you with two questions here, but I’d love your perspective on that.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Well, thank you, I think that’s a really good active reframe. Return to a new normal, this is going to be different, just like working during the pandemic was different. This is going to be a transition, it’s not going to happen overnight. Each workplace is going to be very different, some may be hybrid, some may be remote, some may require you to go in full time. So each one is going to be very different. I think healthy communication in the workplace is going to be incredibly and being transparent, and normalizing this level of anxiety and stress that everyone may be feeling. So that it’s okay if you’re not feeling well, talk to your boss, talk to your supervisor, to really be transparent and know that it is okay and that everyone’s going to be experiencing that at a different level.

Because I think that’s going to look different than before, and that type of communication of what’s going to work in the workplace. So I think that is going to be incredibly important. And as Ernesto said also, there are going to be people that have had COVID, we’re seeing some research now that may be one in every three people may have long lasting neurological or psychological effects that may be invisible, we may not see. So they may be going back to work, and then those who haven’t had COVID may have had a family loss, so they may be mourning or grieving. They may have experienced job uncertainty, they may have been isolated, feeling really lonely.

So there are going to be many kind of stresses and experiences that they have had that may be invisible, so to speak, that they are going to be bringing into the workplace, and we really do want to normalize that experience for them and really create an opportunity in this new workplace, I mean, environment for people to be able to talk about it, share these concerns with each other, with their supervisors, and feel okay with that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thank you for that perspective. What’s striking me as I’m listening to the three of you is, there are things that people can do in terms of reframing, in terms of actual tactics that they can use to help kind of, in my words, not yours, take some control of the situation. I’m curious, from your perspective, at what point should someone say, “Jeez, I’m really not dealing with this in a healthy way, I really need to go out and get some external support.” What are the warning signs that someone should really be tuned to? Ernesto, why don’t we ask you to kick this one off?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah. Some of the warning signs could be just looking at our sleep and appetite. Those are usually some of the places that we begin to see some changes in our well being when we’re under a lot of stress or anxiety or not feeling well. Additionally, there’s also the sense of looking at how you’re feeling in terms of, are you feeling happy? Are you feeling anxious? Are you doing things you enjoy doing? Are you losing interest and motivation? When you begin to notice maybe a decline in some of these things that did bring you happiness, pleasure, or excitement, and they’re not there anymore, and you’re spending a lot more time just worrying, thinking about things that have happened, I think those could be considered warning signs that maybe it could be helpful to talk with a professional or seek outside support.

That could also come in the way of just making sure you’re talking to people in your life, friends and family. Social support is really important. I think perceived social support is particularly important, that we may receive support, but if we don’t perceive it as helpful, then it’s not really support. So I think in some ways, making sure that we’re reaching out to people, when we’re noticing that we’re just not feeling ourselves. Again, that could be more of these day to day things like sleep and appetite. Just kind of, if our minds are preoccupied, and not being able to stay in the present moment, or just a reduction in our happiness, in our mood, can be some warning signs.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Thank you for that, Ernesto. Mike, again, from your perspective, you come at this from a little bit of a different lens, working with executives, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, there’s one way to think about this from my perspective, and that is, following what Tracy and Ernesto are mentioning, it’s like an emotional intelligence. So, people have to be self aware, and then there’s the psychological component, what’s their attitude? What’s their moods like? Are they staying up late? Are they sleeping less, because of this pandemic, watching movie? Whatever it is, entertainment, what are their beliefs and underlying beliefs of the recovery. You had mentioned about the new normal, there really is no new normal, it’s the future, it’s whatever happens.

Organizations maybe little bouncing balls and couches, and people may only go to the office in teams, and they may stay home, and they’re taking desks out of offices now, they’re changing real estate. Then there’s that self-regulation component. We talked about the psychological and then the physical components of the exercise, people are becoming more sedentary, or some people are getting into a regimen of exercise. Those things are very important. I do certain things every day, it’s like a COVID habit. But if I was going to challenge myself, they are not much. Running around the block is nothing, but my brother in law could run 12 miles in one time. Right? So everyone’s going to look at the world differently.

Then there’s that regulation, looking at how are you regulating yourself, are you exercising? Are you eating well? Then we have empathy, right? So once we get through emotional times, once we control our own empathy, then we could look at how we’re controlling our own emotional intelligence. Then that social skills comes into play. Being in this kind of environment, we’re at level playing fields. I have all the respect in the world for you, Chris, Tracy, and Ernesto, but think about if we’re in a meeting of 250, and the CEO has a little box just like I do. I respect him. I have respect for authority figures, but when I get to talk, I may be on the screen just like he is. Or she is.

So, we have this whole new way of thinking. This way of trying to break away from our own internal thoughts that are holding us back, what are we oppressing ourselves with? I have friends that say, “Well, you have your two daughters, I’m alone.” There’s other people that are saying, “I’m alone with somebody, I don’t want to be alone with.” Or there’s somebody who would say, “It’s hard for me to meet people. I just turned 21, and I can go out to the bars but there’s no bars to go to.” It’s just relaxing with yourself and understanding that this is a time for you to reflect, improve whatever you want to work on, and then channeling that energy into writing or taking up a guitar or whatever you wanted to do, art, channeling those energies into things that are productive.

So when the pandemic is over, you’ll come out with new muscles and new ways of thinking, and you could now look at the world in a new perspective, looking at what did you do during the pandemic, did you create anything? Well, this is what I created. I was talking a little bit about people taking a year off before going to graduate school. Well, then what are you doing? Are you volunteering? Are you helping others so that … that empathy to help. Coming from Tracy and Ernesto, and they’re in the business of helping, and you’re helping right now by running this podcast.

So, imagine the people that we help that help others and the trickling down effect, you try to help those above you, help those below you, and then hope that people want help. Because some people do not want help. Ask an 18 year old, if they want help, they’re going to say no, but when they come to you, you better roll up your sleeves and help. Thanks, thanks for giving me the chance [crosstalk 00:21:14]

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thank you for that perspective, I can say that, personally, I tried to make the most of my COVID experience, but I’m a really fortunate person that’d be privileged to live in an area where I’m not in a very densely populated area, I can go outside, but I did master the art of smoking a barbecue brisket over COVID. So I feel like I put that time to good use. Tracy, from your perspective, you’re working with clients all the time, and undoubtedly, COVID is a part of your work, because it’s such a part of everyone’s experience. What point should somebody really be saying, “Hey, I think I really need to reach out for some professional support here?”

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

That’s a really good question. Are we talking about that in terms of working, what the work life looks like, and trying to balance it and feeling that stress? Or the anticipation of going into the office? Or just in general? When you ask that question, I’m curious.

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s a really good follow up question. When I had asked it, I was originally thinking in general, kind of what are the signs that someone could say, “Hey, I really need to think about this.” But if there’s a different way to approach that, I’m certainly open.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Well, so there are people and individuals who have been living alone, working remotely, feeling incredibly isolated. This has been a very challenging time for them. So when I work with them, we really do talk, as Ernesto spoke about assessing the quality of life. They’re eating, they’re sleeping, ruminating thoughts, what they’re thinking about, are they able to reach out to friends and family and talk to them, because that is very, very important. I keep going back to isolation and feeling lonely, because there are young adults who live alone, and then there are plenty that are living with their families too, and that is very stressful.

So this has been a very interesting time for us. But I think for those, as Ernesto had spoken about before, if they’re really seeing a change in their eating, and they’re sleeping, and enjoying pleasurable activities, they’re ruminating a lot, they’re really worrying, then that’s time, you talk to a professional to reach out to a family member or a friend, to share your concerns, to feel validated, to feel that you’re not alone, because it really isn’t a singular experience, it’s really is a collective trauma. It’s a collective loss, we have all experienced some type of loss, loss of our freedom, loss of our routines, of our schedules, of predictability.

I think moving forward in transitions, people can be very vulnerable. I think we’re going to still be grappling with that transition and what that looks like in terms of that predictability and not knowing for a while, that’s going to be very, very challenging for many people.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that perspective. We’re going to take a quick break right now, when we come back, we’re going to flip the script a little bit. We’ve been focused on employees experience and people in general, I’d like to flip the script when we come back and talk about employers, and how our employers, number one, working through this, and number two, how can employers think about supporting and proactively supporting their employees through this transition? So we’ll be right back.

This episode of the gothamCulture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post production support organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at www.blueskypodcasting.com.

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome back everybody, this is Chris Cancialosi, and I’m joined today by three fantastic panelists, Tracy Nathanson, Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa and Dr. Michael Provitera, we’ve been talking about the anxiety and the collective trauma that people have been going through over the last year with this COVID pandemic. As we’re getting shots in arms and people are beginning to look forward to what the future may hold, there is some level of anxiety beginning to creep into people’s realities around, what does work look like in the future? And what is my life going to be like, now that I’ve completely up ended my existence and recalibrated to the pandemic reality?

So, what I’d like to do at this point everyone is, flip the script just a bit and talk about employers and organizations, because employers are not immune to this reality. They are at some point in their journey, trying to figure out what will the future hold for work? Are they going to go back to an office full time? Are they going to … as some organizations are doing just say, “Hey, we are fully remote from here on out?” Or is there something in between?

All of these decisions or lack of decisions impact the people that work in their organizations, which can obviously lead to anxiety and stress. So, from an organizational perspective, I’m curious to hear your thoughts on what should employers be mindful of as they are, A, developing their plans, and B, communicating and interacting with their workforces? Ernesto, why don’t we start with you?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

I think in terms of the employer side, it is a difficult challenge right now to think about what we’re going to be expecting or anticipating. But it can be helpful to just consider the effects that the pandemic has had on all of us and their employees. So thinking about the individual worker circumstances as they come back, thinking about flexibility in terms of schedules, in terms of mental health benefits, or other access to health services, even childcare services, just because we’re all returning back to work, does not mean that other things are open, like schools, hopefully they do stay open.

But I think considering individual needs for their employees, and making sure that their employees are feeling supported, that the employees also know what are the policies, who can they go to if the policy maybe does not apply uniformly to all of them? I think individual supervisors can be very helpful in this regard, in being go to individuals, of understanding policy and being able to advocate for their employees as well. But I think in some ways, it’s just making sure that employers are considering how best to support their employees and thinking about not only the productivity with work, but also the well-being of their employees that are back in the office.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thank you for that. Tracy, from your perspective, what are your thoughts on that, and what can employers be doing, or what should they be thinking about?

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I was also thinking about what that workday schedule is going to look like, and how important it will be to be able to take mental health breaks, to walk around a little bit, get outside, get some water, because adjusting to that work environment, again, in those hours, when had more flexibility working from home or remote locations, that may be very emotionally and physically exhausting. I think that’s going to be important to discuss that in the workplace and what that break is going to look like to be able to-

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, so giving people the space and kind of permission to readapt because now going back to an office is abnormal for people in their life experience

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Exactly, and we haven’t even talked about the commuting and what that transportation looks like, whether they’re taking public transportation, and the stress that goes with that and being around other people, or if you’re driving and again commuting. So that’s a whole other level, putting that into your day, and what is that going to look like? [crosstalk 00:30:09]

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah, and I certainly want to circle back on that. Mike, I want to hear your perspective on this before we jump to that, though. So, what should employers be keeping top of mind as they’re trying to figure this out?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, executives in the C suite, they changed, they’re actually more authentic now. It used be, they start a meeting and everybody has their information, and they just thought, “Boom, here’s the meeting.” Now, they open up the meeting and say, “How is everybody doing? Are you feeling okay?” They hear dogs in the background, they hear people. When the pandemic first came, I was cooking, I showed a video, so they came into my kitchen, right? So, people are actually seeing things happening that they never had before. The corporations and the executives are accepting that, and they really care.

So, you’re looking at building better relationships with your bosses, with your colleagues, even though we’re remote. And how this is going to be in the future is what we’re thinking about, modeling this new communication, we may still have Zoom, we may still have work, we may have reduced work weeks, we may have people not going back like I mentioned, but they may want to go back and there’s people that do not want to go back, but they have to go back. So, we’re looking at this, treating each person the way they would like to be treated. So the golden rule is, I treat people the way I want to be treated. Well now, I think it was Tony Alexander, some pop psychologist said, “Treat people the way they want to be treated, the way they want to be treated is the Platinum Rule.”

Get into the flow, get in sync with people, find out where they are, and what they’re doing. I mean, people very rarely care. Now they have to, they have to care. Some people are working from home but their children are home, so they have to cook meals and be there with their children, but still work. So now they’re developing this new work style, where they’re opening up this emotional contact with people as, if you need help, if you want us to adjust something … we used to talk about the four day week, now we’re talking about the two day week, the no day week. Right? Then people that are home, it’s so funny, organization to seeing people work 12-hour days, you get up at nine o’clock, you might be working till 9:00 PM, maybe you took a four hour lunch, and organizations are accepting all of this.

This is the interesting point that we’re looking at going into the future, organizations are accepting you as you are, not as they would want you to be. That’s that flow, and security. As Tracy mentioned, security is so important. If I know I’m going to keep my job, I’m going to work 10 times harder, if I feel that I might lose my job, I may work 20 times harder, because I don’t want to lose it. But that’s the stress Dr. Ernesto is talking about, that Tracy is talking about. We’re feeling so much pressure on our back. We need to have convertible cause, put the convertible back and let all the monkeys fly off our back.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for that. So what I’m hearing from all of you is, it sounds like there is no one size fits all solution for employers, we as employers need to be taking into account individual needs and differences, which sounds like a great leadership challenge for direct supervisors, as opposed to a CEO trying to make a sheep dip solution for everyone-

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

Can I interject a second?

Chris Cancialosi:

Please do.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I was just going to ask a question about the boundaries and the roles that have been blurred during this time, and how do we reestablish that. If you see me and I’m working, and I’ve got the dog in the background, and this, how do we go back to the workplace now? People got to know us better, boundaries have been blurred, how do we reestablish that or we don’t or there’s a new kind of normal? I’m just curious about that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, perspectives?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, I would say that, you have to develop a high self esteem. I hate to look at movies, but I do it all the time. Look at the Godfather. When the cat came across, Marlon Brando grabbed him and went like this, “Everybody got the cat was part of the scene, but it wasn’t.” All of a sudden a dog comes by, we pick up a dog. “Hey, meet Buddy.” So we have to have a higher self esteem, feel good about ourselves on the screen. The way we look, the way we feel, the way we communicate. This is all changed now.

Before pre pandemic, I wouldn’t want to go on the screen. I don’t know, now you have to. So, what Tracy’s talking about is, we’re accepting people, we’re getting to know people more. There’s positive things that are coming out of this pandemic, really positive. People are saying, “I love you.” I could say, “Chris, I love you for doing this.” There’s nothing wrong with that. Pre pandemic, people might say, “We shouldn’t be talking about love at work.” That’s an interesting perspective that we’re taking here.

Chris Cancialosi:

It sounds like everyone’s going to need to do a little learning and a little realignment, because everything has been shaken up. Ernesto, what are your thoughts on that?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yes, I do definitely think about all the distractions that we all may have and have maybe adapted to, and how they may feel strange. I’ve gone back into an office, just to work and it just feels so different, even though I’m not with anyone, just myself. Just getting up and doing the routine that I was used to doing feels so different and strange, and that’s going to take some adjustment in terms of that piece, but also the boundaries.

Something else that was coming to mind about employers and organizations is considering, again, the pandemic, but also what has happened in the last year, and how there’s a lot of health disparities and the pandemic has shed some light into health disparities for Black and Brown individuals, and also for people in the LGBTQ community, how they have been disproportionately impacted by either job loss, coming sick with COVID, or maybe working in jobs where they’re considered essential workers.

I think that’s something that is important to consider for employers, especially as they bring back employees of diverse identities, and one, making sure that they are accounting for how these disparities and these impacts in the pandemic may also be impacting their employees, what are the messages being conveyed about the well being of employees that maybe are of color, or are part of the LGBTQ community, making sure that they are also being considered and that it may be different for some of these individuals, the stress may be higher for some of these communities.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for bringing that up, and that really leads to my next question around inclusion and equity. Everyone’s coming from a different background. Some people are already historically before COVID, dealing with stressors based on their personal situation that others are not dealing with, COVID only adds on top of that, stacks on that, from my perspective. I’m curious, how can employers be intentional about not only understanding that and acknowledging it, but really being able to proactively address some of that. I mean, there’s so many individuals situations. As an employer, what do we do? Ernesto, why don’t you kick us off since you brought that up?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, no problem. I think in some ways, it comes down to the organizational culture, and looking at just, what does diversity look like in the workplace in terms of people that are in managerial positions, supervisor positions? And seeing if there are opportunities for people that are not part of the majority to make it more diverse, additionally, making sure that there are benefits that are extended to individuals that may have different health care needs, and making sure that these are in insurance benefits, things like that.

I think there also could be some more emphasis on providing more workshops or presentations or other resources for individuals in the company to know more about, what are some of the unique stressors that some of these communities may be experiencing and how it translates into their identity at work, there is a professional identity and also personal identity. One of the unique things about, I think, stress is, there is a minority stress theory that just states that, “On top of everyday general stressors, people with minority identity experience additional and unique stressors to their minority identities.” So in some ways, it’s like a double whammy.

So just being aware that sometimes these things are different for individuals that are having minority identity can be useful for employers, and just thinking about how does that actually translate into our organizational culture? How are employees impacted similarly, but also differently, and what can we do to make sure we’re meeting their needs as well?

Chris Cancialosi:


Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I think we want to destigmatize … I’m sorry. I think we want to destigmatize mental health and getting those resources and that access as well for that.

Chris Cancialosi:

It feels like if there was ever a time for employers to be intentional and be thoughtful of the differences that people are bringing to the workplace with them, it feels like now is that time, with all of the social awareness and work going on in our communities over the last couple of years, on top of it COVID. Mike, you alluded to this earlier, it feels like the general culture in the United States, and it’s a huge sweeping overgeneralization is one of trying to be intentional and learn about the differences that people are bringing into work, and I’m sure some will be better positioned to actually serve as allies to their employees than others. But Mike, what’s your perspective on that?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, I think it was Al Pacino that said in Any Given Sunday, “If we can’t work together as a team, we fail as individuals.” What organizations are doing for people of all different types of walks of life and making sure that they’re promoting them, that they’re accepting them, that they’re acknowledging them, we never want to disparage any kind of benefit or anything. So, whenever I talk to somebody, I’m always saying, “Your husband or your wife, or your significant other, or your partner, you throw them all in.” Because if I’m sitting somewhere and someone says something like that, I don’t want to get offended, and I don’t want to offend anyone.

So the executives in the world have been very careful of what they say, and they’re being very careful with what they do. So, they’re joining Big Brothers, and they’re going out to the community. Each one of us, every executive, every business manager, every business woman, everyone is trying their best to make sure and ensure that they’re giving back to the community in some way. We try to tell people not to carry any excess pressure on your back. There’s a story about a frog and a scorpion that came to the river at the same time, the scorpion said to the frog, “Listen, I see you’re about to cross the river, can I jump on your back and you deposit me on the other side?” The frog said, “No, you’re going to sting me.” Then scorpion says, “No, if I sting you, then I’ll drown, and you’ll drown, and I’ll die.”

So according to the story, the frog says, “Jump on.” They hop on, halfway across the pond that, the frog gets stung. He turns to the scorpion and says, “Wait a minute, why would you do this? Why would you sting me and die, we’re both going to drown and die.” After they came back the third time, scorpion says, “Because I’m a scorpion, and it’s my nature to sting frogs and kill them.” We have to get rid of anybody that’s negative in the workplace. It’s like a cancer. If somebody is a scorpion in the workplace, we have to not tolerate that behavior. Organizations and executives are now saying, “We’re not tolerating that.”

So we need to accept all diversity, accept everyone where they are, where they’re coming from, whatever zip code, whatever type of nationality, no more stigmatized ways of thinking, we have to eliminate that. That’s where the organizations are going in the future. The ones that are not, are going to fall short, and they’re going to lose people. I write about the no jerk policy. A lot of organizations say, “If you’re a jerk, we don’t want you anymore.” When did they ever say that? Well, they’re saying it now. So they hire people and they have a no jerk policy. Then if they find you’re a jerk, they get rid of you. They can literally say, “You failed, I know jerk policy, you’re a jerk, you’re gone.”

Chris Cancialosi:

That’s one approach. On this topic, what comes to mind for me is, wow, this is really going to be a challenge for employers, because, A, many of them are not used to thinking about individual needs as much as their organizational needs, and number two, even if at their best, there are bound to making mistakes. So, what’s the secret to success here? What is the secret element that’s going to get us all through this in a productive and healthy way? Tracy.

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I was just thinking about community, Mike, when you were talking about before, and people who live in communities, where they look after each other, care about each other, have each other’s backs, their sense of well-being, they feel really good. So, I think feeling in your work community that it really is community, and again, normalizing our feelings, really de stigmatizing mental health needs, sometimes we’re in a culture where people don’t want to reach out for help, but letting people know that that’s okay offering those resources, because there may be organizations now that really don’t have access to even to online behavioral health resources that are there, letting people know, making sure multi language that it’s available for diverse communities, and that that is available and that it is really …

So, having those conversations, but I like the feeling of community because during this time when I was working from home I was looking for whether it was through yoga or other things I did, that sense of community not feeling alone, feeling that we could share our issues and problems. I think when we go back into the workplace, that community is going to look different, and there is going to be that emotional mental health well-being, that’s going to be very important.

Chris Cancialosi:

Ernesto, I’d like to give you the last word on this one. I mean, employers are going to be having challenging time, they’re going to make mistakes. What’s it going to take to get us through this?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think this is really an opportunity to be able to take all of these things, and while they may be challenging, there’s also opportunity for growth here. Reenvisioning, reimagining the way that we can all maybe come back and do things a little differently. I tend to look at this more from the perspective of, there’s a lot of opportunities here. It may be difficult and challenging, but we can all get through this together, and maybe try some things that are different, taking into account that this pandemic has really forced us into considering things that maybe we weren’t thinking about before in the workplace.

But especially think around just all these changes that, this is the time where we get to make some changes and bring in more people into the fold and making these decisions to build that community, that these decisions will not only impact the individual, but also the organization as a whole. So, it has benefits for everyone involved, and taking into account these individual differences, that actually will have very significant impact, positive impact on these workplaces and organizations overall.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you for that. Thank you for that. I have one final question for you all, and it’s a question I ask all of my guests, regardless of topic. Mike, I’d love to kick this one off with you. What have I not asked you today that I should have?

Dr. Michael J. Provitera:

Well, I think that the one thing that we could have talked about more is this resistance to change. People do not want to change, they’re failing to embrace new ideas and new changes that will help them, help the community, help the society, help their organizations. When organizations are trying to develop this tacit knowledge that people have that they don’t want to talk about, or they don’t even know subconsciously they have it but they want to talk about. Then there’s that turf war where someone brings something up, they say, “Don’t bring that up.” Or they say something to the executives, and they think the executives do not act on it, but the executives did act on it, but they didn’t tell the people.

So there’s all these different issues that we face. The one thing that we have is that, people are always worried about their next career, instead of focusing on the career that they have now, we cannot create the future and worry about what’s going to happen until we cross that bridge when we get to it. We have to say hello to the goats until we get across the bridge. So, let’s not worry about our next career, let’s worry about a current career and our current organization, and how we could all get back to working to promote our organizations to be successful, so we all keep our jobs.

Then as we make these decisions that impact not only us, but everyone, then we make the right decisions. Because as executives, we’re making decisions not only for the corporation, or our employees, but the customer, the stakeholders, the grandma, whoever it is, their children, we have to make the right decisions, and we have to really think about that. Then the emotional component? Yes, we have to make sure we’re letting people know that we’re here to help you if you have a concern. Almost every organization has some way of getting help, and now it’s second nature to say, “My therapist gave me the advice that I should.” Which we wouldn’t say that in the past. It’s okay.

We’ve to think, if you need a tax advisor, you go to a tax expert. If you need stress reduction, you go to an expert, like Ernesto or Tracy, and you talk to them about it. And you say, “Look, I’m feeling a lot of anxiety right now.” Then people will know, they say, “We know you’re feeling anxiety, so is the rest of the world. We have to cope, we have to look at what we’re doing, how can we help ourselves and others and the people around us.”

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you, Mike. Tracy, what are your thoughts? What should I have asked you that we didn’t talk about today?

Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

I’m thinking maybe about the vaccine and what that looks like for people and going back to work, and how stress-inducing that is for people. What the workplace requirements are going to look like, are they going to mandate it? Are they not going to mandate it, and if they don’t, am I going to be working next to someone who has it, who doesn’t have it? And the inequity in terms of the access to it, some people aren’t able to get it. Some people because of their beliefs, they don’t want to get it.

So there’s a lot going on around the vaccine and the return to workplace. So that’s maybe something that … as I think as the days and months go by, maybe we’ll get some more clarification, or wherever you work, that policy, you’ll have a better understanding. But everyone has a different relationship to the vaccine. So I think that’s really very stress-inducing for people and also their power of agency and being able to make that choice, and will that be taken away from them if their workplace requires them to do that?

Chris Cancialosi:


Tracy Nathanson, LCSW:

How are they going to feel about that?

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, no, thank you. I think that’s a really important point. Ernesto, final word, what should I have asked you that I didn’t?

Dr. Ernesto Lira de la Rosa:

Yeah, I think in some way we were talking about this, maybe that is directly but the rule I think of mental health in the future of work place [inaudible 00:50:00] organizations. I think particularly, we as clinicians have seen an increase in people reaching out for help during the pandemic, and how many of us are also feeling overwhelmed, because we’re also going through this in addition to everyone else, but also just the usefulness and making sure that we are including mental health professionals in these conversations and discussions, particularly as organizations are thinking about revamping and reworking and making changes, that there could be such an added benefit of just having me think of individuals to consult with or have these conversations with someone.

Just best practices or just throwing around ideas of what could be helpful for everyone, but just acknowledging that a lot of us in the mental health field are actively also working through this ourselves and trying to figure out how do we continue to have conversations around mental health, because it is important, and it is something that is impacting all of us.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. Thanks to all of you for your perspectives. This has been a fantastic discussion. I feel like we’ve just begun to scratch the surface, and there’s a lot of depth that we could dive into, and a lot of these different areas around equity and inclusion and around vaccine, and this is a moving target. So, Tracy, Ernesto, Michael, I really appreciate you spending time with us today. Thank you so much for sharing your perspectives.

If you’d like to learn more about our guests from today’s episode, be sure to check out the episode notes. If you enjoyed today’s episode, we welcome you to check out some of our other content, and be sure to take a moment to subscribe so you don’t miss any of the great conversations we have slated for season two.

Don’t Think An Organizational Culture Can Change? Think Again.

organizational culture adapt

Organizational culture – that all-encompassing and always elusive aspect of organizational functioning that impacts and guides everything that happens or fails to happen within a group. It affects every aspect of our daily lives and interactions at work whether we are conscious of it or not. Whether we like the results or not. This omnipresence can make the topic of organizational culture a lot for people to try to wrap their heads around let alone change. If we think about the topic of organizational culture simply as “the way work gets done”, it can seem like a near impossibility that it can adapt and change.

Difficult, yes. Impossible, no. Any number of internal or external factors can shape the culture of an organization at varying rates. Catalysts such as mergers and acquisitions, adoption of new technologies, the transition of a key leader or leaders, new government regulations, or an unanticipated global pandemic can all force people to adopt new behaviors to adapt the way work gets done in order to survive and compete. Read More…

Return To Work Anxiety? You’re Not Alone.

Return to work anxiety

There are very few experiences in the world that everyone shares. What makes these situations so powerful is a shared experience that everyone can relate to. Although our individual experiences in these situations are unique, we share a powerful commonality centered around a key event.

These experiences are powerful for us both as individuals and as a community. They can reshape the way we look at the world and our place in it. They can make us rethink the way we get work done or the way we live our lives. And they can create quite a bit of uncertainty and even anxiety around what the future will look like.

As we have collectively adapted to the disruptive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have all had to evolve our behaviors in life and at work to adapt and thrive. For those fortunate enough to have not lost their jobs, or worse, they undoubtedly had to make significant changes to the way they accomplished their work in order to stay productive and competitive in this new operating environment. It was tough. It took a lot to figure out how to be successful in this new work scenario. It made us learn to flex new muscles. But, in the end, we did it. And now this “new” way of working has even, dare I say, become comfortable. Read More…

How To Improve Your Working From Home Game With These Hacks

Messy Home office desk

Working from home for the last eight months has certainly created its share of challenges for me as an entrepreneur and I’m willing to bet that I’m not alone. It took me a short while to get myself and my team situated, and, thanks to their adaptability and dedication, we were able to flex to our new reality and demands rather easily.

As the months of working remotely wore on, I decided to begin adapting my home office to better meet my needs on a more sustained basis. I did a lot of research and was pleasantly surprised to find some key products that have made my home office a work environment that really supports both my work style and productivity as well as my comfort. I thought that it might be interesting to share some of the more innovative and helpful office enhancements that I’ve benefitted most from in 2020.

I realize that everyone has their own preferences and tastes and that the nature of work can vary quite widely so I am not suggesting my favorites would be a surefire hit for you but, if you’re interested in getting settled in the work-from-home situation over the long-term, then these might be worth checking out. Read More…

Recognizing A Toxic Work Culture Before You Get In Too Deep

Toxic Work Culture

Maybe I’m the one wearing rose-colored glasses, but I refuse to believe that most leaders wake up every morning intentionally trying to create a toxic work culture. Why is it then that there seems to be a constant flow of breaking news stories of employees sharing claims of workplace toxicity stretching from The Ellen Degeneres Show, to the Washington Metro, to a slew of tech companies like Weta Digital? Even the Hawaii Department of Health recently became the target of allegations from a whistleblower about the effects that a toxic work culture had on epidemiologists’ efforts in contact tracing in response to COVID-19.

With tensions running high these last months as organizations grapple with massive disruptions stemming from the pandemic, one might assume that tensions are high due to losses in revenue and profits, elevated levels of professional and personal uncertainty, layoffs, and furloughs it is not surprising that many leaders may be reverting to their most instinctive flight or flight mentalities. We’ve seen similar things happen in years past as organizations met with disruptions that shook them to their core. We’ve observed leaders in these situations become overwhelmed to the point where they make knee-jerk decisions in an attempt to navigate the storm. Read More…

Pivoting For Pandemic Success


Times are tough for a lot of people, entrepreneurs included. COVID-19 and the safety requirements associated with minimizing its spread have wreaked continuing havoc on businesses of all shapes and sizes. Despite government stimulus programs, well over 11 million Americans remain unemployed.

While a great many American businesses have struggled during these times and while some have been forced to close their doors for good, others have successfully navigated these chaotic times, pivoting their product and service offerings to adapt and thrive. While many businesses, especially early on in the year, took a defensive posture to preserve their resources, some took a dramatically different approach, finding ways to quickly adapt to meet the challenges of the pandemic head-on.

These are the stories that inspire me. The ones that energize me and steel my resolve that American ingenuity is alive and well. These are the stories that I feel compelled to share with others. Read More…

Going Slow To Go Fast

Going Fast to Go Slow

In a recent discussion with one of my colleagues, she compared the work she is doing with teams to rebooting her computer. Every once in a while, we realize that we have opened so many files, folders, web pages, and software programs in the course of our work and life that things just aren’t operating as smoothly and quickly as we might expect. To get things back in working order, we need to carve out some time to reboot- to close everything out and to start over. To go slow in order to go fast again.


When this happens, and it happens to all of us, you have a couple of options. First, you can ignore it and muddle through, hoping to avoid the dreaded “blue screen of death”. You can shut the computer down and walk away. Or, you can take a pause, reboot, and clear the decks of all of those things that are no longer serving you well. Read More…

Podcast: A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform

gothamCulture Podcast

In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, Chris Cancialosi talks with customer experience expert and CEO of TribeCX, David Hicks, and law enforcement officer and mindset and wellness expert, Joe Smarro about taking a citizen-centric approach to police reform.

Released: June 24, 2020

Show notes and transcript:

A Citizen-Centered Approach to Police Reform – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the Gotham Culture podcast, where we talk about any issue you like, so long as those topics are organization of culture, leadership, or people strategy. Each week, we talk with industry leaders and discuss cultural opportunities and challenges in the workplace, providing you with actionable tips and strategies that you can implement in your organizations. My name is Chris Cancialosi, and this is the Gotham Culture podcast.

Nationwide, calls for police reform have reached a fever pitch. Systematic racism, the excessive use of force and power by select law enforcement officers over the decades, the militarization of police have created a culture within law enforcement that really is misaligned with the diverse needs of the citizens that they’ve sworn to serve and protect. According to MappingPoliceViolence.org, more than 1,000 people a year are killed by police in the United States. In 2019 alone, 1,098 people were killed, 24% of them being African American, despite African Americans only making up 13% of the United States population. That’s nearly 1,100 people killed by police in the US, compared to other nations like Germany, the UK and Australia, for example, that have police-related killings in the single digits annually. So, something is obviously going on here, and it needs to be examined.

As law enforcement agencies begin to rethink the way they approach their work in order to ensure law enforcement is able to serve and protect in equitable ways, they’re going to be forced to examine the culture of policing in this country to its very core. How did law enforcement’s identity in our society form and evolve over time? What beliefs and assumptions do law enforcement officers and the agencies they serve believe to be true? And how do those beliefs and assumptions stack up against the current realities and the needs of their communities?

This is going to be a difficult process for many to engage in, as it fundamentally asks people to question their own personal and professional identities. One of today’s guests, Joe Smarro, discussed during one of his own recent livestream discussions with several police officers of color. He said, “The system is not broken. In fact, it never worked to begin with.” And his point was that the system was created by white men as a system of aggression. This is a pretty deep thought that challenges us all to take a hard look at the systems that we’ve created or perpetuated only because they make us feel comfortable. We’ll have a link to that discussion in the show notes, and I encourage you to take some time to check it out.

And it’s not just law enforcement organizations that are asking themselves these questions. I recently read an article by Dustin Riker in Northwest Sidebar about the need for law firms to do the same. It’s heartening to see organizations across the spectrum taking time to stop, to learn, to reflect, and to commit to changing for the collective good. We’ll also include a link to that article in the show notes, as well.

My guests today join me in a discussion about how law enforcement agencies might take a very different approach to evolving their cultures by building their reform in a citizen-centric way. Joining me today are two respected colleagues, David Hicks and Joe Smarro. David Hicks is CEO of TribeCX, a customer experience advisory firm that works with organizations globally. Amongst his expansive clientele, David has partnered with police agencies to redesign the way in which they approach their work in order to have more positive impact on the experience of their constituents, those being the citizens that they are sworn to serve and protect.

Joe Smarro is a police officer, and CEO of the wellness firm, SolutionPoint+. He’s also one of the police officers who was featured in the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, which tells the story of the way in which San Antonio Police Department evolved its approach to responding to mental health-related calls, and the impact on those individuals and the community as a whole. I highly encourage you to check out this movie if you have not seen it. It really illustrates different ways of approaching police work. We’ll also include that link in the show notes for you, as well.

I’m thrilled to have David and Joe with me today to share their experiences and perspectives on this important topic. Gentlemen, welcome.

Joe Smarro:

Thanks, Chris. I appreciate you having us.

David Hicks:

It’s a pleasure to be here. Thanks for the invite.

Chris Cancialosi:

To start off, I’d like to start with you, Joe. As somebody who’s worked in law enforcement for many years, and you’ve worked also with other law enforcement agencies as a trainer around some of the lessons and best practices that you and your colleagues at San Antonio PD have developed in the mental health unit, this was really a seismic shift in the way that law enforcement officers interacted with the portion of the community that was suffering from mental illness, and it had a lot of really positive effects. Tell us a little bit about it, Joe.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, thanks, Chris. Our mental health unit started in 2008, but what people really don’t realize is that what we refer to as CIT, crisis intervention training, it started in 1987. There was an incident in Memphis, Tennessee, where a black individual was killed by police, and there was outrage in the community, and as a result of that, they came together, they partnered with NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the University of Tennessee in Memphis, and they created what is now known as the 40-hour CIT model, and it’s called the Memphis model. So, this has been around for a long time.

In San Antonio, they started this practice in 2002, they started the 40-hour training. Our full-time mental health unit started in 2008 as a pilot project, just to see, is there a need? Can we justify allocating manpower to this type of unit? And it was just two officers, and over six months, they collected so much data that it was like, okay, we have to actually make this a unit. That’s when I came on. It was in 2009.

So, I’ve been serving on the mental health unit full-time for about 11 years, and it absolutely goes against what most would expect when you think of a policing or law enforcement unit, because we wear plain clothes, we drive unmarked vehicles, our weapons are concealed, and we show up, and everything about our approach is different, right? For starters, we introduce ourselves by our names, not Officer Smarro. It’s just, “Hey, my name is Joe, and this is my partner. We’re here to help you out. We’re here to check on you.”

But because we are so saturated in this environment, because every call, 100% of the calls we respond to are people suffering from mental health crises, we know what we’re going into. Patrol officers, it’s such a wide variety of calls that they’re going to get, so it’s very, very difficult for them to have to put in the right mindset, if you will, for every call. And some are really, really intense. Some are low drag. And so, they have to be able to fluctuate. We know, every call we go into … Now, granted, they’re all different on some level, but we know, hey, we’re dealing with someone who here is a consumer, and they’re having a mental health crisis, and so it’s much easier for from that stance.

Chris Cancialosi:

Got it. And what’s the, in terms of the approach, because this is really the way in which you and your team interact with your customers, your citizens, those suffering from mental health crises, and you talked about plain clothes. Talk about the process, interns of how it differs, just in terms of the engagement, interaction dynamic.

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, so, for a long time now, I’ve been saying that one of the big differences between us, and again, nothing is one, right? So, I’m not saying 100% of anything, but a majority of patrol officers, their priority oftentimes is time, and when there’s calls holding in the queue, they’re trying to wrap up what they’re doing and get to the next one. For us, we truly, as cliché as it is, the most important call that we’re on is the one that we’re on, and we’ll take as long as it needs until we find a resolution that we’re all happy with.

But beyond that, we focus on the person, not the problem. Just understanding human behavior, understanding psychology, understanding what people are doing when they’re in a crisis. Even if they have a serious mental illness, they’re still human beings, and they’re essentially communicating something. And most often, it’s like, there’s something wrong, there’s something off. I need something, whether it’s attention, whether it’s love, whether it’s housing, whether it’s food, whether it’s medications, I need something.

And so, if we only focus on the behaviors of the individual, if we’re only looking at the surface … And that’s what I teach these officers. I say, your eyes deceive you. Don’t ever react based on what you’re seeing. Pause, take a step back, and think. What is actually happening underneath this? Why is this behavior being presented? And it’s in that curiosity I feel like where, that’s what we teach, is learn to be curious. Yes, this person is over here acting very, very symptomatic to their mental illness because they’re off their medications.

Where some officers, if they’re not educated or comfortable, they’re going to overreact oftentimes, or this is where we quickly see people resorting to a use of force, is because cops are very comfortable handling things through using the use of force continuum, right? We have this old way of policing called ATM, and it was ask, tell, make. I’m going to ask you do something, I’m going to tell you to do it, and then I’m going to make you do it. And it’s very quick. You get two chances, a third one, I’m going to force it on you.

We have to learn to slow down. Patience is one of our best friends. It’s one of the best tools that we rely on. And so, earning how to take a step back and just observe. As long as someone is not being physically hurt or injured, we can pause. We can take a step back and pause, and just observe what’s happening, and then ask ourself, I wonder what actually is going on here? This is a person in crisis.

And then I tell them, hey, learn to have some empathy. Imagine that that was you. Imagine that at 25 or 30 or whatever, that you were dealt this deck of cards, and it was like, you know what? You’re going to have schizoaffective disorder. You’re going to have major depression, or bipolar. How would you deal with that? And so, how would you want to be treated?

We talk about this all the time, but people get so lost or confused, and again, especially with officers, because if you think about everything going on right now, there’s this huge debate about police should not be responding to people in a mental health crisis. And I can understand, from a cerebral point of view, I can get that, because I do believe that if you are a person with a mental illness, you shouldn’t have to interact with the police just because you’re symptomatic.

But what’s the alternative? There isn’t adequate social services. There’s not adequate resources in the community, and because people aren’t trained in mental health, because it’s not a mandatory course, oftentimes people overreact when they see someone who’s simply symptomatic, and they end up calling the police. And then the police show up, and if we’re not trained to deal with it, it’s like, of course this is going to go wrong. Of course this is going to be handled pretty poorly, because I don’t know what it is I’m dealing with. But here’s what I do know how to do: force my presence on people, be overly authoritative, and then put handcuffs on people and figure out what to do with them after the fact. And so, sadly we get there very quickly, sometimes.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that background and that context, Joe. It’s really enlightening. I’ve got a million questions.

Now, David, you’ve got a very different background, as the CEO of TribeCX, working in the CX field, the customer experience field. But you have worked with various law enforcement organizations over the years. Talk to us a little bit about your background, and how your work has evolved within law enforcement agencies.

David Hicks:

Glad to, and I want to pick up from what Joe said, and so, what’s the alternative? If somebody’s got mental health issues, what else could you do? Well, let me take you back a few years. When I started to get involved with this, Tony Blair was responsible for the British government, and they had this interesting mechanism for directing police funding based on some key outcome dials, and how well local constabularies … the UK is split up into not quite state-based institution, and 20 or 30 separate constabularies based on geography.

And the one in Cheshire, where there’s Manchester, so it’s a large number of rural areas, was doing particularly badly in the measures related to stalking and harassment. And a guy from the sort of central police body, the National Police Improvement Authority, saw me speak at a conference, and my area of interest is in helping organizations make change, so as they’re better aligned to their customer and to their stakeholders. Those are large telcos, government institutions, yes, but principally commercial organizations.

But the tools that you use in commercial seemed to be of interest to this guy from the National Police Improvement Authority, that said, we’re putting more and more and more cash into Cheshire to improve their stalking and harassment. The more we do, the more we spend money on that, the worse the actual scores get, the worse the outcome measures are. Can you take a look, and maybe use some of the tools that I’ve been describing at this conference around mapping the end-to-end experience from a customer’s or victim’s point of view?

And I’m happy to dive into that with more detail, Chris, but the reason that Joe’s point stuck in my head was, do you know, there really was a better way of doing it. There’s a whole bunch of folks in the voluntary sector, in the other state institutions like the health professionals. When you stitch together that end-to-end experience with the victim in mind, then you find that the areas where the police service need to be evolved are a lot fewer than they were. They were basically the first call that was made.

And what Cheshire piloted was a different approach, a differently-designed approach, one that had the victim at the center of the whole thing. Good news for police service: they reduced their costs in this area by 70%, seven-zero percent. Massive reduction in cost, and the improvement in the outcome was off the scale, three or four times better in the eyes of the victim.

So, I hope to go into more detail there, but the alternative is, Joe, maybe organizations responsible for the police service and sort of state institutions should do some thoughtful, what’s the best way, from a victim’s point of view, from a person suffering those mental health crises, what’s the best way of actually designing that intervention? Because rarely, when you do it with the customer or the victim at the center, does it cost you more. It ends up costing you less, directly and indirectly, all the downstream issues that those things cause. So, that’s what stuck in my mind from Joe’s point. Police shouldn’t be the first port of call, because there are probably better ways of doing it, if you were to design that.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. And from my perspective, as somebody who works in the area of organizational culture, I get why there is the call for reform and change. I also understand why there would be pushback against, that as people who have committed their careers to the beliefs and assumptions that have been there for many decades. There’s a certain way of doing things, and sometimes you start to develop your own professional identity around that, and it’s hard to kind of zoom out and see, and really take a look at what is working, what’s not working, and why.

Joe, from your perspective, I know there seems to be lately, especially in the last few weeks, there are all sorts of announcements coming out from left, right and center in the law enforcement community of police departments making massive changes. It seems from the outside to be reactionary or quick, and that may or may not be the reality of what’s really going on in those organizations. But for example, the NYPD commissioner last week announced the immediate reassignment of 600 plain clothes officers to other assignments, immediately. I’m curious from your perspective, Joe, what are some of the pros and cons of taking on some of those actions so rapidly?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I think, I agree with you Chris. I do believe, this is my opinion, that there are a lot of decisions being made based on emotion, based on the desire to please a part of your base, whatever that is, and there’s also a lot of political pressure, and there’s community pressure, and people are getting squeezed from every side. And so, I think that from leadership, they’re doing whatever they can to survive right now, because in essence this, as a profession, it feels so much like we’re drowning. We’re flailing right now, trying to grasp at anything that we can hold on to.

I worry about, as someone who’s been doing mental health for the last 11 years, we know the significant trauma that comes with doing this job as a first responder in this country, and we know the toll that it’s taken on the officers’ mental health. In the last year, we had 228 completed suicides, and I fear that we’re going to have a catastrophic, hockey stick-type of an increase, off the charts, of officers struggling. Whether they’re quitting out of emotion, and then they’re just negatively impacting their lives and their livelihood, or they’re trying to stay the course and fight the fight, to no avail if they’re not emotionally resilient or if they haven’t been taught self-care courses, or whatever it is, and they don’t have supportive policies in place from their department, and there’s nowhere to turn to.

I can tell you, as a first responder, our agency hasn’t done anything drastic yet. It’s like status quo. Everything is just happening. And what’s even more compounding to this is, it’s right on the heels of COVID, right? So, we were already dealing with this pandemic and the quarantines and all this stuff, but now, since the killing of George Floyd, it’s like this is a whole different thing that we’re dealing with. And so, when you talk about automatically saying we’re going to move 600 people, those 600 people are like, whoa! How come … it feels like a punishment. I had my job, I had my duties, my responsibilities, and now suddenly I’m just going to get moved over here just because of something that happened somewhere else.

And one of the frustrations internally, there’s no … I really am not trying to be insensitive about any of this, but we are all aware in this country of what happened in Minneapolis. Many are aware of what has happened over this profession in law enforcement. But when you make changes nationwide based on a singular incident, or even a trend of incidents, which we can then say have happened over the course of time … Again, there’s data for all of this stuff, but you could say, let’s look at the last 25 killings, whatever, and changes are being made just sporadically throughout, or universally across the board. It doesn’t always make sense.

And again, as the end user, as the officer who’s being told, we’re just foot soldiers, right? So it’s like, hey, you’re going to do this now. Yes, sir. I don’t understand it. I don’t know why I’m doing this. It’s not being communicated, but I know that I have to just say yes and do whatever I’m told. And so, all this ebb and flow, the wishy-wash and the go do this now, no, no, we’re going to do this now, it’s clear that there’s just a lot of attempted effort to please the constituents and keep the community at bay and keep them happy, but at what cost, is my fear.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah, thanks for that perspective, Joe. And David, for your perspective on this question, I’m curious from you, what are the costs of not including all of the stakeholders in this process, so that we really understand what’s going to be most positively impactful for the citizen, in this case, or the customer?

David Hicks:

Well, I’m not qualified to comment as Joe was from a policing point of view, but I was listening to him and nodding, because it reminded me of the major changes that commercial organizations are facing, of necessity. And these are organizations where people have put their whole life into careers, and there’s a degree of positional power, and the onset of digital, onset of different competition sets and so on, meaning the very fabric of their organization, the very fabric of their lives are being ripped apart. And they have no control over that, and people feel pretty bad about it. What folks will do is what they believe is a good job.

It reminds me, do you know, of a situation. There was a guy, I think his name was Dr. Dao, a Korean dentist who got on a plane to O’Hare, a United plane, to fly south. Last plane of the evening to this particular airport, and three pilots needed to get there for the next day. So, the United Airlines crew said, “Anybody want to get off?” Nobody did. They said, “Well, we need to take the last folks on the plane off,” and the three folks were a family, it was a guy and his two daughters, and they refused to. So, they went and got staff from off the plane, and they dragged this poor guy off. They dragged him out physically. They knocked his teeth out, apparently. Everybody was filming this, and it wiped a massive amount of value off the value of United Airlines.

I was fortunate enough to talk to the folks, the leadership of United Airlines. I said, “What did you end up doing with those folks?” And they said, “Well, we kept them off, because we couldn’t in all honesty do anything about that,” because they were doing what they thought was a good job. The good job is, you’ve got to be able to get pilots in the right part of the world. It’s a very different context, Joe, to your point, but folks will do what they believe is a good job, and in the absence of clear understanding as to what’s important and why, they’ll do what they sincerely believe is the right thing, even though that’s often at the cost of the other stakeholders: the passengers, and in this case, the shareholders. In complete innocence, they’re doing what they believe to be the right thing.

So, it strikes me that there’s some real things to be learned here, because the scale and pace and extent of change that folks face in not just the police service, but in many walks of life, there are some practical things that are proven to work, in terms of giving folks support, being clear around that purpose and intent. All the good stuff I was seeing Joe talk about in his shows, that helps folks to actually understand, to recalibrate, and to make the right sorts of choices when they’re executing their roles, whether it’s a police officer’s role, or any role that’s facing folks.

We’re crazy, frankly, not to be leveraging those sorts of proven approaches, because the casualties are the folks getting the rough end of it, but also, you’ve got to really, obviously, wonder about the police officers. I mean, you were quite earlier on, Joe, about the 220 folks that took their lives because all their career and belief systems are being eroded. They don’t know which way is up because of the changes that they’re facing. That’s what happens. I can give you some corporate examples.

A great example, a tragic example, in the French telco sector, they massively changed the way that telco was working, and people threw themselves out the bloody windows. I mean, can you imagine that? That was happening because their whole set of priorities and beliefs were being challenged by the commercial realities of that company. So, you do this role, and there are casualties at every level, every layer in the organization.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. Yeah. It kind of goes back to this concept, the word that keeps ringing in my ears as I’m listening to you both, I mean, it’s about learning. We have to be comfortable enough to be uncomfortable and say that maybe, just because we’ve done things for a long time a certain way, maybe that’s not necessarily the best way to do it, but that’s not necessarily an indictment that you are a bad person, but there may be a different and better and more equitable way to do it, and accomplish the results that you want in that career to accomplish to begin with.

We’re going to take a quick break. When we come back, we’re going to talk about what this might look like, really, from both of your expert perspectives. If we were to truly look at law enforcement reform through the lens of the citizen or customer, how might that change things in a way that are sustainable and positive and equitable? So, when we come back, we’ll continue our discussion with Joe Smarro and David Hicks. Be right back.

Chris Cancialosi:

This epsidoe of the Gotham Culture podcast is produced and sponsored by our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting. Communicating with your customers, stakeholders and employees can be challenging at times. The team at Blue Sky Podcasting provides high end production and post-production support for organizations looking to leverage podcasting as a tool to increase transparency and engagement with their customers and employees. If you’re interested in learning how podcasting can provide your organization with a highly engaging communication tool that’s easy to scale, you should check out our partners at Blue Sky Podcasting at wwww.BlueSkyPodcasting.com.

Chris Cancialosi:

Okay, welcome back to the show, everybody. I’m joined today by Joe Smarro, CEO of SolutionPoint+, and Mr. David Hicks, CEO of TribeCX. Let’s continue on with our conversation. David, I’d like to start with you on this one. Really, from your perspective, in order to take a truly citizen-centered approach to re-imagining policing in our country, what will need to happen? And I’m curious because I’d love to learn more about your example you were talking about earlier in Cheshire.

David Hicks:

Right. I think the answer to the first question is, you do this one piece at a time. I’m not sure if throwing everything in the air works in any context, whether it’s commercial or police. But you do this one set of problems at a time. And I mentioned the National Police Improvement Authority doing a pilot in Cheshire around stalking and harassment, and what we did, Chris, was we basically got the various stakeholders involved. There was the local health service, the volunteers, victims, of course, and we basically mapped out everything, from before I’m even a victim and I learn about these sorts of issues, through to I’ve had an incident, I’m reporting it, and I’m an ex-victim. All of the possible stages, and all of the possible sort of points where I touch institutions.

In commercial terms, you call that a customer journey map. We called it a victim journey map. Two great female colleagues actually run this project, and what emerged was a map, for the first time, from the victim’s point of view, of all the possible touch points. And that was invaluable, frankly, not just from the police service point of view, but from the point of view of all of the stakeholders involved there.

And then, you started to ask the victims, “Okay, where were the really touches that were really, really important to you as a victim?” And they had a chance to vote. And then we said, “Where, in your view, were things broken? Where did they actually cause you hurt, cause you discomfort and pain?” And what you’re able to do was to look at those really critical touch points, and the ones that were broken. And the ones that were both critical and broken, they needed to be redesigned first.

So, we did some very basic things around who’s best to deliver that, what is it that’s important, in terms of the needs of the victim at that point, and just redesigned, reallocated the really critical points first, and tried it. We actually tried to change the delivery of that service in Cheshire.

We piloted it and tested it, piloted it and tested it, and over about four or five months, what emerged was a redesigned, re-imagined end-to-end experience that really had, not because anybody was trying to minimize the amount of police involvement, but police weren’t helpful from a victim’s point of view, to be involved very much. What was more important was to have the victim, support groups and other volunteers and professionals involved.

So, when this was running after five months, we baked it into a process that was actually scalable. We did it for the rest of the Cheshire constabulary, and took it back to the national body for police officers in the UK, the Association of Chief Police Officers, it’s called, and that’s where we shared it. We described it. The home office, this is the central governmental body, endorsed it as a proven practice.

So, that was very pleasing, but what was also interesting was, we always, six months after, we can go back and ask how it’s working. And we sat down with some of the victims that had been involved, the two folks who did the delivery. Said, “How do you feel?” “I still feel the victim.” And that wasn’t expected. So, somebody asked the really dumb but incredibly smart question, said, “What would it take to make you not feel the victim anymore?” And the women, it was all women, they said, “I want to stop this happening. I want to get in front of the game. I actually want to stop these guys doing this to other people. So, we need to build something, create something at the front of this whole process that gets people like me out to school, social clubs, and so on, so I can actually educate women not to become victims.”

Now, when we did that, we’re about six months later, boom, that was when something magical was happening. Those folks didn’t feel like victims, plus they’re actually just reducing the whole number of women that got involved, in terms of stalking and harassment, as victims. So, it was … it still chokes me up to even describe this, but it was a fantastically powerful, very cost-effective, from an economics point of view, but the service that was delivered to the victims was significantly better than what was there, and all of the stakeholders felt better about it, more specifically, the really critical ones. The victims, they actually took control, and they felt great, or I guess as best as you can as a victim, that they were actually taking charge, taking control of this, and preventing young women getting involved and becoming victims in their own right. Those tools enabled all of that to happen.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for sharing that, David. What a fascinating story. In terms of just an outsider looking in on that story, it is interesting because you don’t often hear about any organization, law enforcement or otherwise, bringing in all of the stakeholders, including the customer or victim in this case, to have a discussion about what the issues are and what the best solutions would be. And I would imagine that the relationships that were built between those people that were engaging in dialogue, coming to the table, wanting to do the right thing, and able to learn from each other and have honest conversations with each other, was something really, particularly magical.

David Hicks:

Yep. And also, what’s the worst thing that could happen? It helped because the funding, just to be really cynical for a second, there was some significant funding implications to getting this right, so that helped. The net net was it cost less. Some of the discretionary funding available from central government flowed in the direction of those places that were doing a better job. But yeah, at the end of the day, it’s about the leaders of those institutions just being brave, and what’s the worst thing that could happen, just getting some folks together and humbly listening? And giving folks some of the basic tools to listen, not to be defensive, not to react crazy and sort of fishbowls, as we call it, where you just sit down and listen to everybody before you have a chance to respond.

And you can see people growing and developing, and it was cathartic, frankly, for everybody involved. So, what’s the worst that could happen? People would start shouting at each other? What’s the best thing that could happen, is you can actually end up with something that’s better for everybody, and people grow in the process.

Chris Cancialosi:

And David, what was your experience, or I guess, what was the experience of the officers in that process? How easy or difficult was it for them to shed certain identity, take on different aspects of an identity?

David Hicks:

Yeah, I mean, that’s a great question, and is, they were frustrated, Chris, to be truthful. I mean, they were deploying standard operating procedures that were there in the Cheshire constabulary. They were doing the right thing, and the more they did the right thing, the worse the numbers got, which was perverse. So, they were actually, at the end of this process, it was those folks who were involved, the officers who joined me at the Association of Chief Police Officers, to actually describe how it felt being part of that team in Cheshire.

And they were very different. Sorry, I feel emotional talking about it, but you actually had people in tears, saying, “I actually feel I’m making a difference now, rather than being part of the problem.” So, it was truly transformational for those folks. They wanted to do a good job. I mean, that’s the irony of this, that the procedures are getting in the way of folks doing the right thing.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. Joe, I mean, as a law enforcement officer yourself who has been re-imagining, you’ve been part of the process of re-imagining law enforcement with a mentally ill population of your community. What needed to happen in order for that to be accepted within the culture of the police department? That was a rather, it may not necessarily be a new concept anymore in your organization, but it was for a time. What did it take for people to be open to really reimagine that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, it really came down to having an excellent delivery and a really good product. The original, again, the CIT model believes that you should only train about 25% of each agency in the 40-hour crisis intervention. I don’t agree with that philosophy. I believe that if you’re in law enforcement, until there’s a day where you get to pick and choose what calls you respond to, you shouldn’t get to pick and choose how prepared you are to respond. And so, I think everyone needs to have a certain level of training, at least a basic level of training. And so, for me, I think even the 40 hours, while it’s great, I still think it’s quite introductory.

And so, to say that it’s only for voluntary officers that wanted to volunteer to sign up for the training, here’s what we learned when our chief mandated it, and we’re a large department, right? 2,300-plus officers. And the original goal was 10%. I’m going to strategically place officers on certain shifts, at certain substations, and any time there’s a call involving a mentally ill person, we’re going to deploy one of those trained officers. Well, the problem was that as soon as we hit our 10% mark, the calls were still so far beyond our manpower allocation for that call that he finally was like, okay, let’s just do 100%.

Now, as the trainers, we were like, whoa, this is going to be a huge undertaking. But here’s what we learned, and this is why I believe it should be mandated. First, anytime you mandate anything to first responders, law enforcement officers, there’s pushback, right? It’s like, why are you going to make me go do this? If I wanted to do it, I would have done it. Why are you making me do it?

But here’s what we learned, a very, very valuable lesson by mandating this training: the officers that would show up by force to be there, on that first day, Monday morning, they were the most outspoken, like I don’t want to do this, I don’t believe in this type of stuff, this isn’t police work, this is social work, I shouldn’t be doing this, and just mad about it. They let us know. And then, when I started, I had four years on at the time, and so these guys with 20 years on at the time were like, what the hell do you think you’re going to teach me with your four years on? I’ve been doing this for two decades. But I’m like, okay, here’s your seat right over here. Enjoy the class.

And we learned by Friday, because our delivery is good. It’s based on experience, because we’ve really fine-tuned it over the years. The people who were most outspoken on Monday became our biggest advocates on Friday. And just like David was saying, they became our champions, because they were like, mind open, blown. Because of the way we structure our training, we were identified under Obama’s administration as the gold standard in 21st-century policing for having this national standard of CIT.

So, so many people were looking at what we created, and it was really based on collaboration. Again, it was put the end user in mind. On Thursdays of our training, we bring in consumers with lived experiences, and we let them talk to the officers, not on a call during crisis, but in a moment of training to learn. And for them to have that shared experience, it really is for the officer like, whoa. They see them as a human being, not as a problem, and the person with the lived experience sees the officer as a human being, not an authority. And so, just to see those relationships established is a beautiful thing.

And so, yeah, I believe in the mandated training, but also, too, I think there’s this whole thing of CIT isn’t for everybody, or everyone’s not for CIT, but CIT is for everyone. Again, I think it’s something that needs to be mandated very early on. I know that there’s departments making these emotional reactions. I think San Francisco was like, effective immediately, we are no longer responding to non-criminal-type calls. There’s departments that are being stripped from responding to any type of mental health related call, and they’re saying, we’re just going to create some arbitrary city department to handle this. I think we really have to be slow to respond on things like this, and not just think we’re going to put some team together.

And it goes both ways, too. I hear officers, out of frustration, and it’s funny to me, it shows that they care. They complain a lot about these types of calls, right? Because not only are they emotionally taxing, but they can be time-consuming. But hearing that they’re going to be taken away from us, it’s like, what are they going to do, just send clinicians out there to handle these types of calls? Good luck. It’s only a matter of time before they get shot or stabbed. I’m like, why does it immediately have to go there?

And then I ask them, how many mentally ill calls have you handled where you’ve been shot and stabbed? And they kind of looked at me like … And I was like, exactly. Our mind goes to worst case scenario, but I’ve never been killed one time on my job, and I’ve been doing it 11 years. Thousands of interactions, and I’ve yet to die. And so, to just assume we’re going to send clinicians out there and suddenly it’s going to be deadly, I don’t think that that’s a fair jump.

Chris Cancialosi:

As you guys are talking, and it’s really going to take us, again, being courageous enough to sit down and say, hey, none of us have it all figured out. We have to be willing to engage each other in dialogue and not just in throwing memes around and hashtags. There’s a lot of emotion about it, rightfully so, but there are productive ways to handle this.

Joe Smarro:

Let me jump in real quick, Chris, on that. I want to make a point I was going to say earlier when you were talking about learning, and you’re touching on it again right now. I think what’s also important is that we focus on what we are learning, because I believe, it’s much like the public education system in this country. We’re teaching kids how to take a test, to pass standardized tests. We’re not teaching kids how to become adults in this country.

And I believe it’s the same thing in law enforcement. We’re teaching the wrong things. The emphasis is misplaced. We’re prioritizing so much, and if you really peel back the layers on all things within law enforcement, you can Google or YouTube any police agency in this country and look at their recruiting video, and so many times it is this high speed to heavy metal, and it’s showing this minutia to police work that just doesn’t exist. It’ not that it doesn’t exist, but it’s so infrequent. But you’re going to see the helicopter, and people rappelling, and the K-9 unit and the SWAT members, and they’re clearing houses and doing all this stuff that 99% of police officers are not going to do.

And so, we’re attracting people the wrong way, and then we get them into the academy, and right away we start telling them about the dangers, and we’re showing them videos of ambushes and cops being killed while they’re eating at a restaurant, and so we’re instilling paranoia to a certain level in these officers, and they graduate terrified, thinking my goodness, I’m going to get out here on the first day, someone’s going to kill me because I’m in this uniform, and it’s so scary.

But I want to point back to the data and the numbers. 228 officers killed themselves last year. 59 killed in the line of duty. And while that’s terrible, it’s not even close to the amount of harm we’re doing to ourselves. And yet, the emphasis is so much on preparing for the enemy, and I feel like we just really could do a better job of restructuring, I mean, entirely.

And just to David’s point of one thing at a time, I think that that is a great place to start, is let’s take an honest look at our academies. We’re so decentralized. Nothing is standardized. Some places academies are eight weeks. Some are eight months. Some are three month. It’s just, you can make up whatever you want based on your location and your own set of laws. And then, your training curriculum, even that, we’re going to pick and choose what we’re going to train you. And there’s so much of this warfare type training and militarization of policing in this country.

And I tell people, you cannot wear an outer carry vest with nine magazines and tasers and drop holster guns and all this stuff, and show up to someone in crisis, and say, “I’m just here to help. My name is Joe and I want to help you.” They are so terrified by your physical presence that you’re not going to be able to get that interaction or their engagement. And again, it can happen, but it’s not likely.

And so, why not be honest about what are we really doing? What’s the message that we’re communicating to the communities that we’re claiming that we’re here to serve, and how are we training our officers to prepare for this job? And I think that there’s a lot of work to be done there.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely, and it’s interesting, because having been in the military, I can obviously tell the minute differences when I look at images of certain police and soldiers. But to a layperson, I bet that they would be hard pressed, in many cases, to tell the difference. It’s a really interesting point, just the way you show up, the way you look, it sets a tone. That’s where a lot of this dissatisfaction and anger and frustration and rage that we’re seeing is coming from. It’s disproportionately affecting people. I’ve never had somebody in combat gear knock on my front door. That’s for damn sure.

Joe Smarro:

It’s no different than when we have a jumper. A person, clearly unarmed, wanting to jump off of a bridge or an overpass. And you’ll have 15 cops show up. They’ve got shields, helmets, long guns, screaming commands, and it’s like, what the hell are you actually communicating here? How is this an attempt to help somebody? And we believe, because all we know is showing force, oftentimes. I have such an issue with this, when we’re talking about, whether it’s someone who is suicidal or someone in crisis, and I argue that a vast majority of police calls, people don’t call the police because things are going well in their life, right?

So, there’s always some level of emotional disturbance happening, and so having people trained, having people experts and knowing how to deescalate, and having that be their mindset, not rushing to the scene, adrenaline pump hitting, acting irrational, just so you can show up and start screaming and pointing your gun at people, which is just going to exacerbate the problem. Very rarely does that deescalate someone, when you’re pointing weapons at them and shouting commands at them.

Oftentimes, we’re just not willing to take that honest look at ourselves and say, are we responsible for things going wrong sometimes? The answer is yes. I’ve seen it so many times in my career that we showing up is what escalates the situation, because immediately they want to challenge us, and if you show up in that turtle gear, and you’ve got shields and helmets and armor and all of this, they’re like, the assumption is you’re going to inflict harm or pain on me, and then the animalistic response to that is I’m going to fight back, or I’m going to flee, or do something, which again just creates a bigger problem.

Chris Cancialosi:

Right, and we see that happening daily in the last few weeks, with protests and beyond. So, David, let me ask you. We’ve covered a lot of ground here, and I think the lesson for me is, it’s all about the dialogue, and bringing people to the table, and establishing authentic relationships, so that we can solve the issues that we’re confronted with today. There’s a law enforcement official listening to this program right now, saying, holy cow, yes, I get it. Where the heck do I start? What would be your response to that person?

David Hicks:

I’d probably give them the same answer that I often ask that in commercial context, and I say, start where there’s … maybe an inappropriate analogy. Start where there’s blood on the floor. Start where there are problems, because you can actually help and improve things. Or start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader. Or better still, start where you’ve got a turned-on, tuned-in leader, where there’s blood on the floor, because you’ve got all the things pointing in the right direction, and then start. I mean, start with dialogue. I mean, your earlier point, Chris, is around getting people in the room, the stakeholders in the room, humbly listening to each other. That can only do good.

I’d say, for law enforcement, a leader, to take a look at the metrics by which you run your organization. What we’ve been talking about here is, there are rational and emotional components to policing, yeah? There’s a what you do and a how you do it. And you leave that to accident, people gravitate to what they believe is right. You need to deliberately design that. And when folks turn up to jump, you need to deliberately design how you present yourselves, or you’re quite likely to present yourselves in the wrong way.

So, there’s a rational and emotional. There’s a what and a how. And the measures, certainly the RCMP and the British police service, when I was working with those guys, they were saying, these are our metrics. The number of miles our patrol car has traveled every month. The number of arrests we’ve made. The number of firearms that we seized. The amount of drugs we seized. Those are activity metrics. Those are input metrics. Relatively few of them were actually measured on how safe, how policed do I feel as a community?

Now, that’s a much harder thing to actually go after, but candidly, that’s the reason why, as taxpayers, we’re investing in our police force. I want to feel safe and secure. I want my family to feel safe and secure. And that’s an outcome metric that I would imagine is relatively rare, in terms of police administrations worldwide.

So, I would say to that police leader, the worst you can do, you get groups of stakeholders together, the worst you can do is actually reflect on what your success metrics are, and tackle those two pieces. Start there, and that will start to highlight where maybe you should redesign.

And in terms of some of the things that I mentioned, the mapping of the end-to-end experience, what’s our intent? It’s a commercial tool that seemed to do very well when they’re applied to policing. UK, Canada, US, it’s been useful in all of those contexts.

Chris Cancialosi:

Yeah. Thank you for that, David. And Joe, we touched on it earlier in the intro. You’ve got a lot of great content out online, and being one of the primary subjects of the HBO documentary, Ernie and Joe: Crisis Cops, really goes into the work of you and your colleagues. I mean, you’ve got a really unique perspective on all of this. From your perspective, same question. I mean, you’re talking to the law enforcement leader out there somewhere listening to this right now who is just kind of overwhelmed by it all. Where do they start? What do they do?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, I love what David said, and I agree, and I would just add that you have to be willing to take an honest look at yourself and your department. And again, in this country, it depends on where you are, right? Not every city has the same problem as every other city and town and county and state. And so, it does matter geographically where you’re located.

But to the point David was making, if the people are paying for the service and they want to feel policed, but they’re saying they’re not, it does no good to defend it or start talking about things you’ve done well or right. And this is one of the problems that I’m seeing, is police chiefs and sheriffs are coming out and they’re promoting the good things that they’ve done. Now is not the time. People don’t want to see or hear about that right now, and also, all it’s being met with is just, “And?”

Policing, it’s the equivalent of, say, a pilot. The expectation is 100% pass rate, right? You don’t get to crash your plane with everyone and be like, “We messed this one up, let’s get the next one.” There’s massive fallout, and that’s what we’re seeing right now. We’re not allowed to have the errors that we’re having, and the entire profession takes a toll.

And so, if I’m a law enforcement leader, I genuinely want to meet with the community, but not to defend my stance, not to promote anything that we’ve done well, not to say, well, what about this and this, and we’ve done this, or you guys do this. No. Healing starts where listening begins, and I feel like we have to be willing to listen and have those difficult conversations. You have to be willing to listen to what people are actually communicating.

But I think that’s just a piece of it. There has to be, then, an outlet. Okay, I’m hearing you. I’m listening to what you’re saying, but now what? And I feel like if we’re truly going to move forward from where we’re at, there has to be a true integration, and we have to allow the communities to come in and be a part of. There has to be some civilian oversight. There has to be not just the optics of it. I’ve seen it where it’s like, this is just for show. Yeah, we have a civilian board, we have civilians involved, but really, they have no control over what’s actually happening internally.

And so, not just doing something for the points or the show, but genuinely doing something, allowing civilians to have some type of oversight role, so that there is more transparency, because I think transparency is the best disinfectant. When you start hiding things, and you’re trying to shove things, or you’re trying to keep things out of the public eye, all we’re doing is further pushing their trust away. And so, just open yourself.

And again, an apology goes a long way. We’re all human. We make mistakes. If you’ve done something wrong, own it, apologize, and then let’s say how we’re going to move forward from here.

Chris Cancialosi:

Brilliant. Joe, David, I thank you so much for your insights. It’s a real honor to have you both sharing your perspectives, here. We’ve covered a lot of ground, and honestly, I feel like I could crack a beer and talk about this subject with you two for hours and hours and learn a whole lot. There’s a question that I close out all of my episodes with, and I’d like to keep that tradition going, but acknowledging we have talked about a lot, what haven’t I asked each of you that I should have? Joe, what do you think about that?

Joe Smarro:

Yeah, Chris, if I’m sitting here thinking, and I am, because I wasn’t prepared for this question, so that’s on me. But if I’m thinking about something you should ask me that you haven’t, I guess I would say, do you feel hopeful, or should we feel hopeful, that things are going to improve from this? And my answer would be absolutely yes. And the reason that I choose to have hope, and again, I do believe that hope is a choice. We can choose to be negative, we can choose to see the ill in everything, we can choose to go down all those paths. To me, that’s very easy to do. But also, we can choose optimism, and we can choose hope, and we can choose a better way forward.

I genuinely believe that we’re in an important part of history in this world, right now, that we’re fortunate. I choose to see it as a part of my gratitude, that we get to experience times like these, because there’s so much learning that’s about to happen. We’re witnessing, we’re a part of, we’re right in the middle of massive police reform that’s about to happen, that I would argue is long overdue. I am wary about the knee-jerk reactions and the emotional decisions that are being made, but I do feel that over the course of the next couple of years, there are going to be significant changes that are long overdue, and they’re going to be made for the right reasons, with intelligence, that have been thought out.

And so, I am excited about that. I do think that there are a lot of things that need to be looked at within law enforcement. I do feel like there needs to be some community buy-in, and there needs to be some responsibility placed on other community partners and stakeholders to help, and this needs to be a more collaborative approach to dealing with societal failings, but I am hopeful, because I believe in people, and I believe that while all people are entitled to having a bad day or a bad moment, I believe all people want the best, not only for themselves, but for each other. And so, I would end with that, Chris. Thank you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you so much. We focused this discussion around law enforcement, but this conversation can extend to any industry, any sector. Every organization should be thinking about involving their stakeholders and really understanding the impact they’re having. Intentionally or unintentionally, you’re impacting other people, and if we can be intentional and thoughtful, we can be equitable, we can be the things that we want to be. The things that 99.9% of this world wants to be when they wake up in the morning. So, thank you so much for sharing that.

David, same question to you. What haven’t we asked you that we should have?

David Hicks:

Well, Chris, you lead a world-renowned cultural change organization, and you know that what’s critical about cultural change is just making it stick. When the spotlight is off, how do you actually make sure that these changes aren’t window dressing, aren’t the flavor of the day, they actually get embedded and adopted? Maybe we should speculate a little bit about that, lasting change, actually getting through to everybody that’s involved, not just police officers, but the support structures around them, their other stakeholders. And so, how do you make sure that this sticks?

And that’s not easy. It’s something that requires persistent, consistent effort to make sure that things do stick, you’re finding your champions. Joe made the lovely point earlier on about when you run these sessions, the folks that were the loudest at the start, showing the strongest resistance, became the greatest advocates. It’s finding those gems, because they’re the folks that anchor this, and make sure that you get adoption. So, maybe you could draw it into that a little bit more, on how to make sure these changes, once they are decided, get adopted and stick. Not easy, but there are some levers there that you can use to give it the best chance of success.

Chris Cancialosi:

Absolutely. David, thank you for your insights. I want to thank our guests, colleagues and friends of mine. I’m really, really blessed to have a diverse network of folks out here, and what an honor it is to have you both join me today as we discuss something that’s really important in my view, and something that I’m still trying to wrap my head around. It doesn’t escape me that we are three white guys talking about topics. While we have our own perspectives, there’s only three of us here, and we need to broaden the lens and invite more people to the table to have conversations about this.

Joe, I know you do a weekly livestream that we’ll definitely link to in the show notes, but I listened to your one last week, and you had three different folks on, all people of color who are involved in law enforcement, either police officers or administrators, and I was really thankful that you did that. I had never experienced the ability to sit down and listen to a conversation like that, and I think that’s really important in my own personal learning. It’s time everybody stopped knowing all the answers, and start seeking to understand.

So, thank you both from the bottom of my heart for joining me, and I wish you both a wonderful, wonderful day.

Joe Smarro:

Thank you, Chris. It was a pleasure sharing space with you, David. Thank you.

David Hicks:

And a pleasure joining you guys, and your family, Chris. Thank you for the opportunity to join you.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thank you, gentlemen.

Thanks for joining us this week on the Gotham Culture podcast. Make sure you visit our website, GothamCulture.com, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational cultural challenges.

Special thanks to Blue Sky Podcasting for producing and sponsoring this episode. To learn more about producing custom podcasts for your organization, check out the folks at Blue Sky, at www.BlueSkyPodcasting.com.

Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi, and I look forward to our next discussion.

On a personal note, there are folks out there who really get up in arms about discussing the need for police reform. There are people on all sides of the issue, many of whom would prefer to lob hate grenades over the fence at each other, rather than engaging in some thoughtful and productive dialogue about some tough issues. This topic of police reform, to me, is not about dissing the police. We all need law enforcement to hold citizens accountable to our collective social contract, and I believe that 99.9% of the people who go to work today, regardless of if it’s in law enforcement or some other profession, go to work trying to do the very best job they can.

To me, this is about working together to figure out better ways to build trusting relationships that enable the police to be effective in their mission by re-imagining their approach from the perspective of the diverse communities that they’re serving. Doing this opens up doors for learning and dialogue. It opens up possibilities for a brighter and more equitable future, and in the end, it makes us all better.

Thank you for joining us today on the Gotham Culture podcast. If you are interested in learning more about police reform, or the ways in which other industries are grappling with the same cultural change efforts, check out our show notes for some resources and links. I challenge you, regardless of the industry you work in, to engage your colleagues in real, uncomfortable dialogue. Take time to learn from others, and really ask yourselves how you may evolve or revolutionize the way you do things in the spirit of creating a more equitable and anti-racist world. Thank you.

Podcast: Going Slow to Go Fast

gothamCulture Podcast

In this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, Chris Cancialosi talks with gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast about her experience realigning teams after disruptive events. Like those of us who keep way too many applications open on our computers for too long, slowing our ability to get things done, sometimes our teams can experience the same effect when grappling with mounting priorities and disruption. When that happens, it may be time to reboot.

Show notes: Shawn references an interview with Storied CEO Michael Margolis titled Storytelling in the Age of Disruption

Podcast: Mental Wellness and the Short- and Long-Term Impacts of the COVID Pandemic on Your Workforce

gothamCulture Podcast

As the United States looks to begin a scaled approach to reducing pandemic restrictions in the coming weeks and months a hidden enemy lingers that is not getting much attention. While many healthcare workers are facing the brunt of the risks associated with supporting pandemic response, they are certainly not alone in shouldering stresses associated with the last few months. The acute and chronic stressors during difficult times may have negative repercussions for many people and organizations for years to come. During this episode of the gothamCulture Podcast, we talk with Joe Smarro and Jesse Trevino of SolutionPoint Plus, advisor to healthcare systems, education systems, first responders, and corporate clients in the areas of mental health, wellness, and resilience.

Released June 5, 2020

Show notes: Below are links to mental health information and resources mentioned in the show: