Culture Change is a Complex Process

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I’m So Busy – How Do I Prepare for a Meeting?

You’re a busy manager and it’s Sunday evening.  You’re trying to get ready for the upcoming week.  You log onto your work calendar and incredulously look at your Monday schedule wide-eyed.   You are booked with continuous back-to-back meetings from 7 am until 6 pm!

“What happened?” you ask yourself.  Then you remember that a dozen people have access to your calendar and, being the ultimate pleaser, you have agreed to every meeting request.  Without realizing it, you have set yourself up.  It looks as if you will have no down time at all during the day.

And you won’t have something else:  The ability to mentally and physically prepare for each scheduled meeting.  From one-on-ones to team sessions, you will jump from conference room to office and back again continuously.  And at the end of the day, you will try to make meaning of it all.

“I’m just incredibly busy – and that’s the way it is,” some clients tell me.  Others try to convince themselves – and me –  that they are exceptionally good at multi-tasking, and besides, “I just facilitate the sessions and direct others – I don’t need to do the work that comes out of the meeting.”

I sometimes ask clients, “And who does the mental work preparing for the meeting?”  As we probe a bit deeper with my questions, some managers admit to me that they walk into a room and see the faces sitting around the table and sometimes realize they have not the slightest clue as to the focus of the meeting.  They often buy time by blurting out, “So why are we all together today?”  A sardonic smile from me to the client illuminates a self-confession for some: “Yeah, that might not elicit the most confidence in my people!”

A metaphor comes to mind involving commercial aviation.  Professional pilots spend time during the relatively low-workload time of level cruise flight to “brief the approach” phase of the flight.  They pull up the diagrams and descriptions of the expected instrument approach and carefully review the various altitudes, headings, frequencies and even the rare “missed approach” that might be necessary if a go-around needs to be initiated.  That preparation serves as a mental picture for the pilots so that they know what to expect when they get into a high workload situation and are mentally prepared for what we call a “critical phase of flight.”

While your daily meetings might not be as challenging as flying a successful approach and landing in a commercial airliner, in the aggregate they add up to success for your organization and in the cohesiveness of your team.

There are a few ways in which you can approach your busy day.  Blocking out some time each morning and afternoon can help, although middle-level managers can find that their bosses might grab those free sessions for their own meetings.  Another approach is to schedule meetings with built-in buffers in between.  Some managers favor 30 or 45 minute meetings, giving themselves time before and afternoon to both make meaning of their previous sessions and prepare for the next one.

The key, of course, is intention.  And exploring that intention can be assisted and supporting in the coaching process.  If your desire is to know the planned outcomes of a meeting and how best to support your people, then you can spend 15 minutes sketching out ideas, perhaps writing notes on a prepared agenda.  There is a mindfulness aspect of corporate life that is important to recognize.  Practicing such mindfulness need not be limited to your yoga class or quiet time alone in the morning.  It can assist you in preparing for each meeting of your day and creating your own “approach briefing,” to ensure a successful landing!

This article originally appeared on

How To Improve Your Working From Home Game With These Hacks

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.

Productivity and Focus Perspective.

Getting focused.

With kids, animals, buses, and every other noise-emitting entity on earth doing its very best to distract and disrupt your calls and video meetings, a pair of noise-canceling headphones is an absolute must. While there seems to be a near-endless number of headsets and headphones one might choose from here are a few of my favorites.

Hands down the very best headphones, in my humble opinion, are made by Shure. Shure is no stranger to fantastic audio quality and their Aonic 50 noise-canceling headphones are simply amazing. The over-the-ear style makes them exceptionally comfortable for all-day wear and the sound quality is so good that I often think people are behind me when I’m all alone in the office. They are so crisp and clear-, in fact, that they put many other headphones to shame. If you (typically) spend a lot of time on the road, you may want to find more compact options for audio than the Aonic 50 but while confined to your home, you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything that can stand up to these headphones.

For those of you who require superb clarity for meetings, podcasts, or other recordings, they can be hard-wired to a microphone like Shure’s MV5 which provides very high-quality sound input in a small package that can certainly travel with you.  Once removed from the small base, the round microphone is slightly smaller than a tennis ball and is light as a feather. Easy to operate with on mic controls, the MV5 makes a solid option for someone wanting top-quality audio without taking up a lot of desk real estate.

Another headset that has quite a bit of sound quality and versatility, in my opinion, is the EPOS ADAPT 560, an on-ear, Bluetooth headset that includes a very discreet and handy boom arm microphone that can be stowed away when not in use. They are also small enough that they may be a decent option to travel with. The sound and microphone quality are fantastic on the ADAPT 560s and they boast a very long (up to 46 hours) battery life giving them utility both in the office and on the road making for a great all-around headset.

If you are looking for a headset that can serve double duty during the workday and also support your after-work gaming inclinations, I would recommend considering the HyperX Cloud Mix. The Cloud Mix provides really nice audio quality, can be used in both wired and wireless formats and has a microphone that can be easily added or removed to customize to whatever you happen to be doing at the moment. They are light and, in my opinion, great value for the price. They are also small enough to travel with when, and if, you ever get back out on the road.

Staying focused (especially during those never-ending Zoom calls):

I pride myself on my ability to focus for long periods of time. This is probably a function of time spent in the military and my line of work consulting and coaching for so many years. One thing that I didn’t realize was the challenge of maintaining the same level of focus on hours upon hours of Zoom calls and the fatigue that can be associated with it.

Mindfulness exercises have helped but I’ve also come across some simple, yet elegant, methods for keeping myself present during long periods where I am not active on video calls. Calm Strips are sensory adhesive strips that can be easily secured to a desk, laptop, or phone (mine is attached to the side of my Fluidstance Slope). During those periods where I find my mind beginning to wander, I can rub my finger or nail along the approximately 2.5” strip and I find that similar to a fidget device, it provides just enough stimulation to keep my focus without anyone being aware.

Another product that I’ve grown to appreciate is made by Speks. This Brooklyn-based firm creates some really interesting desk “toys” that I’ve found to be helpful when working to stay present during long, back-to-back Zoom calls over the last months. They’re fun and surprising tough to put down. Speks has managed to scratch my itch for staying focus while also creating products that are just plain fun. They also come in handy if you have a young child who wanders into the office at an inopportune time.

What did we do before whiteboards?

In all my years, I’ve never met an entrepreneur who is far from a whiteboard. Unfortunately, in today’s work-from-home world, setting up whiteboards around your house may not be the best bet to ensuring peace with your family. I find that Fluidstance’s Slope is just the right mix of form and function without taking up a lot of space.

I work off of a laptop that sits atop a Nulaxy adjustable laptop stand. This gives me the ability to raise the laptop to a better ergonomic position while also raising my camera, so I am not sharing lovely under-chin shots on my Zoom calls. With this setup, the Slope slides right underneath, giving me a small, erasable whiteboard at my fingertips when that next bit of inspiration hits. My keyboard slides right underneath the slope when I need to clear some disk space as well making it useful and adaptive to my various work needs. Simple and effective.

As a consultant and executive coach, I need to capture a lot of notes. Nothing says, “cold and disengaged” like hammering away on a keyboard while talking with a client about sensitive or emotional information, so I prefer to take handwritten notes. A lot of notes. Trouble is, not only is it not very friendly to the environment but if oftentimes means needing to transfer those notes to a digital format for storing or to combine with other data and information later on.

Enter the reMarkable2 next-gen paper tablet. If you’re looking for a tablet with tons of diverse functionality (i.e. to replace your computer) this is not your speed. If you are a notetaker, doodler, if you live your life by lists, or if you just don’t want to be distracted by notifications, games, and other temptations you will find on other tablets, you may have found your next love.

At 0.19 inches thin, this tablet is smaller than an ordinary pencil. It’s sized like a full sheet of paper and the stylus feel against the screen is the closest thing I can find to the pen to paper feel of everything I’ve ever used. The reMarkable2 is the first digital notetaking product that has seemed to have solved the sensitivity of both my hand resting on the screen and the stylus sensitivity, allowing me to vary the pressure to write lighter or stronger just like I’d do with a regular pen and paper.

It also allows me to transfer my handwritten notes to text and to either sync those to my computer or email the file to where I need it. I can download files from my laptop to my reMarkable2 and mark them up by hand and the templates that continue to be added to via software updates are very helpful in organizing my work.

The only thing that I would love the folks at reMarkable2 to consider when evolving the tablet might be adding the functionality to integrate my notes to another note capture system like Evernote. That said, the remarkable is an absolute gem in my work-from-home life and I can’t imagine my life without it.

Comfort, Health, and Wellness Perspective.

Getting comfy.

Spending a significant amount of our waking hours working, many of us find ourselves sitting and plugging away at our workstations for extended periods of time. If this is your reality, you’ll understand the benefits of a comfortable and ergonomic chair. The X-Chair provides full customization of your office chair to meet your specific height, weight, and personal needs.

There’s something truly amazing about a chair that molds to you while also providing you with a heated massage via X-Chair’s Heat and Massage Therapy (HMT) Work Chair. I also appreciate the myriad of adjustments that you can make to refine your experience. As someone who has suffered from lower back issues for years, X-Chairs Dynamic Variable Lumbar system provides just the right amount of support as you move and shift throughout the day. Throw in the memory foam cushion and you may never get up.

As comfortable as you might be, we all know that sitting for long periods of time isn’t so great for you over the long-term. Having space in our homes to have a sitting and a standing desk setup takes up a lot of space and isn’t a feasible reality for many people. Thankfully, there are a variety of products available that can keep you from staying too stagnant during your work-from-home experiment.

Depending on your personal work setup, there are a variety of adjustable desk elevators that will allow you to transition from a sitting to a standing desk on the fly. The Mount-It! desk converter is an electric sit-stand workstation that makes the transition a breeze. These products do tend to make your workstation a bit bulkier and Transformer-like but the flexibility they provide will give you options throughout the workday to move your body a bit. Mount-It!’s design with this particular model is quite streamlined when compared to other sit-stand workstations, the electric elevator is quiet and smooth, and the mounting brackets can be ordered to support one, or two, monitors which can’t be beaten.

If you do work with multiple monitors, an on-deck sit-stand solution may not be feasible. If you are willing to make a bit more of an investment, the UPLIFT desk products offer users the ability to fully customize a workstation surface that elevates as a single unit allowing the user to move from sitting to standing without losing access to their entire desktop. The commercial model includes a stabilization crossbar that helps to keep larger UPLIFT desk styles rock solid regardless of the configuration. As a multiple monitor user, the UPLIFT desk keeps everything ergonomically optimized for me in any position with the push of a button.

If you do go with a standing workstation setup, I highly recommend investing in a balance board. A natural addition to a standing desk, I really like the Fluidstance boards which can be customized to provide more or less challenge depending on your comfort. Keeping the blood flowing, working your core and legs while you work, and helping you to develop your balance makes me feel like I’m being super productive while churning out TPS reports. I am able to increase the difficulty by simply increasing the distance between my legs on the balance board’s oblong surface.

Getting into the groove.

I’ve been a longtime fan of Sonos. They offer a number of fantastic speakers that have really amplified my work and personal life. I like the One SL for my workstation because it doesn’t take up a lot of real estate yet provides fantastic audio quality. Paired up with my Spotify subscription and the Focus Flow playlist and I’m off to the races!

Keeping the juices flowing.

Courant’s Catch1, Catch2, and Catch3 provide sleek design and functionality while keeping your various electronics charged throughout the workday without having to hassle with plugs and wires. Personally, I find the Catch2 really handy at my workstation as it has a small profile. It has five charging coils across its length, so I am able to charge all of my gadgets and devices at the same time.

The Catch3 takes up a bit too much desk space for my liking but it makes a fantastic option for my nightstand table where I’m able to charge while also keeping track of my wallet, glasses, and other personal effects. The Italian leather on these products really adds an element of class to my desk and the technology in each of them charges any device that’s compatible with Qi wireless charging, helping to ensure that I am able to reduce the total number of charging cables choking up my workspace.

If you’re looking for a wireless charging option to charge a bunch of products simultaneously, you may want to check out the ChargeTree by STM Goods. Capable of charging three devices at once, the ChargeTree also keeps your phone canted upright so it’s easy to read those incoming texts, etc. while you charge. If you’re tight on available desk space, the standing cant of the ChargeTree also has a minimal profile.

Setting the mood.

Face it, you’re going to be working from home for a while yet. Nobody wants to see a blank wall behind you and the fake backgrounds available on most video conference platforms have run their course. It’s time to start settling in for the long haul and creating a workspace that makes you comfortable while also creating a professional space in your home from which to engage in video calls. As more and more companies begin to come to the realization that working from home does not mean that productivity will tank, many employees may find themselves having to (or having the option to) work remotely post-COVID. Settle in.

Finding ways to shape your environment to best support your work from home during these times will not only benefit you now but will likely continue to benefit you as more people will find themselves working from home than ever before. Finding ways to make your workspace your own, maximizing your comfort, and focusing on keeping yourself productive are key. It will be interesting to see how creative companies continue to develop products and services that help us through this cultural transformation in the years to come.

With all of the time I am spending on video calls these days (and likely into the future), I decided to make the extra effort to create a bit of a higher quality and professional vibe by adding some supplemental lighting to my office setup. There are a ton of techniques and products in the lighting space and you can really get buried in it all.

I am not a lighting technician nor am I a professional YouTuber, so I don’t need a movie studio set up in my office. I find the Lume Cube Video Conference Lighting Kit really meets my needs. The Panel Mini is just slightly larger than a credit card and can easily mount to your laptop, monitor, or the wall (like I have it set up). It’s LED lights can be adjusted in brightness and warmth and an additional, rubber lighting diffuser helps to soften the light allowing you to have a lot of control in creating just the right lighting for your needs at a cost that won’t break the bank.

What’s right for you?

This pandemic has really ignited a passion in me to find the “perfect” home office setup. I have been really energized by the in-depth research that I’ve conducted over the last months as I work to find the best-fit solutions for me and my work. I fully realize that what works from me may not suit your work or style.

The more I dug into my research, the more rabbit holes I found myself diving into (you can spend hours just researching a good office chair!). It can get pretty overwhelming quite quickly. With all of this research under my belt, I felt that I should share my findings with others in the hopes of aiding them as they work to find the home office setup that is just right.

COVID-19 has forced many of us to adapt to working from home. Even when this pandemic is behind us, in all likelihood, many people reading this article will either continue to work from home to some extent or may find themselves working from home to be a permanent situation. Whatever your personal situation, finding the right setup to keep yourself focused, productive, and comfortable is key.

This article originally appeared on

Related Reading: Learning To Work In New Ways Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic


Podcast: Cultivating a Culture of Feedback and Accountability

In this episode, Kate Gerasimova talks with Harrison Kim, CEO of Pavestep about cultivating a culture of feedback and accountability in organizations. Meaningful feedback develops and motivates employees and keeps them accountable to the organization and team objectives. Unfortunately, many people are unsure about how and when to give feedback. In this discussion, you’ll learn how to enable a culture of feedback in your organization and become better at giving and receiving feedback, especially in today’s virtual environment.

Released: October 12, 2020


Cultivating a Culture of Feedback and Accountability – gothamCulture Podcast Transcript

Chris Cancialosi:

Welcome to the gothamCulture Podcast, where we talk about any topic you’d like so long as those topics are organizational 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 gothamCulture Podcast. Today’s episode will be hosted by Kate Gerasimova, senior associate at gothamCulture.

Kate Gerasimova:

Hi, I’m Kate Gerasimova, I’m a senior associate at gothamCulture. I have a great opportunity today to interview Harrison Kim, the founder and CEO of Pavestep, it’s a 360 feedback solution to enable culture of feedback and accountability. Welcome Harrison.

Harrison Kim:

Hey, how’s it going?

Kate Gerasimova:

Going well. Thank you so much for being here today.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely. No, thanks for having me.

Kate Gerasimova:

I’m curious to hear a little bit more about you, and then if you can tell us a couple of words about you and Pavestep for our listeners.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, absolutely. So my name is Harrison, I’m the CEO of Pavestep and we’re a performance management solution that really activates the culture of feedback and accountability. Simply put, we help managers and employees share better feedback with each other and align goals more effectively. And at the same time, we act as a single place to store all of this data, right, feedback, goals, and anything related to performance so that managers and leaders can understand their employees and make better decisions when it comes to development. Prior to Pavestep, I was an investor in the HR services sector and a consultant at McKinsey.

Kate Gerasimova:

Oh, perfect. Well, I’m so glad that you’re here with us today and we’re here to talk about the culture of feedback and accountability, so I can’t even imagine a better person to talk to about this. So, thank you.

Harrison Kim:


Kate Gerasimova:

Culture of feedback, accountability, this topic comes in so many times and with each client, I hear it in one way or another, whether it’s how to, or what to do or what is feedback, how to give it. So, tell us about what is the culture of feedback and accountability and how do you define it?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. So let me start with how I think about what culture means. I think there are many definitions. It’s one of those things that everyone can feel and understand intuitively to a certain extent, but sometimes it’s a little hard to describe it specifically. I think personally, about culture as the aggregation of behaviors of a group, whether that’s a company or a country or a team or whatever the group may be. And when I think about specifically the culture of feedback and accountability, I define that as an environment in which employees feel empowered and almost the need out of good intentions, of course, to share feedback with one another and keep each other accountable for their goals and objectives directly. That’s how I would think about it in terms of the definition for culture of feedback and accountability. And tactically speaking, this would likely translate to employees receiving structured and meaningful feedback from their team members on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, and definitely not once a year or twice a year.

Kate Gerasimova:

And, with changing environments, and I think we’re moving away from a former how we used to give feedback or receive feedback maybe once a year, as you mentioned, like a performance management cycle, that’s where it used to be, and I feel like it’s been changing a lot now.

Harrison Kim:


Kate Gerasimova:

You mentioned, it’s great to have a definition of what the culture of feedback and accountability is, but how do you enable that? Where do you start?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, it’s a big question. So, when I think about enabling the culture of feedback and accountability, I think there are four big drivers, one sponsorship, two, education, three, experience, and four, process. So when I think about sponsorship, I’m not just talking about having the executives and the leadership sponsoring and leading by example, right? Of course, that’s table stakes. I’m also talking about the high performers and influence throughout the organization and getting their buy-in and them being empowered to really carry the torch throughout the organization and putting money where their mouth is, right? I think that’s really important. Sponsorship when it comes to any kind of culture shift in my mind, you have to have it both top-down and bottom-up. So, that’s number one.

The second is education that I mentioned. So the reality is that most people want guidance, want alignment and want feedback, they just don’t know how to execute it well, and this is especially true with new managers and feedback. They need to be just equipped with the right knowledge. So, as managers and leaders and executives of these organizations thinking about enabling this culture of feedback and accountability, you need to provide them with the right education so that they can get started. So, that’s number two.

The third thing that I think about is experience. So, make it as easy as possible for teams to share feedback with one another. I think digital tools help in many cases, but just don’t give them excuses not to do it, right? It’s already really difficult. And then the last component is I think personally one of the more important things, process. So as you can imagine, right, creating or shifting culture takes time. And just because your leader says so, or just because you have some cool tool within your company, it doesn’t mean people are going to start all of a sudden sharing feedback with each other and holding each other accountable, et cetera. You need to set the right processes in place so that you can enforce the right behaviors, and over time, these behaviors become habits and rituals at these companies, which shape culture, right? And this is how you need to start thinking about shifting culture from X to Y. So those are the four things I would think about conceptually when you’re trying to enable the culture of feedback and accountability.

Kate Gerasimova:

Thank you for sharing that. Definitely those four things are super important components, and I see them in my work as well. I’m curious because in every company culture of feedback could mean a different thing as you mentioned or a feedback accountability could mean different thing. So for example, there will be a company that has a model for giving feedback and they have HR mandated process on how to, but for example, feedback is inconsistent or non-existent even though there is a process and there is established guideline for it and people are just being nice to each other. Maybe they’re not saying things, or they’re just being like, yeah, yeah, thank you so much. This has been great. Or they’ve been giving feedback as, yes, this is great, but nothing behind that. What are some steps maybe leaders or employees can take to change them?

Harrison Kim:

So I think there are some tactical steps that I’ve seen work well. The first one is making sure that everyone’s on the same page when it comes to feedback. I mentioned education already on the last question. I mean, the fact that people need to learn how to share feedback and receive feedback. There is a real science and research behind what makes feedback effective at developing and motivating employees. And usually it’s not just high fives and great jobs, right? You’ve got to do a little bit more to make sure that it’s specific to behavior, specific to efforts and it’s forward looking, and all this good stuff. And you’ve got to give them that education.

When people know how to share feedback effectively using the behaviors and observations, negative feedback or constructive criticism, doesn’t actually sound so negative, right? For example, Kate, if you were to tell me right now that I’m talking too fast, or my answers are hopping back and forth, that would be a really helpful pointer for me, right? It’s just facts and I’m totally okay with that. So, education I think is important. There’s actually another benefit to making sure that people are educated on how to share feedback, because it gets everyone on the same page as to how feedback will look between you and your colleagues, right? We can speak the same language of feedback and that can minimize miscommunication, right?

So for example, when you give me feedback and tell me how I can improve, I know that you’re not saying that just because you think you’re better than me. I know that you’re saying that because it’s part of the healthy feedback that we’ve explicitly agreed upon, right? So, that’s one big benefit also from an education perspective. And then separately in order to create a culture where people feel comfortable being direct and candid with others, especially when it comes to negative or constructive feedback, we need to have psychological safety, right? And tactically speaking, I’ve seen organizations that we work with do the following. One is actually mandating constructive or development upward feedback. So this helped everybody get comfortable over time sharing direct feedback with each other. And it helps significantly that the leader was willing to step in and be vulnerable first, right? So, that was a really cool process that we’ve seen.

Second thing that we’ve seen is having this philosophy around employees owning their own performance and feedback, meaning, let’s say you and I are working together and you give me feedback, nobody else has access to that feedback. It’s completely confidential. It’s purely for me and for my own development. So, that’s something that I’ve seen as well that I think is quite unique.

Kate Gerasimova:

And I know you’ve been CEO for Pavestep for quite some time, I’m wondering if there are any stories that come to mind in terms of creating that psychological safety or being vulnerable.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. I mean, the first example that I gave just now, that was really, really cool where literally what they did was the leader decided to mandate one negative or constructive feedback week or every two weeks from all of his team members, right? And he did that for a few weeks and then he rolled it out to his direct reports. So everybody was supposed to give his direct reports negative or constructive feedback, and then he rolled it out to everybody else. And that really made them understand, okay, this is how you share feedback and this is how you actually receive feedback, regardless of whether it’s positive or negative. And it has created a really interesting culture where people truly have this radical candor, right, environment where they’re totally okay being upfront and being direct with each other because they know that this is for each other’s development. And that was really cool to see.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. It’s almost like you seeing a bigger picture while you’re doing that there’s almost absolutely nothing bad about constructive feedback. It’s not that you’re going to take it personally, right?

Harrison Kim:

Right. Right.

Kate Gerasimova:

Well, this is a great example. And it would be interesting to see how else would you frame feedback? As you mentioned, giving and receiving feedback is a skill, how would you adjust it based on situation? So for example, if you even know that somebody may take feedback personally, or they would be a little bit hesitant to receiving constructive feedback, how would you deliver feedback with confidence and how would you give that feedback?

Harrison Kim:

So I think when it comes to sharing feedback with somebody, I don’t think you necessarily need to be confident or come off confident actually. I do sometimes think that it’s actually helpful to be vulnerable when you’re sharing feedback, be like, “Hey, I want to share some feedback with you, let me know if there’s anything that I need to improve on, because I’m still new to this. I’m still learning.” I think that’s totally okay. In fact, I think that might actually make it more relatable and it gets across the message a little bit more effectively in certain situation.

But more tactically speaking, when you’re giving feedback, we think there are three aspects to making the feedback more effective. The first one is making sure that the feedback is behavior based, not trait or intention based, right? So make sure the feedback focuses on the specific behaviors, which are observable and changeable, right? So you want to make sure that you’re focusing on those things that the person can actually control. The second aspect of it is that the feedback should be effort based not results. So what I mean by that is you got to make sure that the feedback that you’re sharing with someone is focused on the strategies, the effort and the processes that this person took in order to complete a task or solve that problem. Because typically those things are under that person’s control, right? You don’t want to be giving feedback on anything that’s outside of that person’s control. So you’ve got to focus on things that they can control. That’s the second piece.

The last piece is pretty straightforward. You want to make sure that it’s forward looking not just backwards, right? When we don’t do a good job at work, it’s not because we don’t want to, right, usually it’s because we clearly don’t know how, and we usually know when we’re underperforming. So, just being forward looking and providing some suggestions or brainstorming with that person, I think goes a long way. I think those are the three things that we think about when we think about giving feedback, and of course, do it real time, not six months later.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great. And you just mentioned those three things, behavior based, effort not results and forward-looking. So, how do you measure all of this? Is there a way you suggest doing that or how have you seen doing that?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, I mean, from a company perspective, there’s multiple ways that you can measure the level of feedback both from a quantity and quality perspective to a certain extent. So, there’s a few ways. One is just purely looking at the frequency of feedback, right? I think, if your team members are sharing feedback, once, twice, three times a year, it’s clearly not enough. I mean, one of my close friends said this a long time ago, which was pretty awesome I thought. He said, you don’t look at your bank account once a year, why do you look at your employees once a year, right? So, frequency of feedback is something that we will look at.

The second thing that we will look at is the quality of the feedback, right? Like I said, the quality of feedback is very important. One possible way to measure that is just looking at the length of feedback, right? Whether it’s, hey, great job in high five or something much more specific and behavior based and relevant for this person, right? You’re able to look at that just by looking at the details and the length of the feedback that this person is providing. And then, a few other ways are engagement surveys, the feedback and development are often a metric that they will gather scores, survey results on, as well as you can run periodic 360 assessments and see how the team has changed over the course of six or 12 months before and after feedback, basically. So, those are some ways that you can establish those metrics and keep everyone accountable.

Kate Gerasimova:

Have you seen any of them that you mentioned being more relevant than others or more helpful than others?

Harrison Kim:

I think there isn’t a silver bullet metric, every metric will … You need more context and you need to compliment it with other things. Because for example, if you just looked at frequency of feedback, that’s not necessarily super helpful, right? Let’s say you have a company and everyone shares feedback once every week, which sounds great, but unless you actually look into what kind of feedback that they’re sharing, you’re not able to get the full picture. So, I don’t think there’s any one silver bullet metric, I think you need to think about it from multiple angles.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. And you also mentioned the frequency of feedback would be different depending on … What I’m hearing you say is more frequent you receive feedback more frequently you can apply it or learn about it. But I’m wondering, if there is a guideline to follow on what’s the best way of giving or receiving feedback, or for example, if I’m an employee and I haven’t heard anything about my performance in a while, what do I do? How do I go about it?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. I mean, think from a frequency perspective, I do think twice a month, three times a month is quite healthy. And if you’re an employee and you haven’t received much feedback, call it in a month or two or three months, I think you’ve got to speak up and talk to your manager, right? You’ve got to let the manager know, hey, I would love to sit down and get some feedback from you and going forward, I would love to get it more frequently than once every quarter or once every six months, right? This isn’t a dang on the manager. Most people want more frequent feedback and more transparency, and sometimes just time gets away, there isn’t a tool or process set in the organization or the culture isn’t really aligned with it, whatever it may be. But if you just talk to your manager one-on-one, I think they would be more than happy to help.

Kate Gerasimova:

Okay, that’s great. And then, looking from a manager perspective, so for example, if I’m a leader or a manager and I’m in situation where I don’t usually give feedback and maybe that’s because there’s so many things happening, there are so many things flying my way. I don’t even have time to pause, I don’t know, 15 minutes a day because I’m working all the time. And in this virtual environment, I could see that happening very often. What would you recommend for a leader or a manager to do in this situation to give more frequent feedback? Or how would you recommend changing those behaviors?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, the way I think about that scenario is I’m going to sound a little direct here, but if you’re a people leader or a people manager, a very, very core component of your job is to coach and develop and motivate your employees through guidance and feedback, period. This isn’t something that you do on a Friday at 4:00 PM because you’ve got five minutes before the end of the day. This is a very core component of your job, and it should be a very top of mind, especially in difficult times and uncertain times that we’re living through right now. So that would be what I would recommend is just really look at what your priorities are and think about what your roles and responsibilities are. And this sharing feedback and coaching your team members is truly a core component of that and it should be a component of that.

Chris Cancialosi:

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 to 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

Kate Gerasimova:

What do you think about just-in-time feedback, the possibility of it, how important it is or any thoughts on that?

Harrison Kim:

I think just in time feedback is important, but it depends, right? I mean, I think the worst version from a time perspective is doing it once or twice or three times a year.

Kate Gerasimova:


Harrison Kim:

I think anything within the week or two is totally healthy, because some people don’t, depending on their personality and what their workflow looks like, a lot of people just don’t want to be bothered, right, every time they do something well or something not very well. So, I think it just really depends on the team dynamics, their workflow and the person.

Kate Gerasimova:

So you shared those three main things about measuring feedback and about framing feedback. So you mentioned behavior base, so observable behaviors, you mentioned efforts not results and forward-looking suggestions.

Harrison Kim:


Kate Gerasimova:

Is there a model that you use for any of this, the components or how did you come about those three components?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, I think, so the aspects, those three aspects, the behaviors, efforts and forward-looking, that’s based on different research, mainly one of the main research backing that is the Growth Mindset by dr. Carol Dweck. I think that is one of the best things that I’ve seen from a feedback perspective and how to make sure that you’re creating a dialogue that actually develops and motivates people. I think that’s number one. And when it comes to a framework, we’ve used our own acronym when it comes to feedback, it’s BIN, B-I-N, Behaviors, Impact and Next steps. So you want to make sure you focus on the behaviors. You want to make sure you describe the impact those behaviors had on yourself or others, and then make sure you follow up with the next steps and close the loop. So, that’s the framework that we would use.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great, I love the framework. I hope it’s okay that I’m challenging you on that, but do you have an example that you can walk us through? Anybody who can take anything and provide any feedback in that format? That could be anything simple.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, absolutely. So I’ll give a … This is an example that I use all the time, so you may have heard this before, but a classic example of a bad feedback is something like, “Hey, Kate, I don’t have much feedback for you. You’re really smart and you’re really diligent. Keep at it.”

Kate Gerasimova:

Great, I’ll take that.

Harrison Kim:

That sounds nice, right?

Kate Gerasimova:

But what do I do with it, right?

Harrison Kim:

Right, right. It sounds nice, it’s not helpful at all. Whereas, if I were to say something like, hey Kate, when you did your presentation to client X, Y, and Z last week. On page eight, you used these three examples to make our philosophy and our process much more relatable for them, right? And the way you laid out the philosophy was really, really clear and concise because of A, B and C, right? That’s a very specific behavior and very specific thing that you did that you can improve on, correct, and repeat over time. And that’s how you create high performers is through these types of behavior modifications. So, that’s what I would say is a better example of a feedback.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great, I love that example. And I think it’s so useful because coaching clients or being on-site with clients and just learning about how people give feedback, there are so many questions about models or there are some helpful models or not, or there’s like, what do I do next with this? So I am grateful to hear also forward-looking and an effort not results and that’s why I wanted to emphasize it a little more because what I’m often hearing is feedback is based on what they’ve seen or what is a result of a former behavior sometime way back. And, I find it even harder for myself to reflect and seeing how can I be improving because I’m not in that situation again? And it’s like, it’s in the past and it’s so hard to even put yourself in that shoes again to understand.

Harrison Kim:

Right. You don’t even remember what you had for dinner two weeks ago.

Kate Gerasimova:

Exactly, exactly.

Harrison Kim:

How am I going to remember that over the last six months or 12 months?

Kate Gerasimova:

Yes. But if you constantly, as you mentioned, it’s behavior based. So, if you constantly repeat the same behaviors, there’s nothing you can change your shift. So, it’s almost not only shifting behaviors, it’s shift in mindset and how you look at things.

Harrison Kim:


Kate Gerasimova:

And as you mentioned, it’s so important to have psychological safety and it’s so important to be vulnerable to receiving and giving feedback and it’s okay not to be perfect.

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, it takes time. I mean, it definitely takes time. It takes practice. It’s not the easiest thing. Even though I preach this stuff, when people talk about, hey, Harrison, can I give you some feedback? I get nervous time to time and I’m like, okay, give me two minutes to settle down and get myself in the right mindset, right? It takes time and practice, and it’s all good.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. When you give and receive feedback, do you … So, you mentioned there is a model, but do you frame it in any way or? So, I know sometimes just being as direct as possible, for example, if I have to give feedback in a moment, as you mentioned, I also take a couple minutes to think about it, how I frame it, but do give a couple of positive first and then you go to constructive or you don’t massage it in a positive way, so you just give it straight?

Harrison Kim:

I think it depends on the relationship you have with that person, but my personal preference and I do think best practice is to be more direct. I don’t think … I mean, if there are things that you want to praise, right, that’s totally fine, but I don’t think you should be praising people just because you want to soften the punch, right? I think it’s better to be candid, better to be direct because being direct doesn’t mean you’re not being kind, right? You can be direct and kind at the same time, so I prefer that.

Kate Gerasimova:

That’s wonderful. I love being direct and kind, I think it should be a new logo, slogan. What’s the word? Well, thank you, Harrison. I know right now in a virtual environment, it’s so much harder, sometimes we don’t see each other or sometimes we see each other too long in the video and we have certain expectations about things and how we look on camera and all of that. Then, sometimes we may misinterpret certain things, the way the person look at us on camera, or when we think they are not paying attention, whatever it maybe like. Do you have any recommendations or what’s the best way to provide feedback in virtual environment or to receive feedback in the virtual environment?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, I don’t actually think it needs to be too different. Just like any other communication in a remote environment, I think you need to be more proactive and over-communicate, I think that’s number one. One other thing I will mention is, a lot of people spend the time to prepare, right, for feedback, they write it down and they’ve got this great script or prepared feedback for the other person. And then, what they do is they practice, practice, practice, and then when they deliver the feedback to that person, they don’t get all of the things right, right? Because it’s hard to memorize or rehearse a whole bunch of things. And what I would recommend there is, and this is something I do as well, especially when it comes to more constructive or negative feedback. I, sometimes what I’ll do is, hey, I have prepared some feedback for you. Do you mind if I just read it because I don’t want to miscommunicate or say things that I don’t mean, right? And just give that feedback that way.

When the person is receiving the feedback, he or she is really not going to care whether you’ve written it down and you can’t remember this feedback, all these words, right? What they care about is the fact that you prepared and the fact that you want to make sure that this person gets the right and the right message. So, I think that’s something that a lot of people shy away from because they think it’s scripted or not authentic. But, I don’t know if I agree with that. I think, it’s totally okay to let the other person know, hey, I’ve prepared something. I don’t think I can deliver it memorizing, do you mind if I just read this for you, then we can have a conversation? I think that’s totally fine.

Kate Gerasimova:

Yeah. So, there are no verbal or nonverbal clues to look for.

Harrison Kim:

Right. Right. Let’s not muddy the message with those things, right?

Kate Gerasimova:

Right, let’s not overthink this.

Harrison Kim:

Right, exactly.

Kate Gerasimova:

It’s like, no, no, no, no, no, no. Your mind is going too far, no, it’s simple as it is.

Harrison Kim:

Right. Let’s not make it harder by you having to perform.

Kate Gerasimova:

And I found myself through my working career, that the easiest way for me to receive feedback or to give feedback is when I’m not overthinking, [inaudible 00:28:17] not trying to make too far out of it, but it’s just taking situation as it is and just seeing as you mentioned a greater picture of why I’m doing this, for what reason then. And also coming at it from this vulnerable place, from your heart. And then when I’m honestly caring about the person and I do care about people I give feedback to, I’m thinking almost first from their point of view. And then two, if I have any assumptions I’m making, I’m clarifying those assumptions as well. So that’s been just personally experience with helping me and then it just feels right. When you give or receive feedback, sometimes I take indication of feeling, if it feels right, then may be that one’s right.

Harrison Kim:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah. And frankly, if you’re receiving some negative or critical or constructive feedback and you’re feeling heated up, I mean, it’s human nature. And if you’re really heated up and you can’t really digest the information, just ask for some time, right? It’s totally fair and mature for you to be like, hey, I appreciate your time, but can we revisit this in a few minutes, because I want to have a productive conversation, but I’m definitely getting a little heated up. I think that’s totally okay.

Kate Gerasimova:

I love that approach, it’s very direct, but at the same time it gives you an opportunity to process it versus so many times you would hear somebody yelling at each other. You’re like, you don’t want that behavior in an organization, that’s inappropriate and unprofessional, so that’s a different way of taking some time just to process it and to thinking about it.

Harrison Kim:

Right, absolutely.

Kate Gerasimova:

Great. I know we talked about feedback a lot, but there’s one more question I had for you, and it’s going back to the beginning of our conversations and about culture, what does culture of feedback and accountability mean? And you mentioned that sponsorship is a very important component. It’s coming also top down and bottom up, from high-performers and from leaders, let’s imagine a scenario that feedback is not part of the culture yet, but people really would enjoy it. They keep asking for it. How would they ask for sponsorship inside of their organizations or how does it start?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah. So, I’ve seen it multiple ways. One way that I’ve seen it is finding an executive leader that cares about mentorship, apprenticeship and feedback and coaching and things like that, right? I think, I mean, if you’re able to find that kind of executive sponsor, starting that conversation with that person from the get-go I think is very, very important. So that’s the best case scenario, right? You’ve got a sponsor already in place, you just need to socialize the idea with them and start planning with that person. That’s I think a pretty easy scenario.

The other scenario is if you are working in an environment where you don’t have that executive sponsor, if that’s the case, and if you are in the more manager or director level or VP level, what I would recommend is try to run a small pilot program within your team, right? So basically what I would recommend is, and it doesn’t have to be something fancy, right? What you can do is start literally just putting together some very simple tools, even you can do it with Google Sheets or Google forms or Excel or whatever it is and some small processes around with your teams on sharing feedback and receiving feedback and requesting feedback. And just start there and see what change in terms of productivity, morale, and engagement that you see with your team members and have that as your “business case,” right?

Create that, and then start socializing within your organization. I think that is one tactical way to do it. And the reality is most people understand that feedback is good for employees, right? It’s just figuring out, making sure that you can get the capacity and you can get the business case down. And I think having that small testing type of pilot program within your own group, I think is low risk and an easy way to start that fire.

Kate Gerasimova:

Oh, I love this. I love it. Thinking about it, taking it small and seeing what works, what doesn’t and going bigger with this.

Harrison Kim:


Kate Gerasimova:

Well, thank you so much for sharing with our listeners your experience about the culture of feedback and accountability. Any other last minute suggestions or helpful nuggets for our listeners?

Harrison Kim:

No, I think I’ve basically told you everything I know.

Kate Gerasimova:

Love it. Thank you so much, and let’s keep learning from this. Where can our listeners find you?

Harrison Kim:

Yeah, absolutely. So you can find me on LinkedIn, Harrison Kim is the name and or our websites

Kate Gerasimova:

Wonderful, thank you. And the one last question before I let you go is, what are you most grateful for in this last month?

Harrison Kim:

In this last month? Wow. The thing that I’m most grateful for is that I have been healthy. I didn’t get sick. I did hurt my ankle randomly, but outside of that, healthy body so far, so I’m grateful for that.

Kate Gerasimova:

That’s great. Well, I’m grateful for that too. And thank you so much for coming and speaking to our listeners and sharing your wisdom.

Harrison Kim:

Absolutely, thank you for having me.

Chris Cancialosi:

Thanks for joining us this week on the gothamCulture Podcast, make sure you visit our website,, where you can subscribe to the show, find show notes, or contact us for support regarding your organizational culture 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 Until next time, this is your host, Chris Cancialosi and I look forward to our next discussion.

How Attending To The 5 Elements Of Wellbeing Will Make You More Productive At Work

Co-authored by Shawn Overcast

The events of the past 8 months have only added to the complexities of life and the stress of the work environment. Employers and employees across the globe met the transition from in-person to remote work with mixed emotions. Our collective recent experiences have changed the way we work and live. And for those who admit to feeling moments of depression coupled with a shot of elation, or feelings of freedom with a side of restriction and confinement, you are not alone.

The quest for balance is one that has been discussed and sought since the 1980s when the term ‘work-life balance’ was initially coined. As new generations entered the workforce, employers became increasingly more aware of the need to help employees navigate their complex lives and their work lives in more creative and flexible ways, in order to retain them. Work-life programs have become table-stakes for employers, and have been proven to boost morale, reduce absenteeism, decrease cost, and increase overall performance.

How can leaders promote wellbeing without sacrificing productivity?

Research and practice have shown that both productivity and wellbeing are key ingredients for organizational success. The tolls of COVID-19 on our lives and what seems to be like an enduring worklife from home requires us to show up differently in preparation for these levels of productivity.

This year has been a breeding ground for unchartered territory. Organizations have been forced to pivot to new ways of working that come with their own sets of challenges and impact on productivity.

While some organizations have struggled with productivity, we are seeing a surge in ‘productivity’ amongst others. JP Morgan announced that their sales and trading employees amongst those in other functions are being encouraged to return to the office due to increased productivity slips on Mondays and Fridays. However, the Boston Consulting Group found in a study conducted across organizations that 51% of respondents reported that they maintained or even improved their productivity. This variation sheds light on a very important point: Not everyone is measuring productivity in the same way.

Having a productive day? How do you know?

At the end of a day on which we’ve attended 8-10 Zoom calls, we may feel anything but productive. But for some, productivity is defined by visibility, where it is about showing your face whether it’s in the office or on a screen. For others, productivity is defined by the level of employee engagement. And one of the most widely spread ways in which productivity is being measured is by how many hours you’ve clocked into your working day. But in today’s world of blurred lines between our personal and professional lives, a full day’s work may feel like anything but productive.

When was the last time you took a vacation?

People are now working more than ever before. According to Business News Daily, remote employees work 1.4 more days per month than their office-based counterparts; which is more than 3 additional weeks of work per year. Moreover, given the risks and restrictions around travel, people are opting out of taking their PTO. Many of us have forfeited our vacations this summer. As mentioned in the Wall Street Journal, a Zenefits’ study of 3,000 companies found that there were about 63,000 requests for vacations in April and May, which is significantly less than the 120,000 requests made during that same period in 2019.

However, spending more time doing work and showing face on camera does not necessarily mean more productivity. A Stanford study has found that productivity per hour declines when a person works more than 50 hours a week. Further, those who work up to 70 hours a week are only getting the same amount of work done as those who put in 56 hours.

Our gas tanks become depleted. 

We run out of mental and physical resources that create optimal conditions to work and be productive. Our traditional measures of things like hours spent in the office, visibility, engagement, and drop-in PTO tell us that productivity is on the rise, but these are not traditional times.

Can wellbeing be the key?

The world of work has for the most part started to catch up with the necessity of taking care of the workforce, and investing in Employee Wellness Programs. However, employees continue to cite issues with stress, burn-out, and depression. Studies by SHRM and by the Total Brain’s July Mental Health Index show that 41% of employees feel burnt out and 45% feel emotionally drained from work and that the risk for depression among U.S. workers has risen to 102% and more specifically to 305% for those between the ages of 20 and 39 as a result of the pandemic. 

And employers are taking action. Just this Labor Day, Google gave employees an extra day off as a response to the increased levels of burnout and depression amongst their employees. Other tech giants, such as Cisco, also gave their employees a mental health day back in May, where Chief People Officer, Fran Katsoudas wrote: ‘There are few places to go, people need us, and we enjoy our work. Our weeks and weekends are blurring together. Yet there is one reason to unplug: ourselves.’ Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, gave employees a day of rest in June, emphasizing that ‘health comes first’ and to ‘make time for it’ because it is these kinds of days that ‘build strength’ to get work done.

How is wellbeing being defined?

Like productivity, the metrics for wellbeing are also flawed. One of the common metrics for measuring wellbeing is absenteeism or the number of sick days taken.

If productivity is being measured by the number of working hours and wellbeing is measured by the number of days off from work, and we know that some people are opting out of much-needed PTO, then we might be drawing some false conclusions around productivity and wellbeing going up.


With people’s daily lives and habits changing, there is a need to recalibrate our perceptions and definitions of wellbeing to ones that are more holistic and relevant to our current times.


Gallup uncovered that the common elements of wellbeing that need to be fulfilled for people to thrive are physical, career, financial, social, and community elements. How employees are doing in terms of physical health, career satisfaction, economic stability, relationships, and belonging in their community will impact the effectiveness of business outcomes. Employees thriving in all five elements are 41% less likely to miss work as a result of poor health and are 81% less likely to seek out a new employer in the next year. This is interesting news.

Common elements that people need to thrive in their lives

*Image by Gallup


What we are learning is that wellbeing actually impacts productivity. 

To ensure we are productive and prepared to deliver on our accountabilities in a sustainable manner, we will not only need to invest in our wellbeing, but we must also leverage and utilize it to cultivate productivity. 

How to cultivate productivity

We clearly need to recalibrate our perceptions of productivity and wellbeing to ones more relevant to our current times. And, we need to view wellness as a means to our productivity – as opposed to two elements that are mutually exclusive.

  1. Build a Life Pie. Encourage your employees to consider the 5 elements of wellbeing and assess where they are. Support them in finding ways to build out their satisfaction and quality of life in these areas.
  2. Include your employees in generating solutions. Your employees are likely to have ideas of what they need to feel well and in turn, perform better. Sourcing and sharing ideas from your constituents can go a long way.
  3. Build awareness of how wellbeing can be leveraged to enhance productivity. Discuss and define productivity together as a team.

Make a habit of revisiting the first two steps. If we have learned anything from 2020, it is that things can change at any moment and the only way to deal with the ambiguity is to adapt. Revisiting what wellbeing looks like in your organization can help you create the culture of adaptation organizations of the future will need to succeed.

Wellbeing makes strategic sense. It is important to maintain productivity in a ‘Work From Home’ environment and to leverage and utilize wellbeing to do so. Organizations need to get a better understanding of how their employees work to find answers that make sense to boost productivity and achieve their strategic objectives. This is not a one-time thing for your organization. The exercise of redefinition needs to be embedded into the organization’s strategy because productivity in the post-COVID era might look very different from what it looks like today.

If you are interested in learning more about how to leverage wellbeing to improve productivity, gothamCulture would be delighted to speak with your team.

Related reading: Yin/Yang Leadership: Seeking Balance

How Do I Give Feedback To My People?

You’ve made it into a leadership position. You are finally a manager! You take the new job seriously, knowing that the responsibilities include meeting strategic goals, managing budgets, and making presentations to senior management. Those challenges are daunting, but you feel well prepared, due to your background, education, and business experience.

And yet there is one area with which you are uncomfortable – the ability to give feedback to the women and men on your team!

While your formal education likely focused on balance sheets, corporate finance, and strategic planning, the idea of giving meaningful perceptions about professional growth to others was likely not formalized – and it was probably left to your own devices and experience.

Many clients with whom I have worked were not provided much in the way of meaningful, timely feedback or instructions on how to do it. For some, even if it was taught, such training was limited, and for most individuals, regrettably, it was a bit of an afterthought.

I recently worked with a client who was working hard to figure out how to provide performance expectations to one of his team members. The subordinate had a desire to learn and excellent work ethic, but there were areas where my client felt as if the client had stalled in his growth trajectory.

“What have you told him about your expectations?”  I asked my client during the session.

My client looked at me for a long second and then said, “Well, I didn’t really know what to say, because I’m afraid I’ll hurt his feelings.”

“Well, how does he react when you praise him for the work he’s accomplished?” I added.

“That’s not something I’ve ever done – I figure he knows when he’s doing a good job. After all, I’ve been in this business for 20 years and no one has ever given me positive feedback for my contributions.”

We spent some time talking about my client’s experience and his desire to be intentional about feedback. We talked about the annual performance appraisal which was a source of discomfort for both the leaders and the subordinates at his company. There is significant literature on this subject.

Many executives are uncomfortable with just sitting down and talking with someone about how they are performing and how they can grow as professionals. Perhaps it is because our organizational focus is so often on strategy and measurable business goals. Often, leaders feel as if personal growth will occur as a result of achieving results.

The ability to sit down with one of your people and join with them on their professional – and yes, personal – journey, is one of those differentiators for leaders. The women and men who can take a few minutes every day and provide an ear, or a perception – they are the rare ones who build relationships a few minutes at a time. They are the masterful leaders whose subordinates are never surprised with the results of a periodic performance review.

I worked with a client one time who tells his subordinates: “You’ve written your own performance appraisal in the hundred conversations we’ve had this year. You’ve explored where you are strong, where you need to grow and you’ve learned as a result – today we get to celebrate that growth and look to the future!”

There are a lot of ways a leader can reach out. One is the gift of oneself.  And that involves working on your own skills of empathy and compassion.

The so-called “soft skills” are really the key to nuancing the concept of leadership. If you can connect with the members of the team and help them grow, then you have demonstrated the ability to grow yourself!

You can learn more about how to provide feedback and your own growth trajectory with executive coaching at Boston Executive Coaches. We stand ready to assist you on your journey!

 This article by Dave Bushy originally appeared on

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.

How do you know if a culture may be toxic?

Bullying, abuse, threats, incomprehensible hours and demands, overt sexism, and racism are all pretty in-your-face signs that there might be an issue but there are quite a few more subtle signs that you should be attuned to should you find yourself in a potentially toxic environment. Think of these as your canary in a coal mine- signs that something may be amiss.

  • Constant gossiping. When things become nebulous and stressed and when leaders being to behave markedly different than usual or begin to cut off open lines of communication, people tend to start to fill in the gaps with their best guesses. Unfortunately, those guesses then not to be entirely (or even remotely) accurate. Gossiping serves a function in groups, but it can also derail your efforts and be a sign that something may be off.
  • Significant turnover or sick callouts. Toxic environments can really deplete people’s willingness to extend themselves for their employer. Increases in voluntary turnover or absences from work may be an indicator.
  • Resistance to taking chances/fear of failure. In a world that relies on an ever-increasing pace of innovation, companies find themselves becoming more and more tethered to rapid iteration, failing fast, and learning quickly. These types of behaviors are only achievable in organizations that are willing to make mistakes. In toxic cultures, where people are blamed and punished for making mistakes, people will do exactly what you would expect- they shut down and toe the company line to not make any waves or to attract any negative attention from leadership.
  • A lack of communication. Toxic environments put people on edge. To protect themselves and their power, many may begin to hoard information from others.
  • Fear of leaders. Fearing one’s leader may manifest in a variety of ways but it all clearly points to toxicity. As the saying goes, “fish stink from the head”. Dr. Julian Lagoy, MD, a psychiatrist with Community Psychiatry, elaborates- “In a toxic work culture… [t]here is a real lack of leadership. [B]osses are usually toxic themselves and this trickles down and affects the entire work environment and culture. This results in declining productivity and decreased overall wellbeing and happiness of everyone in the office.”
  • An over-reliance on rules, hierarchies, and policies. When panicking from a perceived loss of control and an inability to influence people in more positive ways, leaders can begin to exert power through their authority via rules and policies. While it might work for a short while, it stinks of ineffectiveness and desperation.
  • Cutting mid-level managers off at the knees. Stemming from the previous point, leaders in toxic environments may tend to consolidate power by limiting middle managers’ authority. The assumption being, “I alone can fix this.”
  • A lack of ‘energy’. If you ever worked in, or visited, a toxic work environment you’ll agree- the energy just gets sucked right out of you when you walk the halls. It’s palpable and there’s no disguising it.
  • A hesitance, or outright refusal, to take stock and engage employees in open dialogue. It’s no secret when things are toxic. Leaders, whether they want to admit it or not, realize in their heart-of-hearts that things are not going the way they should be. During these times, leaders may tend to steer away from wanting to get input from employees about the state of things because they are afraid to face the truth.
  • The punishment to praise ratio is out of whack; a focus on consequences versus opportunities. Toxic cultures have to survive on something and it’s not the tears of puppies. Toxic cultures thrive when blame is placed on “others”; accountability is shirked, and praise is hard to be found or reserved only for those few that are in favor at the moment.
  • An increase in micromanagement behavior from leaders. When leaders fall into assuming that only they have the intelligence and skill to drive success, they naturally begin to engage in micromanagement.
  • A noticeable lack of pushback. Toxic cultures do not tolerate dissent. As employees begin to realize the situation they are in, they learn not to speak up. As they continue to disengage, things only continue to get worse.
  • A lack of a clear purpose and vision for the future. Toxic environments tend to be in sink or swim situations. These situations create confusion for people as behaviors tend to run the spectrum. This is exponentially worse when organizations lack a clear purpose and direction to aim in when times get tough.
  • Your main reason for wanting to work there is the paycheck or the ‘prestige’ of working for such a well-known brand. Some people will put up with quite a bit of toxicity simply to be associated with a brand. I never really understood this but it’s not uncommon. If you’re showing up to work simply for a paycheck you have to ask yourself why.
  • Rivalries, in-groups, and out-groups develop. Since toxic cultures are situations where effective organizational dynamics are extremely skewed, people tend to rely on playing politics. These politics lead to in-groups and out-groups which make it easy to find scapegoats and assign blame to those who are not in favor.
  • Leaders define the culture by the perks and freebies people get. This is a reg flag that even prospective employees can assess. Asking specific questions about the culture of the organization and how work gets done can be enlightening, especially if you can talk to several people. If they are misaligned and they tend to talk about the free snacks alone, you may want to take note.
  • People begin taking credit for the work of others. Desperate times call for desperate measures. When it’s dog-eat-dog, some people will do whatever it takes to stay in favor. Taking credit for others’ work and success while finding creative ways to pass blame is classic.
  • Discretionary energy is not put toward furthering the purpose of the organization; bare minimum. In toxic environments where employees are disengaging with the organization out of self-preservation, you will be hard-pressed to find many instances of people expending their discretionary energy in ways that help the organization. Instead of going above and beyond to help a customer, for instance, they will sit in the back room tapping away on their cell phone.
  • Teams and individuals begin to self-isolate. To the point above, toxic cultures create a system where people intentionally isolate themselves to protect themselves. In some cases, highly effective leaders will work to isolate their teams to protect them. In these instances, it is not uncommon to find small sanctuaries within larger, toxic environments. Unfortunately, these leaders wind up bearing an enormous load, shouldering the dysfunction on behalf of those they lead.

Unfortunately, toxic work cultures are not as uncommon as we’d like to admit. The speed of business, relentless competition, rapid technological innovation, and other complexities continue to strain the capabilities of leaders and teams to continue to adapt and reinvent themselves to stay viable. Many leaders find themselves getting in over their heads and their attitudes and behaviors begin to permeate dysfunction throughout the organizations they lead.

Nobody says being an effective leader is easy. Creating an environment in the workplace that promotes value-add behavior and attitudes has a significant long-term impact on an organization’s ability to thrive amidst the myriad of challenges that are encountered. In my opinion, leaders exist to align work effort and to accomplish the mission of the organization they lead. This cannot be accomplished sustainably if these leaders allow toxicity to permeate their teams and organization.

This article originally appeared on

Related reading: Toxic Cultures: Where Does The Buck Stop? 

ATD NYC Volunteer Spotlight – gothamCulture’s Kate Gerasimova

By Rosemary Okoiti, ATD NYC

1. What three words describe you and why?

Empathetic: I always make a good effort to make sure I’m considering the other person and the other side of the story. This is one of the reasons I love human-centered design so much as well. 

Ambitious and driven: If I set my mind on something, it would be extremely hard to get me off that road. I have a high inspiration for myself which comes with higher standards. Knowing this about myself helps me realize when to let things go and be more agile. 

Versatile: I am curious about a lot of things and have a wide range of interests, psychology, design innovation, learning, art, business, tennis, biking, and the list continues. I once was going to major in math and law. 

2. What is/was your volunteer role?

In December 2018 I went to Action Learning training with Mies de Koning, at the time, he was VP of Special Interest Groups (SIGs). Mies encouraged me to attend events at the chapter and meet more people there. So I started to attend events, then volunteered to organize them. In 2019, I met Gabrielle Baymethe current VP of SIGs then I volunteered as the Assistant Vice President of SIGs. Together we organized the first Learning Lab in August 2019, and have been running them since then. Inspired by our popular Learning Labs, we created a separate SIG group, the Learning Innovation Special Interest Group to explore the latest and greatest in learning innovation. More to come! 

3. What do you/did you love about volunteering for ATD NYC? How has the experience changed you?

love meeting new people and the events the ATD NYC chapter has to offer. There is always something to learn, whether at the event or being part of this team of volunteers. We always look for ways to be more effective. This experience certainly taught me more about myself and the work that I so much love. 

4. What career development opportunities are you exploring in the next one year?

There is never a dull moment with running and planning Learning Labs. I am looking forward to organizing other events in the Learning Innovation SIG with Gabrielle and seeing what new learning innovations we can bring in the upcoming year.

5. What advice would you give to a Chapter member who is considering volunteering today? 

There are so many opportunities to be connected, find what clicks for you, attend a few events, connect with members 1-1, and see if you’d like to get more involved by volunteering. Opportunities are endless. The key is the right attitude! 

6. What is the best way to get in touch with you and/or your social media links, website, email address? or 

This article originally appeared on

How To Motivate Others By Starting With Yourself

Shawn Overcast

One of the toughest parts of a leader’s job, regardless of whether you’re leading a corporation, in the community or at home, is to motivate and develop the people on a team toward a common goal. gothamCulture’s Shawn Overcast talked with Moms That Lead podcast host Teri Schmidt about how it all starts with self-leadership. Shawn shares inspirational stories and practical strategies for helping those you choose to lead to excel beyond their expectations by starting with your own self-reflection. Shawn and Teri discuss the application of those strategies to leadership at work, in the community, and, perhaps most importantly, at home.

Episode 18: How to Motivate Others by Starting with Yourself

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.

Less than a year ago, former United States Marine Chris Rawlings, was growing a small business in Virginia helping his customers evaluate and optimize their lighting and HVAC systems to save money and to create less of an environmental burden. His company, Veteran LED, was expanding into more commercial clients and even began supporting clients in the government sector. They were doing good work and enjoying the success of a rapidly growing business. Enter COVID.

To Freeze or to Act?

“During the first few weeks [of the pandemic] we moved into ‘double time’ to be the best of things while working remotely,” Rawlings shares. While many of Veteran LED’s clients and competitors “froze” in the face of the pandemic, Rawlings and his team focused on taking action. Quickly, Rawlings came to the realization that simply out-working his competition might not be the solution he would need to thrive in this new environment and he and his team dove deep into a new approach- understanding the research behind germicidal UVC lighting and HVAC systems. What they found inspired an opportunity to pivot their business to meet the new needs of their clients.

Betting on the science, the Veteran LED team quickly dove into the latest germicidal research and technology and tested ways to integrate it into their existing practices. This enhanced product and service offering received overwhelmingly positive feedback from clients as they were struggling to find ways to keep their employees and customers safe as they worked to reopen their doors.

Germicidal Lighting
Veteran LED Germicidal Lighting in Silver Diner

The first organization to partner with the team at Veteran LED was Silver Diner, a regional 20-restaurant chain located in and around Washington, DC and New Jersey. It became the first restaurant group in the country to implement germicidal cleaning throughout all its restaurants. Silver Diner’s Co-founder and Executive Chef, Ype Von Hengst, felt that the business, “ha[s] some hard choices to make.” Being in the foodservice industry, Hengst and his colleagues have had to adapt and take risks to stay current and competitive. “ As a business that has seen the advantages of adapting to meet changing customer needs, Silver Diner has led in the integration of heart-healthy items, farm-to-table, and the elimination of trans-fats over the years. This ability to assess the operating environment and to adapt their business to changes in the market gave Silver Diner the ability to survive and thrive over the decades and it’s the same approach that Veteran LED has taken during the current pandemic. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the two companies felt comfortable moving forward with their current effort to make all of Silver Diners’ employees and customers as safe as possible through their germicidal efforts, which include germicidal UVC lighting, HEPA filtration, microbial laminated menus, plexiglass shields, and personal protective equipment.

Considering a business pivot yourself?

There are likely quite a few of you out there who have found yourself in a similar situation these past months, finding yourselves impacted by the pandemic in ways you may not have seen coming. If you are looking to figure out ways to pivot your businesses to survive and thrive in this new reality, here are some things to consider:

1.     Resilience is powerful but only if you’re moving in the right direction. The ability for an individual or organization to gut through the difficult times is commendable to the core. A bit of ‘intestinal fortitude’ is what can really separate the good from the great but doubling down on a strategy that is doomed from the start will just leave you exhausted.

2.     Don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions. To the point above, working your heart out to find yourself careening down the path you’re comfortable with won’t guarantee success when the operating environment shifts on you. Being brave enough to take a deep look in the mirror and to admit that there may be greener pastures on the other side of the tracks may be the difference between long-term success and failure.

3.     Be prepared to capitalize on a chaotic environment but do it for the right reasons. As Winston Churchill said, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” For those entrepreneurs who can read the tea leaves, committed enough to push through the difficulty, and humble and creative enough to see the opportunity that lays before them, crises can become rare opportunities to pivot into new situations that bear fruit for years.

It feels like it should go without saying but the decision to pivot may make sense for your business but does it add value to your customers? Making sure that you are making decisions both in the best interest of your business, your people, and your customers is not to be underestimated. Making decisions that will only help you aren’t going to set your pivot up for long-term success.

4.     Don’t make the decision to pivot lightly. When considering a fundamental business pivot, there’s a reason why that voice deep in your head tells you you’re crazy. Pivoting forces you to face a lot of things all at the same time- The prospect of doing something new that you’ve never done before. The judgment that what you’ve been doing to this point was wrong. Consider making sure that you know what you’re getting into, and why, when contemplating such a big move.

5.     Do something. Whatever your final decision is. Pivot. Hold what you’ve got. Do something. Don’t let the situation paralyze you. This may have a bit of a pang right now if you learned this lesson the hard way over the last few months. Rawling’s advice, “Listen and reach out to those who have more experience and then put in the work.” You may be tempted to get lost in the land of analysis paralysis when considering a pivot. Do your homework, analyze the variables, and act.

6.     Don’t fake the funk. You owe your existing and potential customers the truth about what you’re doing. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘fake it till you make it’ philosophy. When Rawlings began initial discussions with the leadership team at Silver Diner, he told them directly, “Over six years,  I have garnered extensive knowledge in lighting and building systems. I’ve spent the last two months researching the science behind germicidal lighting, air purification, and everything I’m selling to you today. You can refer to my 7-page white paper and 20-minute webinar that dives into the details of it all, but I just want to be clear, I’ve never done this before. I will make every possible effort to make sure this project goes smoothly and we both reach our desired outcome of creating a safer indoor dining experience for your customers, and workplace for your employees.”

Rawlings and the team at Veteran LED were stepping into a completely new situation and service offering and they respected their customers enough to be honest about it.

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted individuals and businesses quite differently over the past six months. Unfortunately, for many, this meant unemployment or shuttering the doors of businesses forever. Others have bared down and figured out a way to survive. Still, fewer have been able to see the opportunity to serve new markets and have been brave enough to make the tough decisions required to adapt to thrive. In partnership with a customer who is brave enough to be first adopters to lead their industries to do what’s best for their customers, employees, and businesses they are forging new paths to help others learn to thrive in today’s new operating realities.

This article originally appeared on

How Do I Find Hope?

Quoc Pham - Photo provided by Dave Bushy

by Dave Bushy

“Always Have Hope.”

This philosophy informs the simplest and most profound outlook humans can hold in their hearts.  It is a quote from one of the men I admired most in the world.

I often ask those around me how they feel about the times in which we live. Many point to the headlines and express various emotions, including a declining sense of confidence, a level of fear they have not had previously, or, sadly, a void in their own sense of hope. They struggle to find the armor of optimism that will allow them to gain perspective and realize that this world has always had enormous challenges and has inevitably overcome them.

Perhaps it is the endless nature of the news and social media cycle that weighs on everyone today. But many of the feelings we have originate within each of us, for it is we who do the work of convincing ourselves, allowing our perspectives to be overshadowed by emotions and the weight of “information” overload that currently exists in our society today.

But we have choice. And we can choose to lean into our own curiosity and regain critical thinking that will allow us to begin to see other possibilities in today’s world, helping us to understand that the totality of today’s issues, while daunting, are not insurmountable. We can once again allow hope to inform our journey in the process.

“The World Looked Away – Vietnam After the War,” details the life of Quoc Pham, a South Vietnamese Naval Officer who endured the horrors of a post-war Reeducation Camp for more than three years, as well as the tragedy of serving as a human mine detector and prisoner on the Cambodian border. Ultimately, Quoc’s journey took him to escape back to Saigon from the camps and then by boat, as he headed into a massive storm in the South China sea, captaining a 37-foot boat with 55 people aboard.

I had the privilege of hearing Quoc’s life and in writing his story. It was a singular honor that gave so many readers the perspective of courage in the face of despair and the gift of hope during the darkest times.

Most human beings never endure or even survive what Quoc Pham experienced. Indeed, many of his fellow prisoners did not escape death. There are no accurate numbers, but well over 100,000 former South Vietnamese military personnel are thought to have died in the camps, with some enduring up to 17 years of incarceration. And hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese “Boat People” are thought to have died while escaping into the South China Sea. And there were those, although relatively healthy, who literally gave up in the camps and died. More than a few died by their own hands.

Then there were those like Quoc, whose unflagging hope could not be extinguished as he helped many of his fellow prisoners survive. He was supported by his wife and family, recovering from a life-threatening medical issue, malnutrition, and brutality by the camp guards. In the face of what others considered to be hopelessness, he let his light shine into the lives of others.

Quoc lived through what many others did not, armed with intelligence, capability and an enduring faith. He saved fellow prisoners in the camps and led 55 others to escape to a U.S. Navy ship. And he made it to the United States and established a life for himself and his family. His life was a series of struggles to be overcome.

As we traveled together on a research trip to Vietnam and on later on book tours, I learned more and more about my friend Quoc. One night we talked well into the night. I looked into his eyes and asked, “How did you survive when so many others did not?” His reply was straight from the heart: “Always have hope.”

My friend Quoc Pham did not survive his final battle, succumbing earlier this year to an illness he likely contracted in the camps. His legacy lives on, though, if we remind each other how he made it through the types of horrors we can never imagine.

We just need to remember what he told me that night. And, I would add, “Be a Quoc!”

This article originally appeared on

Dave Bushy of Boston Executive Coaches is a former senior airline executive who works with leaders throughout American industry. 

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